29 November 2009

A Book Review

I started reading the Wheel of Time series almost twenty years ago.  I believe the fourth book in the series, The Shadow Rising, was just released in softcover when I picked up the series, which would mean I started it in 1993 or so, I believe.

Robert Jordan's series marks, for me, the beginning of a new era in fantasy literature.  Between the release of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and the first book of Jordan's series, The Eye of the World, there really is no truly epic fantasy.  With the release of Jordan's series, and the wild success of it, fantasy really came into it's own.  Thanks in large part to Jordan's success, we now have Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, Bakker's Prince of Nothing, Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen, and countless others.

Sadly, Jordan passed away in 2007, with his grand vision incomplete.  After the release of the 11th book in the series, Knife of Dreams, fans were left wanting more.  Sadly, Jordan could not provide it.  However, he had copious notes, and had told the story to his wife, who was also his editor.  She finally chose Brandon Sanderson to complete the story, and provided him with all of the notes that Jordan had, and related the story to him, so that this tale, 20 years in the making, could finally be finished.

I admit that when I heard that Sanderson was going to complete the series, and that he was going to split the final volume into three books, I was worried.  I feared that he would not be able to do justice to Jordan's vision, that he would skew the story into areas that it should not go, and that he would take the opportunity to further his own career at the expense of Jordan's life-long work.

The release of the 12th book in the series, The Gathering Storm, was a moment of great excitement for me, as well as a moment of great trepidation.  I hesitated, and, unlike every other volume in the series, did not read it immediately upon purchase.  I was unsure.

I finished it last night, finally, and I have to say that my fears were completely unfounded.  Mr Sanderson has done a wonderful job, and has taken over Jordan's work with admirable skill.  At no point was I jarred with the change in style, and there were several moments that I completely forgot that it was a different author.  The characters were the same, the plots were picked up without a hitch, and the story progressed much as Jordan would have had it.

The story itself is good.  One of the best in the series.  Many of the plot threads were tied up in the previous volume, but many more are done so in this one.  Some major ones.  A war that has been coming for six books is completed in this volume, and done so in a way that made me hold my breath without realising it.  The final 200-300 pages of this volume are intense, and I found it very difficult to put the book down for more time than it took me to move from room to room.

In my many online discussions of this series, there are a few characters that stand out, in that most people absolutely hate them.  One of them, at least, is vindicated in this volume.  There are few characters in this series that I dislike, but I can easily see how this one, in particular, will regain the respect of the readers.

There are faults with this book, don't get me wrong.  Two characters, in particular, are completely missing, and I would have liked to have seen them pop up.  They are both mentioned several times, but they are among my favourites, and I would have liked to read more about them directly.  One, in particular, should have shown up late in the book, but did not.  There was a sequence toward the end that could have been handled much, much better had one person shown up instead of another, in my mind, but the way it played out will have ramifications through the next two volumes.

All in all, I place this one high on the list.  The series itself is very long, and very complex, so there are obvious low points in your enjoyment of the series.  Books 7, 8, and 10 are, admittedly, pretty terrible, as are parts of 2, 3, and 9, but the series as a whole is magnificent.  And, in this latest volume, one can see that there are reasons for those low points.  Some of the things that happened in those volumes are coming back, and remembering some of them now, with this latest book, raises my esteem of them somewhat.  There was a point where I seriously considered giving up on the series, and many people I know have done so, but I am glad I stuck with it, and I hope that some others will give it another shot.  The last two books have been well worth the wait.

23 November 2009

Proper English vs. Good English

There is a world of difference between proper, dictionary-based English, and proper conversational English.  About the same difference as there is between proper conversational English and the English that you hear most people use in conversation.

The English language is, for all intents and purposes, ridiculously complex.  Unnecessarily so.  But it is the complexity that makes me love it so, and also makes it  quite interesting.  Because, honestly, there’s a word for everything:

borborygmus (bor-buh-RIG-muhs) - noun; A rumbling noise caused by the movement of gas through the intestines.

And while some of you, like me, see a word like that, and can’t wait for the opportunity to use it in conversation (a friend of mine recently discovered sessile, and has been using it ever since. . . great word), most people aren’t going to be dropping that baby at the dinner table.

Proper English, that language your ancient teachers and tyrannical grandparents tried to instill in you, just isn’t used that often.  As well it shouldn’t.  Strict, rigid English should be reserved for legal documents, official decrees, things like that.  The sort of things where precise meaning, and I do mean precise, is necessary.

