Posts Tagged With: Writing Fiction

The Plot Thickens (if you add some flour)

What do you need to create a plot? That’s the big question isn’t it? Well, here’s your answer: stuff. You need stuff. That was simple. End of blog. You can go about your business now. Wait wait wait… no. That’s cheating. Sorry. Okay. Alright. Someone on the facebook page just said it’s Goal, Motivation, Conflict. Okay. I can agree with that. It’s got a good beat. You can at least shuffle like an injured zombie to it. But is that enough?

I have decreed that it is Plot week on the Nanowrimo group page. Not the official page, mind you. The big unofficial one. The facebook one. So this is mostly for those folks, should they find their way here. If you’re not from the group, though, that’s okay too. Hope you enjoy it. It’s bound to be a rambling incoherent mess.

Okay. Just to start with, i remember when i was a young lad my mom got me a book for my birthday. Not exactly a unique occurrence. But this one was really good. It was The Fiction Writers Handbook, by Hallie and Whit Burnett. I was…. probably 12. It had a section on plot and it started thusly: The king dies. Then the queen dies. Now, according to Hallie and Whit, this right here is the essence of plot. This happened, then that happened. Is the happening the result of the first thing happening? Could be. But either way, everything between those two happenings (whatever you figure out) is your plot.

So you can say Goal, Motivation, Conflict and those certainly help. But, to me, that’s more of the order of character. Your character needs the goal, the motivation, the conflict. The Plot is the media in which those ingredients thicken and become a stew. I mean…. what’s my goal? To not die a horrible flaming death at the hands of the big damned dragon. What’s my motivation? Not dying is pretty good. What’s the conflict? Those big nasty teeth and, you know, the gouts of flame that are scorching my eyebrows off. Yeah. That’s good. But how the hell did i get into the damned dragons lair anyway? What am i doing here? That’s your plot.

Plot is simple. Really. It’s the barest of all possible bones in a story. It’s like a femur or something. And all plots are fairly alike… Mystery: Find the how and the who and bring them to justice. Fantasy: Recover the MacGuffin for the good guys. Sci Fi…. could be anything. Romance: Girl and guy hook up – happily ever after or no? Lit fic: Discover the X within yourself (or don’t and live as an educating wretch) It’s all pretty simple. So why bother?

Well… that’s the BIG BIG BIG damned question. The why bother is the thing that YOU bring to the table. The why is the thing that keeps you moving forward.

So you want to tell a story about dragons. Cool. Everybody loves dragons. Why not? But why you? What is it – inside you – that causes you to want to write about dragons? Find that. It can be almost anything. It can even be ‘dude. i just think dragons are wicked cool.’ That’s fine. But what is it about them that makes them wicked cool to YOU? Let’s take superheros for example: now it’s common knowledge that the superhero is an active character battling for justice in an inactive and occasionally subverted world, right? But what made someone write them to begin with? Probably a feeling of powerlessness in the face of powerful forces that seemed insurmountable. In short. I want Captain America to kick Hitler’s ass because my big brother Jimmy is over there and i’m scared shitless i’m never going to see him again and if Cap does it, Jimmy can come home. X-Men – racially mixed teens expunged from a society that hates and fears them, battle the forces of intolerance.

See? Simple but really damned powerful motivations.

Start from the small bones. The King dies then the queen dies. Then figure out why you care and put the muscle on those bones. In all probability you will start with your own motivation – what things are YOU trying to deal with? The king dies then the queen dies. Is it grief? Are you dealing with grief? Now you might say… i just want to write a really great story with lots of derring do and heroics. Who cares about all that thinky psychologizing stuff. Thousands of books are written just to sell a quick buck. Why can’t i just write one of those. Well, you can. But believe it or not, not caring is way harder than writing something you actually give a shit about. If you give a shit, you will want to know how the story ends. You will want to overcome the obstacles you set out for your Main Character. Because they’re YOUR obstacles too.

So. move forward from the basics and put the bones together with the idea of overcoming those things you need to get past, deal with, overcome. Hell, maybe you can’t. But you can create someone who can and when you do… well that’s the whole point. That’s the writing getting to the next level. That’s giving people the chance to say ‘you know what? I read your book, and the way you got Bobby over the hump of dealing with the death of the king so that he could then go and slay the evil queen? It saved my shit. No lie. I was in a bad place and i read that and i was like ‘i can get off my ass. If little Bobby Peachtree could do it. I can.’