Conversational English, on the other hand, is a whole other beast.  It contains a much smaller vocabulary, but is used far more extensively.  Where, in a legal document, you need the exact word to describe what you mean, in conversational English any word will do, as long as it’s close, and your listeners understand what you mean.  Take borborygmus, for example.  Most people wouldn’t use that word, even if they knew it.  They’d say their stomach was gurgling, or that they were gassy.  Everybody would know what they meant, and, depending on the social setting, talk about their own bowels or shun the speaker completely, like a leper.

But the lack of constraint in conversational English is not a free pass.  It allows you to be lazy with your language, and take many, many shortcuts, but it still binds you to a lot of rules.  While it’s perfectly okay to say “I don’t wanna go to the store”, it is not okay to say “Store not go”.  Technically, while you’re getting the same points across, and both would make an eighteenth century governess weep for the future of mankind, the first gets your point across while maintaining at least a passing familiarity with grammatical rules and sentence structure.

While I’m on the subject, I want to take a moment to address something that mothers have been teaching their children for centuries.  Something that they have been getting wrong.  How many times have you heard a child say something akin to the following:

“Daddy took me and Billy to the pool today!”

Only to have their mother correct them with:

“No, Daddy took ‘Billy and I’ to the pool, honey.”?

Most times, that mother is correct.  This instance, however, is not one of those times.  She is teaching a bad lesson, and should be corrected herself.

In these particular situations, there is a pretty hard and fast rule for using ‘I’ over ‘me’.  Essentially, it boils down to one thing.  If you were alone, which would you use?  Use that one.  So, “Daddy took me to the pool today!” becomes “Daddy took me and Billy to the pool today!”  You wouldn’t say “Daddy took I to the pool today!”  That sounds ridiculous.  Similarly, “I went to the pool today, with Daddy!” becomes “Billy and I went to the pool today, with Daddy!”  It kind of flies in the face of countless reminders from your mother, and possibly your teachers, but once you get in the habit of it, it’ll become second nature.

09 November 2009

The Core of Stories

Every story is true.

You have to remember that.  No matter what happens in it, it's true.

I'm not talking about fact, or historical accuracy, or any of that.  I'm talking about truth.  Take Star Wars, for example.  True story.  Does that mean that in a galaxy far, far away, there was a domineering galactic empire, who controlled all of the star systems in the galaxy via a massive, planet-destroying space station?

No.  That's ridiculous.  But the story itself....

A small group of free-thinking individuals stands up in the face of insurmountable odds to fight for their own freedom and choices.  One man's search for a replacement for his lost family, and the legacy they have left behind.  A child's constant fight to be free of the chains his father has placed on him.

All of this is true.  It's something we live with every day.  It doesn't have to be on a grand scale; it could be the child who defies his parents' wishes to go to law school, and becomes an artist instead.  It could be a woman's demand that she be treated fairly in the workplace.  It could be an argument between spouses, over where they will be spending Christmas.  The scale doesn't matter.

What matters is that it's true.  It's real, and, when you peel away all of the flash and the exaggerated plots, there is a kernel of purity there that people can relate to, can understand.

It's the most important realisation you can come to as a writer, and it will elevate your stories to a new level.

Every story is true.

06 November 2009

Folklore, and The Ridiculous Premise

Writing a story, is, at it's heart, an accepted way to lie to people.  You make shit up, and tell it to them as if it really happened, and they accept that.  Everybody knows this, but nobody really talks about it.  Even those so-called 'true stories' are fabricated to a certain extent.

Some people don't like to admit it, and lash out when it's thrown in their face.  Like Oprah did to James Frey.  Twice.  Fuck, I hate that woman.

Regardless, writers lie to people, and people pay them to do it.  But there has to be some layer of truth to your story.  You have to follow the basic rules of the world, or find a way to explain them so that the reader will accept the changes.  Alligators can't speak English, and toes are not intelligent, individual beings.  These are fundamentals, and you'd better have a good reason for breaking them.

Which brings me to the point of this post.  The Ridiculous Premise.  Have you ever read a really good book, and recommended it to a friend, only to have them ask you, "What's it about?"

You stall, and you think about it, and finally, sheepishly, tell them that it's about a guy who takes a lot of drugs, goes to Vegas to write a magazine story about a desert race, and proceeds to get completely lost in a fugue state of self-medication, paranoia, and petty lawlessness.