Now that may seem more like thematics. Which i should talk about, but i won’t right now. Ideally you’ll be building your themes concurrent with the plot. But just remember the plot starts simple. Keep it simple. Little girl finds home. Detective finds the bad guy. Good overcomes bad. Then ask questions. Ask LOTS of questions. What is the good? What is the bad? How does good overcome? What is home? Who is the bad guy? How does the detective find him? What clues are left behind? Where do they lead? Plot is a series of this/then. That happens because this happened. Chain them all together and you have your plot.

 

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Why Genre Writing Matters

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Yesterday i spent a long drive down to Burlington, Wisconsin to play a board game with some old friends. Now, by old, i mean we aren’t old. Older than we were, for sure. But time’s a funny thing. You don’t see it passing, it just does and one day you’re 40 and you haven’t seen those people you grew up with for 20 years or so, but even that time… weird though it is… evaporates as soon as you are in a basement with dice in your hand playing a board game. Just like you used to do.

But this isn’t really about that. Maybe i’ll hold that one off for later.

This is about the writer i heard on the news radio station i was listening to on the way down there. I don’t remember her name, but i can tell you she’s a shakespearean professor of english and she writes Romance. From the sound of things she makes a freaking KILLING at it too. Note – this is also not a promotional ad for all budding writers to run out and scribble some romance for the sake of riches.

Anyway, she chatted a little about the killing she was making at it and most importantly how those in her profession – her literary colleagues – were oblivious to it. They were completely unaware that her professor salary was dwarfed in the extreme by the small fortune she was raking in for writing pulpy bodice rippers. Well. Ain’t that just the shit?

I grew up with Genre writing. I didn’t know it at the time. I just thought Genre writing was called books. But i poured through The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown. I graduated, slowly, to horror through Stephen King and then to… ahhh… this is fun… The Dragonlance Chronicles by Weis and Hickman. I was so damned envious when one of my friends scored a signed copy of Dragons of… something. I read them all. Then i soaked in Sci Fi for a while – Heinlein, Card, and then…

Neuromancer. I’ll be honest. Neuromancer broke my brain. The prose. Hell, i didn’t even really know what prose was at the time but i knew this was something different. For a while, William Gibson became my god and everything became Cyberpunk. Everything. And it was a delight. The world was complicated. Fast. Beautiful like moonlight on a heap of discarded computer parts or neon glinting on gutter junk.

Somewhere along the way, though, i stopped.

But that’s not a tragedy. There is more to the world than Genre fiction. I don’t regret for a second falling in love with Steinbeck or Hemingway or Austen or Fitzgerald. I would be an utter idiot for not falling for it. It’s beautiful, amazing stuff and it’s expanded my brain further than i think Genre fiction would have been able to. Plus, and this is really it, i burned out on Genre. It became harder and harder to find GOOD books in fantasy or Sci Fi. So much of it just seemed the same. It wasn’t the sort of hell i ever expected but it did suck.

The point of all this autobiographical blah blah is that there is still something to Genre fiction. There’s a reason so many people still read and love it and frankly, i think i got it. I got the bug again. And here it is – here’s the big secret that i think is worth telling. Shhhh… don’t let too many people know.

Genre fiction brings you hope.

There. There it is. That’s the secret.

I was watching Tomorrowland with George Clooney or as my friend and i like to call him Eyorhay Kloonay. It’s not a bad little film. Flashy. Fun. But one part stuck with me. The main character is sitting in school through a series of montages of her classes as she’s being bombarded with the negative reality of the world she lives in – war, famine, global warming, starvation, etc. Her hand is perpetually up and perpetually ignored. Finally, at the end of the montage, the teacher allows her to ask her question. What is her question?

How do we fix it?

Okay. And that’s pretty genius. Cuz here we are and the world seems like it’s falling apart around our shoulders and everything sucks and people are getting stupider and blathering bullshit everywhere we look and it gets really depressing when you see glaciers calve off and ice shelfs fall into the sea and everyone is all like ‘lalalalalalaaaaa!!! Let’s fucking PARTAY!’