Sounds rather juvenile, yes?  That's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  Great, great book.  But you have to be honest, the premise is kind of.... well, ridiculous.

The great thing about this whole concept is, it doesn't matter what your story is about, what matters is how it is written.  Also, very important, is that you have some explanation as to why the ridiculous is happening.  It doesn't have to be a solid explanation, but as long as the reader can accept it, you're golden.

There are millions of stories and legends from around the world that can help you with this.  Everyone knows that vampires can't come into your house uninvited, but how many know that they can't pass any doorway if it is lined with salt?  How many people know that a broom falling in the house means that company is coming, and not likely welcome company?

Everyone knows about Fairy Rings, mushroom patches in circular shapes, but not many know that in some Austrian areas, it is believed that dragons make them, and once one is made, nothing but toadstools will grow there for seven years, or that the Dutch believe they are where the devil puts his milk churn?  I'm guessing, outside of Austria or the Netherlands, not many do.

Enough people will catch it, though, to validate your story, and the mythology that you are creating.  Others will look into it, and confirm your statements independently.  Still others will believe you out of hand, and spread the tale themselves.  The point is, you've taken something old and not widely known, and used it to hold your ideas together, and tie them to the world that your readers understand.

Any time a story is read, there is an unspoken agreement made between the reader and the author.  The author agrees to tell a story that the reader will be able to follow and understand, and the reader agrees to suspend his disbelief enough to accept the tale as it is told.  If one side or the other breaks that agreement, or pushes it too far, it will end up as an unpleasant experience.  How many books have you set aside, unfinished, because you simply did not enjoy them?  How many of those did you not enjoy simply because you couldn't believe the premise, or the actions of the characters?  Either the writer pushed you too hard, you couldn't extend your disbelief far enough, or, in some cases, there was just a unconquerable disparity between what you believe the boundaries are, and what the author believes them to be.  It's unfortunate, but it happens.

03 November 2009

The Dread Spectre

Unless you're Chuck Palahniuk, it'll happen to you eventually.  Probably quite often.  You'll sit down to continue working on your piece, and you can't get going.

You'll be halfway through, and it's coming along swimmingly, and all of a sudden it's like you can't form a complete sentence.

It's frustrating as hell, and more than a little discouraging.  It's called writer's block, and it happens to just about everybody.  There are few worse feelings in the world than the one that comes over you, when you realise that you're stuck.

There's no rhyme or reason to it.  At no point in your story can you see it coming, and no point in anybody else's story where you can see that it happened.  It just does, and it kicks you in the balls.

A lot of people have their own cures for the affliction (and affliction it is, make no mistake; I'd pay my entire life savings to the doctor who finds a cure for it), and while some work, most don't.  I've tried them all.  I've tried starting a new story, I've tried writing about nonsense, I've tried reading a book, and I've tried forcing myself to continue regardless with the plan to fix it in editing.

It doesn't work.

Sadly, the only thing that works for me is waiting it out.  Sometimes this means a project will sit idle for a few days, sometimes it's months.  There's nothing for it.

The flip side of this, however, is that when it comes back to you...  oh, when it comes back....

Some of your best work will be in the furious few days after you get past a block.  It's almost as if the creative juices have to build up, past their normal levels, and explode in a torrent all at once before subsiding back to normalcy.

So, be patient.  It'll happen.  You'll get out of your slump, and put down some of your best work.  Which doesn't help your mood when you're in the middle of that funk, but it makes you feel a whole lot better about it being done.

15 October 2009

Something I just wrote

So I play this game, called Urban Dead.  It's a fun little time waster, and I have a character in a group modeled after a police department.  The game is based in a city combating a zombie epidemic.  Survivors get killed, rise as zombies, and can be brought back to life as survivors again.  Meaning death has little meaning beyond some frustration at having to wait for somebody to revive you.

Anyway, the group I am in started a challenge.  A weekly 'drabble', or short work of 100 words or less, based on the game, and a single line, or statement.

This week's theme was "Death be not proud", a line from John Donne's poem of the same name.  Go read Donne, by the way, he's brilliant.

This was my entry:


Cold and wet.

The sticky-sweet smell of candied apples gone rotten in the sun.

Hunger, like a lion in your belly, growling it’s discontent through your every nerve. It drives you forward, shambling steps and awkward momentum.

Searching, always searching. No grave, with the warm embrace of the earth around you. No weeping widows or frightened children. No friends to laugh and cry at tales of your acts, or silent mistresses hoping not to be noticed in the pew farthest back.

Only the gnawing, overpowering need to devour.

Death was a time for grief, once. Solemn.

No longer.


As a passionate lover of words and language, I get very annoyed very quickly at a lot of things.  Little things, that most people wouldn't even notice.  Things so insignificant that my wife doesn't understand my anger, and just rolls her eyes as I rant about it.

You've all seen it, and likely had the conversation about it.  A handwritten sign in a small shop window, advertising some sale with the following text:

Come on in!  All "items" on "sale"!  Only $5!

Do you see what's wrong with that?  

Quotation marks are used for very specific things.  Ideally, they are used for dialog only, to differentiate the words that a character is speaking from the words in the descriptive text.  They can also be used to emphasize certain words or phrases, generally to indicate that the writer is using them for humour's sake.  It's like using air quotes in a conversation with a friend.

"Yes, that dress looks air quote nice air quote on you."

If you do that in conversation, it's a way for you to tell your friend that she looks like a bag of shit without actually saying it.  It gets the point across, and gives you a thin barrier of deniability.

So, in the example sign above, there's no sale.  Or, if there is, it's only on something intangible, like a smile from the cashier, or something.

To all of the people writing these store signs, I want you to do something.  We all understand the air quote, so when you are preparing to write your sign, say it out loud, and wherever you want to write a quotation mark, throw up some air quotes.  You'll realise in a hurry how retarded your sign is making you look.

Now, onto something else.  Facebook statuses.  I know, it seems a little low-brow, but with the pervasiveness of the site nowadays, it is the most common thing that a lot of people read.

Which makes me sad, and would cause Papa to kill some folk.

Anyway, I want to talk about emphasis on certain words here, again.  An example status in my friends feed from this morning:

"uppppppp , EARLYYY!!!!! soooo collllddddd... class 10-1:30 today ;) gym later with  ?? ahahaaa. txt the cell I LOVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!"

I..... I don't even know where to start, here.  This individual obviously wanted their text to read like they were drawing out a lot of these words.  Let's ignore the spelling and grammar issues, and just focus on that.  I can get my point across using just the first word, here.  The letter 'p' is a sharp consonant.  There is a clear break at the end of the sound.  Say the word "up", and you'll see what I mean.  The letter 'u' is not.  It can go on forever (well, as long as you have breath in your lungs, that is).  Some of the words in this status seem to follow this logic, but I thing that was just luck.  

Read that first word, out loud.  Right now, you are sounding like a stuttering lawn mower.  What this person should have written was:


Say that one out loud, and you can see what annoys me.  

The words that you write down, no matter where you write them, are there to be read.  And when people read, they hear the words in their head, generally the exact same way you write them down.  So, if you throw in an extra letter, or fuck things up as entirely as this individual did, you are making other people sound ridiculous, and you are making yourself look like an asshole.  

Stop it.  Grammar is awesome.  It's there for a reason, and you should have paid attention in English class.  

26 September 2009

Dusting Off an Old Manuscript

So I've been getting the itch to do some actual work lately. But starting a new novel is daunting, and I've been avoiding it. This evening, though, I remembered a long-abandoned manuscript, only half complete, that has been dying on my hard drive.

I opened it up tonight, and have been plugging away at it, off and on, for the past few hours. It's rough, getting back into something so long unused, but it feels great at the same time. I may actually finish this book.

Which is good, seeing as how it is one of my favourite story ideas, as well as one of the first ideas I ever had for a full length novel.

16 September 2009

The Importance of a Good Desk

I do all of my writing on a laptop, in Roughdraft 3.0 (great, great software, I highly recommend it). Theoretically, I can write anywhere with these tools. Going for coffee? Take the lappy with you, bang out a few pages in the Horton's.

In practice, however, this is not really possible. I need to be in my chair, at my desk. The reason I need my chair is, as I have mentioned, that I need a specific squeak to my chair when I'm writing. When taking a break from the keyboard for a few seconds, I lean back, and if I don't hear that squeak, I lose my train of thought entirely.

For the past ten years or so, I have had the same desk. It was white pressboard, with two drawers, and was generally pretty terrible. But it served me well, and I wrote my first novel at that desk.