But Genre fiction… It asks the question. How are you going to fix it? It ennobles the idiotic savage. How many sci-fi stories have inspired new scientists? Neil Degrasse Tyson has indicated that it’s inspired him. How many fantasy stories have made activists of kids who have gotten inculcated into the concept of evil. They WANT to be heroes. Maybe it’s not the only thing, but start them young on something… and miracles are possible.

Hell start em old. Start them whenever. In Mysteries, terrible crimes get solved in a way they so rarely do when we see all the blood splashed all over the news. In fantasy, we fight evil and we win. In sci fi we explore and face our fears of the unknown. In romance we find love in spite of terrible obstacles.

We fucking need these things. Particularly now when the world DOES seem so horrible. We need to believe in doing the right thing, being brave, exploring. The challenges are HUGE and… well.. this is just my opinion but the only damned thing that is going to save our asses against the ever-yawning void of the banality of tragic indifference is an ascendancy of imagination.

Remember that part of Lord of the Rings when Gandalf is talking about the ephemeral nature of hope? Yeah. That. Right there. How many kids read that and said: Fuck yeah. That’s going to be me some day. I’m going to stand in front of the Witch King of Angmar and though he’s going to rend me to ribbons, it’s where i need to stand. How many looked into the stars and saw themselves in a spaceship scudding among them?

Genre fiction spits in the face of the impossible. It eats it for breakfast and poops out rainbows. And hell… we can’t go wrong when it teaches us that you can stand with a dwarf and an elf and battle a freaking dragon. A. FREAKING. DRAGON. It says: yeah… i know these people are weird, different, different races that i don’t really understand but right now, these are the crew that are going to battle THAT big fricking dragon so i don’t give one god damn that one’s short and the other has pointy ears.

So, yeah. We need it. And i’m happy to write it. I want to do it as well as i know how because i WANT some kid to read it and be like ‘hell yeah. This is what justice is all about. This is what friendship is all about. This is what i’m looking to create in MY life.’

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The Art of Editing (according to me) Vol. 1

Alright. Are we all situated? Should i take attendance? Ah screw it. Sit wherever you want. This here Blog is The Art of Editing 101. I say 101 because i’m probably not qualified to teach an upper level class on the subject. But i’m going to put a few thoughts out there in a few volumes. Whether you like it or not.

So sit down. Shush. Take notes. Yell at me. Whatever you need to do. But this is important. Seriously. No really. You in the back. I see you playing Pet Rescue. Put it away.

The first thing you need to know if you are a writer, or want to be a writer, is that editing is every bit as much an art as the actual writing process is. Start thinking of it like that. Everybody thinks that it’s a grand thing living in a wonderful floaty cloud on high, plinking away at your keyboards, creating brilliant new worlds, inventing characters. I have personally met artists who believe that the products of their fingers is spun gold straight from the start.

They are liars.

No one writes spun gold. No one. Not ever. Not once. Not in the entire history of all stories ever told.

What artists do is they start to understand that editing is every bit the process of art that drafts are. Possibly more so. Do not presume that your first, second, third, fourth, eighth effort is worthy of production and publication. It’s not. No really. Its not.

No. REALLY.

You aren’t going to believe me no matter what i say, so i’ll just put this out there as coldly as i can. If you are a self pubber, or e book writer, chances are this is going to happen to you. It’s happened to me. Here’s how it goes: You write something wonderful and you think: “oh my god! I’ve got it!” and you’ll rush to press with whatever it is, dreaming of riches falling out of the sky and the accolades and adoration of your fans.

There is even a tiny chance – infinitesimally small – that you’ll actually RECEIVE those things (which is far far worse, really, than if you don’t.)

Then, many years later, you will review that thing you rushed to press and you will invariably head-desk so fricking hard Mr. Miyagi will want to take lessons from you on how to break tables with your forehead. (another tip: this is going to happen anyway, but I hope to help mitigate the damage to furniture if I can.)

I have a sneaking suspicion that there are authors among us, very popular authors, who somehow get that fantastic ego ballooned to ludicrous proportions by enigmatic success and become impervious to this effect because… well… filthy luchre is still pouring in so they can’t be that bad… but they are.

Write well. No one gives a rats ass if you have money coming out of your rectum if you still can’t carry a tune and write a sentence. In fact, you’ll be an even bigger asshole. They’ll gladly stand around with their hands out smiling at you long enough to grease their palms but at the end of the day, you’re still going to have pros call you an inveterate shmuck.