When my grandmother passed away, my aunt, with whom she was living, was giving away some of her possessions. My sister, bless her heart, took Nan's desk for me. She took it home, stripped it entirely, and revarnished it. It is old, solid, and absolutely beautiful.

She finally had a chance to bring it to me, yesterday. I cleared out a space in the office, set it against the wall, and transferred everything into it yesterday afternoon. I then spent the rest of the day sitting at it, organising it and just getting used to the difference. The thing is older than I am, and you can tell if you look closely. But my sister and her husband did a magnificent job restoring it, and I can't thank them enough.

This is a desk that I can get some serious work done on, I think.

08 September 2009

Another One

You never know when an idea will hit you. See my earlier post, about always keeping a notebook handy. You could be driving to work, you could be watching the clouds, or playing in the backyard with your kid.

That last one just happened to me, over the weekend.

You never know what will trigger an idea, either. It could be something as innocuous as the position of a rock against a fencepost. Or more obvious, like a couple fighting for three hours next door, then going suspciously, and immediately, silent.

For me, it was the neighbour's garden. In their backyard, which faces my own, they have two decorative garden doors, right on the edge of their property. The way my backyard is laid out, these are in a small grotto, behind an aggressively overgrown dogwood bush, and under the low hanging, and far-reaching, boughs of a very old maple tree.

To look at it, it's a gorgeous sight. You're standing by a patch of daisies, looking into a shaded and secluded little clearing, and there are two doors, just standing there. There are no walls, no glass in the windows, and no handles on the doors.

I've been looking at them every day for a month, and nothing came of it. Saturday evening, though, I was outside playing with the Weenit, and it hit me like a bolt of lightning. The complete framework for a teenage-oriented fantasy novel. No meat to it, of course, that takes time, but the basis for it just fell into my brainmeats all at once.

I immediately wrote it down, of course, and will get to it when I can.

The point is, always be open to whatever comes into your head. You can't force an idea to come (unless you're Chuck Palahniuk, of course.... the man is a machine), which can be frustrating at times. But you can increase your chances by following those random thoughts that pop into your head. Follow them relentlessly, because you never know where they will take you.

04 September 2009

The Library

No, not the public one that smells like hobos, though that one is awesome, too.

I mean your personal library. The one you have in your bedroom, or your living room, or, like me, in your office.

A person's library says a lot about them. Some people don't even have them, and that makes Neil Gaiman sad.

Why do you want to make Neil Gaiman sad?

What you have in your library, or, in my case, what you have room to display in your library, is pretty much a visual representation of yourself. Your interests, your hobbies, your deepest, darkest secrets are there, for all the world to see.

If only they could decipher it.

Mine is spread across seven bookshelves of varying size and description. This includes one shelf devoted entirely to The Weenit's books, granted, but I don't mind, as seeing her purple fuzzy Dora chair permanently sitting next to a shelf filled with her books makes me happier than I can adequately describe.

The rest are mine. Well, mine and the wife's, but mostly mine. I am shamed to admit that there are several shelves that are double-stacked*, which annoys the shit out of me, but there's no room, otherwise.

The two main shelves are about as tall as I am, containing five and six shelves. They are narrow, but that just means they fit in the room better. One one (the six-shelfer) I have the majority of my fiction, loosely categorized by genre and alphabetized by author's last name. The bottom shelf and a half is devoted to anthologies (Grimm's fairy tales, Norton Anthology textbooks from university, collected works of various people, etc...). The second is for non-fiction, categorized by topic (psychology, biology, history, occult {yes, this is non-fiction}, biographies, war, etc....). The remaining shelves hold, mostly, pocketbooks. Though my Robert Jordan set (almost entirely in hardcover, I'm working on the rest) is proudly on display. These shelves are the smaller ones, limited to two or three shelves each.

Now, the reason I'm describing this.... well, I'm not really sure. My fingers were itchy, and I needed to type something, to be honest.

When somebody looks at these shelves, they can immediately discern a few things about me. One, I like to read. A lot. Two, and more importantly, in my mind, is that I don't really care what I am reading about. I like to read on just about any subject, and often sit down in the bathtub with a university textbook just to read it.

Just because.

I get a lot of weird looks when I tell people that.