So….

Sorry for that preamble. But that’s where it’s at.

Editing is an art. This is Volume One of the things i’ve learned. Subtitled even further as The Introduction. If you are content to fumble about taking chances and hoping for the best then don’t worry. You don’t need to come back. If you WANT to get better, I can tell you the things that have helped me.

Am I a great writer with fame and fortune to spare? Nope. But I am someone who more often than not does NOT put things out into the world that I would be ashamed to stand behind. I do not claim wealth and success… yet. And I don’t want to, until I feel like i’ve earned it.

Editing is an Art. Are you sick of me saying it yet? I’m going to keep saying it. It’s a beautiful thing in itself.

Take a picture. Go outside right now and snap a shot of any random thing. ANYTHING. Seriously. I’ll wait.

Got it? Now take a look at that picture. Is it art? No. It’s probably a shot of your cat, or maybe a shot of your car. Or the nearest snow bank. That’s fine. You aren’t a photographer. And I JUST asked you to take a shot of any random thing. But what’s the big difference between you and a professional photographer? A professional photographer would have set his composition. He would have framed it. He would probably have gone into some program and tweaked it. He might have cropped it, adjusted colors. If he was old school he would have used chemicals to do this and that mysterious alchemical thing we whisper about – photographic process. He might have used a different camera or a different film. He did all of this because he KNOWS how.

How does he know how to do this you ask?

Because he has screwed it all up before. Editing is the process by which you hone your talent. The more you edit, the better you are at drafting and setting up the originals, the less things there are to edit the next time.

It’s the art of getting yourself closer to what it is you want of your art. You had the idea, you know what you want to say, you know how you WANT your reader to feel. Now you must craft and hone and tinker and process and alter the color and get the notes right until that IS what they get.

Or die trying.

And don’t get me wrong… it might kill you.

End of The Introduction.

Coming Soon – Volume Two – The Basics.

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Oh The Things You Don’t Know

I’m finally getting to the point where i’m ready to publish Meg Brown Mysteries #6 – Meg Beats Cancer. Finally. It’s taken ages – like a full year since i wrote the last word. Which is just ridiculous. You might ask ‘why did it take so freaking long?’ Well… I can tell you. It’s not the things you don’t know that will mess you up. It’s the things you don’t even know you don’t know. Things like cover design, page layout, formatting. E publishing is a piece of cake compared to getting something ready for Print on Demand.

I did the cover myself. It wasn’t bad. I liked it. Everything was in its place and everything had a point and it wasn’t easy. As the story begins, and leads up to one epic fight in a very literal sense, i figured the background should convey that. It’s not easy making your type face into something that looks like blood stains and spatter. Nor is it easy making a blank background with wreckage and cracks. It was a good cover. It is a good cover. It has meaning and flows with the story.

But that isn’t the hard part. The hard part was putting it together. I do not have a publishing program, nor do i particularly have the skills to use such a program if i had one. Given certain events, which i will not address here to protect the innocent and the awesome (neither of which is me, sadly) I did something i generally don’t do. I asked for help.

‘Why don’t i ask for help more often?’, you may say. Well… it’s complicated, but the long and short of it is i have found that help is often LONG in coming – as in REALLY long – as in many times i ask and get a promise of help and then wait… and wait…. AND wait. And then wait longer. And then do some more waiting. And finally resign myself to never hearing from my ‘helper’ again. This is why i tend to keep things in house. Not to mention, sometimes the help isn’t terrifically helpful. Sometimes it’s actually antagonistic. Most of the time it takes the form of ‘yeah… i remember i said i would help, but dude… i’m eating pizza right now and Survivor just started.’ Correction, most of the time ‘Help’ takes the form of complete radio silence.

It’s enough to make a guy get a little bitter.

It’s enough to make you learn your lesson not to ask for help.

I hate being disappointed with people. I like to like people. Consequently, i try to give myself as few opportunities as possible to be disappointed in them.

Anyway. now that really sounds gripey. The point is, i didn’t go to my friends. Well… i did… and got disappointed. So i went to a professional with the pieces of the cover. She did a terrific job. The cover got finished. But here’s where the ‘didn’t know what i didn’t know’ part comes in. The SPINE of the book. It seems obvious in retrospect that the thing keeping all the pages together would be variable in size and you would need to figure it out somehow. There is a calculation to be made. This calculation is itself dependent on the trim size of the book. (basically the size of the book… trim size is one of those publishy terms that tell you the dimensions. i don’t know why they don’t just say… y’know ‘dimension’.)

So i fixed the ‘dimensions’ in the master file of the book. I looked at it. It didn’t look like a book. It looked like pages of some epic poem. The problem was the margins. In a real book, the margins have to be offset – basically alternating off center because of the space at the edge where one page curves into the binding. Right? Makes sense. Well… i didn’t know that. And i had no idea how to format that in a document so that it worked out. Luckily, Createspace has a handy dandy little template you can use. After a little rejiggering and a huge cut and paste, i managed to get it straightened out, got a NEW page count, had my cover designer recalculate the pixel size of the spine, redid the spine (at the end of the day i redrew the spine 5 times) and i am finally, almost, off to the races.

If you’re wondering who my cover designer is because you’re looking for one, it’s Kat Mellon. She does great work. If you’re not inclined to take my route and do it yourself, i highly recommend her. She’s excellent.

Anyway. It’s done. There’s more, of course. The book is nearly ready. It will be ready probably this weekend. The cover is done. And that’s about all i’m going to say about it.

The point of this blog is, there are ALWAYS things you don’t know that you don’t know somewhere out there waiting for you. Chances are pretty good that you’re going to sink knee deep in them at some point. They can be simple things that you just had no idea about and learning about them can be a grand experience, expanding your awareness. On the other hand there are the things that sap your strength, your will, your faith. There are things that clutch at your heart and snatch away the hope and joy you had if you let it. Trust yourself, gird yourself, take a deep breath. Do the best you can. And don’t give helpers the opportunity to disappoint you. If you can, and have the money (which i do not) hire the services of a professional and turn your book over to them to do all that stuff. It’s generally not worth the headache.

If you CHOOSE to follow my route – or are equally poor – well… that’s why i wrote this. So that you have a little foreknowledge of some of the things you do not yet know.

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Nano Day… Whatever. I’ve lost track

Ashley2Alright. Let’s make this quick. I’m in the middle of a bit of a word war with the Shadow and Clay blog. I don’t have time for this blogging nonsense. Don’t you know it’s NANO?

Anyway. So here it is in a nutshell: After two weeks of work on this novel and 37000 words or so i can freely and honestly admit that it has spiraled out of control. I’m still really enjoying it and i’m having a blast writing the bits and bobs of it but those bits and bobs are only SLOWLY building into a story. I feel as though i haven’t even really started yet.

But that’s Nano for you. Get those words down. A draft – no matter how horrible or meandering or completely lost, or whatever, is nothing if not the longest outline you’re going to write. As of right now – all of the little bits i’ve been thinking over for more than a month are coming out. I have a talking hawk who is gradually inserting herself more and more into the story. I had no idea Ashley would become such a handful.

The little meeting with the talking whale who lives in an ocean inside a maintenance shed at the zoo went off perfectly and had everything i wanted. I have a group of nosy middle class suburbanite jerkfaces muddling in my MC’s business. I’ve got everything i wanted except a story that is moving inexorably to it’s conclusion. In fact, 37000 words in and i feel like i’m still in the first few chapters explaining the characters.

I finally have my main character, Lola, getting a tour of the school she’s going to attend. This SHOULD have happened in the first 10000 words but here i am. Way late – And dreading the intense and massive editing process to come. What gets saved? Will i have to reorganize everything? Can i condense? Do i just plod on and include all that i want to?

These are all thoughts for a much later date. For now, WRITE WRITE WRITE!!! GET IT ALL DOWN!

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Day Five of Nano – My Progress So Far

Alphonso

Alright. It’s… well… i’ve lost track now. Day six. I really should be actually writing something. Well… i am. Just not the thing i should be writing so let’s keep this quick shall we? So i can get back to it?

So far it’s been going pretty good. I’ve done four of these previously and let me tell you – the five day/day six or first week an be pretty rough. Lots of people have been tossing up the white flag in surrender right about now. Plots dwindle out or just abruptly drift off into nothing, characters are starting to rebel, real life issues creep in. Week one is… well… it’s wreckage. You start to realize just what you’ve gotten yourself into. Sometimes you even start making stuff up and just padding out the words.