Regardless, what I'm getting at is this. You need to read. A lot. And you shouldn't care what you're reading about. Unless, of course, you're working on a specific subject. But if you're stuck for ideas, and you're looking for inspiration, just reach out to your shelf, grab a random book, and start reading.

*Double-stacked is when you have a line of books at the back of the shelf, and a second line in front of these, blocking them from sight.

31 August 2009

It's My Book, Dammit, Not Yours

So, some recent drama over at a blog I read (The Over Educated Nympho, great read), has brought a few things to mind. Primarily, the notion of entitlement. A lot of readers will tell you that once they read a book, or a story, that it no longer belongs to the author. Hell, a lot of authors will tell you the same thing.

They are all completely wrong.

No matter what happens with it, anything you write is yours. Not only in a legal sense, but in a more personal, wholly intangible way.

When a reader has their mind blown, or their life completely changed by a book, they will hold it up as an example of great writing. Hell, I consider Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea to be the absolute pinnacle of English literature, unsullied by lesser hands. It has completely changed my life, and the way I approach the English language.

But it's not mine. Not even a little bit.

It's Papa's, and it always will be.

A writer puts more than just mental effort into their work. It's far more than just words on paper to them. It's far more than a moving story that punches you in the gut and fucks with your mind.

It is them. Body and soul goes into it, and a good writer, one who takes their craft seriously, will be able to look at any passage in one of their works and tell you everything about the moment when it was written down. Where they were, what they were feeling, what was going on around them. Which one of their kids was sick that day, and whether or not they were fighting with their spouse.

There is a connection there, existing between a writer and his work, that transcends just about every other. The only comparison I can make that would do it justice is that of a parent and child. It's fundamental, and forever.

So yes, you paid your $15 to have a copy, and you've read it three dozen times. But it's not yours. Physically, you own a copy, but it belongs to the author entirely.

28 August 2009

The Wait

So you've finished your masterpiece. You've polished it, and edited it, and trimmed it down to a level of awesomeness that astounds even you, it's creator.

You've taken the advice that is offered on every writer's website, and waited three months before reading it again, just to make sure.

You've selected a viable publishing house, filled out the paperwork, and sent it off to them. And now you wait.

And wait.

And wait.

It takes most houses at least three months to get to a submission. Three months, if you're lucky. Most times, it's more like six. Most also ask, and most how-to guides agree, that you not submit it elsewhere in the meantime. If, by some chance, they want it, they don't want to get into a bidding war over it with another house. Which is understandable.

So you sit, and wait. You check your mail three, four times a day, hoping for that envelope. It's interminable. Your stress level winds tighter and tighter with each passing day that it does not arrive. You come to hate weekends, solely due to the lack of mail delivery. You count down the days, and do complicated math in your head, trying to determine how much longer it will take, based on the distance it had to travel, the number of submissions you suppose the house gets, and the length of your submission itself. You start to fantasize about the reasons it is taking so long. Perhaps they loved it so much, they are having a series of meetings with their VPs, trying to settle on just how many millions they want to pay you. Perhaps they hated it so much that they burned it, and refuse to contact you, hoping that if they ignore you, you'll go away.

And then it arrives. By the time it drops into your mailbox, you don't even care anymore. Not really. You're down to checking the mail just once a day, sometimes even skipping it for a day. You've convinced yourself that it doesn't matter what they say in the letter, as long as they say something. When you see it in the mailbox, though, your heart skips a beat. You take it in trembling fingers and read the return address a few times, just to make sure you're not deluding yourself.

Much like a college application response, you try to gauge the response by the weight and thickness of the envelope. Is there a contract in there? Could it fit? Perhaps a cheque....

When you finally do open it and read the first few lines, your reaction here will determine your future. I'm serious. Chances are, it's a "thanks, but no thanks" letter. Don't kid yourself, my friend; Hemingway you ain't.

Now, how you respond to this is very, very important. And you can't really prep for it, either. You can break down, and give up. Let's face it, this is the option that most people take. Or, you can set the letter in your desk drawer, fire up your word processing software, and start in on the next chapter in your latest work.

That second option? That's the one that Hemingway would take.

Just so you know....

27 August 2009

Stephen King is a Douchebag

Alright, that may have been a bit strong.....

The man has some talent. Well, more specifically, he had some talent, got ridiculously wealthy, and has spent the rest of his life rehashing the same money-making techniques that got him rich in the first place. Which is fine for him, really. Whatever works, right?

But what pisses me off is his fans. Ever talked to a Stephen King fan? They're like fundamentalists. You can't get through to those people. You can lay out exactly why King has lost it, and where (about 200 pages into Firestarter, if you're interested), but it won't matter. You'll be shunned as a non-believer forever more.

He's a hack, writing the same stories over and over again, using the same half dozen or so characters, and always ending with some ridiculous deus ex machina that is proof positive that the man has no idea what he's doing.

Which brings me to my point:


Yes, I went all Billy Mays there, but I felt it was important enough to justify it. Plan your stories out, from start to finish. Get your characters in your head, flesh them out, and live in them for a while before you ever set pen to paper or fingers to keys. by "live in them" I mean just that. Spend a few days acting like your main characters. Approach every situation in the real world and ask yourself, "How would Protagonist deal with this?"

Know the story that you want to tell. Know how you want to tell it. Write all of that down first, and then fine tune it. You can tweak it as you get to the actual work, but if you do it right, you shouldn't have to do much of that at all.

The actual writing of the story should be the easy part. If you do enough preparation, it should just fall out of your fingers onto the page.

You should have notes. Reams of notes. You should have more notes than the actual work itself. That's fine. What you do with them when you're done is up to you. Personally, I try to keep mine, but scraps get lost here and there. Which kind of adds to the magic of it, I guess, but that's for another post.

As are Harry Potter fans. Fuck those people.

25 August 2009

Essential Tools

So, there are a few things that you need in order to write effectively. The first, obviously, is an idea. But we'll assume you have the idea, you have a basic layout of where you want to go with it, and so on.

So, you have The Story.

Now you just need to write the damn thing.

Here are some tools that I have found very helpful in this process.

1 - An extensive library. You've all heard it before, from any number of successful writers. If you want to write, you need to read. A lot. The reason you keep hearing it is because it's true. Nothing will make you more aware of how to do it than to experience it at somebody else's hand. Writing is one of the rare activities where practice does not make perfect. Unless you read somebody else's work, you'll never get better with your own. Just try to make sure that what you're reading is not close in style/theme to what you're writing. You'll copy it whether you intend to or not.

2 - Paper. And lots of it. I don't care that you're writing this on your laptop. You could be scribbling it with charcoal on the walls of your bedroom. Doesn't matter. You will need notepaper, and a lot of it. I use a Moleskine notebook for mine, and carry it with me everywhere. There are three pens tucked into it, and it is wrapped in an elastic. It doubles as a carrying case for essentials (smokes, lighter, pens, bus pass, etc...), but it's primary function is to write down ideas wherever they come to me. I have two books almost completely laid out in that Moleskine, and the bare bones of several others. Snippets of dialogue that I don't even know where they'll go, scenes that popped into my head and could be useful down the road, all sorts of things. Always, always, always have notepaper with you, and something to write with.

3 - Privacy. If you have a spare bedroom in your house, convert it to an office. Get a desk, some bookshelves, and set it up as your writing room. Let everybody else know that when the door to that room is closed, the only reason to interrupt you is imminent death. Get a lock on the door if you can, but stress that no one should be knocking on that door unless it is a dire emergency. There is nothing worse than being in a groove, with words flowing out of you in a torrent, only to have your concentration broken by a knock on the door, or someone barging into the room. People who do that should be shot, in my opinion. There is no going back to it, you've lost the moment, and there is no way to get it back.

That's pretty much it. Personally, I use a lot of music, as well, but that's just because I'm a huge audiophile. Some people like silence when they work, and that's fine too. I get bored when it's quiet, though. As well, I need a squeaky chair. Not for the noise, not really. It's weird, but if I lean back in my chair to take a breather, and I don't hear the squeak, it throws me completely off my game.

Tiny Pirates have Tiny Adventures

So, this started with a dream I had one night, and it's been kicking around in the back of my head for quite some time.

I'm working on a kids' book. Not, you know, actively working on it, but laying some groundwork, getting some ideas down, that sort of thing.

The problem is, I have another one, definitely not a kids' book, that I have more fleshed out. I have chapter outlines, a full plot, character sketches, etc.... And I really, really want to do that one, as well.

I'm torn.

Not to mention several others that are little more than ideas popping around in the back of my head.

Now that I have an office again, I'm going to get myself back into the swing of things, and get some words down on paper. I'm looking forward to it.