All good strategies really. Sometimes you have to ramble intelligently to pick up your own thread. No harm in it.

Me, i’m at 18,000 words and the fifth chapter. Things are going great actually. I just introduced Allerdyne the zookeeper, Ashley the Red Tailed Hawk and last night i finally managed to get my Main Character to meet the Queen of Yesterday, Karin the talking whale and the ocean in the maintenance shed. It’s a pretty pivotal moment in the story, really so i’m pretty happy with it. The whole episode popped into my head in the late afternoon, right down to the nitty gritty details and it went off exactly as i imagined. In fact, it was better than i imagined. That’s when you know you got it right on the first try.

To any of you non-writers out there who might be reading this – it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes you have something imagined (the first step in writing a scene is seeing it) and your characters decide at the last minute that they’re going to go in another direction. You can tell when this happened. You’re merrily writing the scene you pictured and all of a sudden the writing becomes forced and you’re fighting it, as though the circumstances and the characters are quite literally tugging you in another direction.

But the scene with the whale in the maintenance shed didn’t do that. I took my time with it and it flowed out right down the line. Dialog and all. That’s time for a victory dance.

If you’re wondering what the gorilla is doing at the top of the page here, well… that’s another character. Apparently, i’m having more difficulty naming him than i thought. The name i gave him in Scapple is Adolpho Bumbles but throughout the story it’s been vacillating between that and Alphonso. I think it will stay Adolpho but that will now require some editing. Adolpho and Marion Bumbles and their son Kevin – who is also a Gorilla. Talking gorilla’s of course.

For some reason i’m having the worst time remembering that the Gorilla wife’s name is Marion. I’ve had to look it up nearly every time i write it. Ah well.. Another one of those things that just happens i suppose.

Anyway. I am off to get my word count up for the morning. It’s nice to wake up early and crank out a good 500 – 700 words before showering, that way there isn’t such a long haul when i get home from work. Just another possibly helpful strategy to any of you still trying to find time somewhere.

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The Nano Prep Begins – but what do i write?

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Here to inaugurate the great Nano 2014 is my glorious and insightful blog post about where to find the idea. You know. THE idea. The idea that will spin you off to Nano Victory this year and win you awards and accolades and acclaims of sheer genius. These tried and true methods are the best in the business. Even though they’ve never been tried. And might not be true. Either way they’ve worked pretty well for me in the past and they might be good for someone. Somewhere.

Let it be known, of course, that i am not a professional nor have these methods been endorsed by any professionals. In fact, i don’t know any professionals and i don’t think i want to. They’re a silly bunch who prefer wandering around the castle breaking into song at inappropriate moments such as before coffee.

So where do you get your idea?

This is going to sound pretty straightforward but here it is: FROM YOUR BRAIN. I know. Someone has a bitchslap aimed at my face right now but that’s really the easiest way to put it. It doesn’t take long for me to find an idea. It does, on the other hand, take a bit of time. And believe it or not ideas do not usually come down on a thunderbolt sent from Thor’s hammer. They come from taking seemingly random shit that has been stuck in the collective attic of your skull for a long time, just gathering dust.

Here’s what you do: Climb the creaky ladder in your head and start pawing through the attic. Open the various dusty boxes, take in the smell of mold, wipe away some cobwebs. You know when you go up there that you’re going to find something. Your going to open that one box marked ’80’s movie posters’ or ‘mix tapes from high school’ and something is going to pop out at you. It could be anything but it will have a potent meaning to you and it will grab hold with some nostalgia, spinning up memories and all that. Ideas are like that in that, when you find them you know you’ve found them.

But ideas aren’t memories at all. It’s stuff you’ve been storing in your brain. Stuff you keep around. Knick Knacks you’ve been meaning to put up somewhere but haven’t got around to it yet. And they can be anything. Literally anything. You may not even know what they are.

Which brings me to the second point. An idea isn’t anything until you get your brain working on it. Here’s how it works: You know that pretty piece of rock you found in the box in the attic of your brain. Take a look at it. Get your head out of the way. Don’t think of it as a thing or a something. Think of all of it and open up to it. Is there a memory to go with it? Throw that in the mixing bowl. Is it the color? What does the color say to you? Throw that in there. If someone gave it to you, why? Throw that in there. Is it shaped like Shia LeBoefs head? Throw that in there.

Now mix it all around and make a story out of it.

This is all confused and stupid isn’t it? It is. So what? This is what works for me.

Oh. And there’s something else. You have to get your writing imagination to start WORKING on this stuff. Lets take a concrete example. Lets say i have nothing to write for nano this year. On my desk right now are a series of knickknacks. For real. I have a small felted chicken, some plastic Muppet Star Wars figures, a knitted plush elephant and a wooden ship my grandpa made. How do i get my writing imagination to work on this stuff. It isn’t the stuff of high literature. It doesn’t have GRAVITAS. Well… make it. What if these weird little figures hopped on that ship and took a grand voyage of adventure? What if the beaker C3P0 was secretly in love with the Gonzo Darth Vader but he hated the felted chicken who was Beaker C3PO’s best friend because of something that happened in the past? What was that thing that happened in the past? What if Beaker is the worlds greatest salad maker prized for his ability to put amazing salad’s together and desires nothing more than a rare leaf lettuce from indonesia that grows only once in a blue moon that falls on a saturday in march?

What if’s are your life blood when creating an idea. And a what if should NEVER be stopped in the planning stages. You’ll start editing your idea once you hook into something you get excited about.

Ideas SHOULD be ridiculous. They should be a story. They should be your playground brain creating scenes and stories out of the shipwreck flotsam you find on a playground. It works the same way. You know that the slide wasn’t JUST a slide when you were a kid. It was a ramp to alien spacecraft, it was a fire outlook, it was the tip of an island slowly sinking into the sea. Ideas are the same thing. Don’t let your grown up brain interfere with them.

Now… You’ve got something. You’ve got a bunch of weird characters on a ship on a quixotic quest to find a leaf lettuce in indonesia. It may not seem like much – particularly if you have been unable to keep your editing brain from tinkering with it. But it is something. And if you’ve done it right you’re probably wondering where the fuck did that all come from? Don’t bother to think about it. This is your weirdo writing subconscious at work. Just keep generating. But now you can do a little refinement.

I have these people on a ship. Who are they? Why are they on a ship? Is that really important that they’re on a ship? What is the ship REALLY like? Strip away the plastic beaker C3PO and evolve that character into someone. Baker, Candlestick maker, get to know them. Don’t interview them like one would a celebrity on tv. Get them drunk and hold their hair while they throw up. Listen to what they whine about while drunk, watch the fights that happen. All of this stuff is important. It’s coming from YOUR HEAD. Which means, subconsciously that you’ve stumbled upon shit that is somehow – in some obscure way – important to YOU. You haven’t made it up like some 35 year old wanna be architect playing with lincoln logs. You’ve let it pop through your skull. You have AN idea. It may not be a great idea but it’s an idea.

Oh yeah. And do yourself a favor. Don’t start your Nano on a quest for a great idea. It’s a terrific way to start yourself in the hole. Let your brain stumble upon a great idea like sea glass on the beach. Let your brain play. That – to me – is what nano is all about. Not the great novel but a rediscovery of the playground and all the worlds it contains.

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Have Pen Will Travel pt. 2 –

venice2Yeah. I’m back. I know it’s been a while but you know how it goes. Life stuff. No time. Writing a novel. All that stuff. But now I’m here and you all missed me, right? RIGHT?

For starters, lets talk a little about where to stay on this trip of yours. As a writer, what you really need is to get out from under the protective shell of a comfy hotel room. I mean, let’s be honest here, what are you going to do in a hotel room? Watch TV probably. Are you going to learn anything about your foreign surroundings like that? Probably not. Most likely, you’ll sit in your room soaking in the wonderful, lovely king sized bed.

Don’t do this. Your best bet, as a writer, is to find a friend and hopefully crash at their place for a day or two. Couch surf if you can. I stayed most of the week at the wonderful little pad of my friend who was gracious enough to attempt putting up an air mattress for me – which collapsed under me as i tried to sleep. Twice. But luckily her couch is wonderful, so it was an easy switch.

‘Why couch surf?’ you might say. ‘Isn’t this supposed to be a vacation? Aren’t i imposing on them?” Yes. Yes. and yes. I do and did feel like i was imposing a great deal. Hopefully you can ameliorate these feelings by providing a gift or buying them a few meals etc. What you get out of it though is catching up on old friends, which can be wonderful, plus an introduction on the town you now find yourself in.

I had no sooner dropped my bags in her house and we were out the door. I was on a mission to buy myself a new hat at the Venice Hat Shop. They’d served me very well in the past and for my birthday i was going to select a new hat for myself. This didn’t go all that well to be quite honest. Which just goes to show you, dear writer, that the best laid plans and all that. I still have the hat and it isn’t bad it’s just noisy. Why is a hat noisy? I don’t understand it. But it is.

Anyway, Right after that we wandered all the way down the Venice Boardwalk on a saturday. If you have never done this, there is simply no better place that I know of for people watching. And it was CRAMMED with people. A bit like going to a foreign bazaar, really. It was just an ongoing flood of people that i, a little trout, had to swim against and weave through. If you get a chance of walking the boardwalk on a warm day in the summer, do so at a leisurely pace so you can take it all in – the sand, the people, the strange little shops, the feel of the ocean, the breeze…

Venice Boardwalk is practically legendary. You see it in commercials, in shows, in movies. You’ve probably heard about it. But nothing quite prepares you for it – the folks skating up on roller blades with handfuls of CD’s that they’re trying to sell, the street shops – little stands selling art or selling the privilege of photographing sand sculptures, the guys in surgical scrubs advertising a medical marijuana shop. I gather the weirdness factor has become a little commercialized over the years hence the new Venice slogan (sadly not very unique and possibly pilfered from Austin): “Keep Venice Weird.” But if you’re from one of those sad sections of America (or elsewhere) where ‘weirdness’ is still something to be met with an inquisition you’ll find the place a great big gasp of interestingly flavored air.

But the real trick to being a writer in Venice is having a seat. Pull up a chair at one of the many boardwalk bars or restaurants – there are some good ones – and just enjoy the flow of people. Get a drink. I’d recommend the Venice Ale House – which is closer to the dividing line between Venice and Santa Monica. It’s a little small and their turnover is rapid – meaning you may not get the chance to hang out that long, not that they’ll actually kick you out, but you might get the impression that you should push on before long. If you want to sit for a while, though, take yourself to the Sidewalk Cafe – tons of outside seating. More like a warehouse for thirsty people, actually, but a warehouse with some excellent architecture and a location that can’t be beat. It’s just huge. If you’re so inclined, make a day of it and do both. Take the Ale House for breakfast and chill at the Cafe afternoon. If you do it on a weekday it shouldn’t be so incredibly, mind-oversaturatingly busy.

As a writer you could spend hours there and you probably should. There are quite a few wonderful little beachfront bars and restaurants to choose from to plop your shit and just soak it all in.

But we did none of that. We were on a mission, a birthday mission. And this time it wasn’t mine.

After a good LONG while walking at top speed through the crush we hung a left and headed straight on some main street. This is the other reason to stay at a friend’s place – particularly some place like LA – they know how to get places. Left to your own devices, you’re apt to get lost. Or wander aimlessly into some unsavory places – which you should probably do as well but more on that in another post.

But here’s the REAL reason you want to hang with friends as a writer. Introductions. We finally got to where we were going after a long walk in a direction I could only really define as Left. Left from the beach. Which means east- ish? Sure. That sounds good. Anyway, it was a bar. A very crowded, packed bar. Why? Because they were having a birthday for someone I hadn’t met. No problem, with the help of my friend and a few quick introductions I ended up having several lengthy conversations with total strangers who very rapidly became not strangers at all.

Which brings me to the next bit about Travel as a Writer. You really have to make the attempt to open yourself up in ways you never thought to do before. I know – easier said than done right? But seriously. The thing that worked for me – and it’s going to sound really obnoxiously trite – is thinking ‘these are just friends I haven’t met yet.’ I know. Groan. But it worked. Whatever you have to do to get yourself to the point of being open and personable. Relax. If the worst comes to worst you can always tell yourself ‘these are also people I’m never likely to see again.’ Think of yourself as a bit of a journalist, though not so annoying and probing.

And if none of that shit works just relax. You’re on vacation. Chances are, if you really open yourself up you will meet some wonderful people. I met a lady, the wife of one of my friend’s friends, who was about as inclined to be crushed into a drinking mob of strangers as i was. It’s funny how you’ll do things for a birthday you’d be less inclined to do otherwise. But there we are. We had a nice long conversation about stuff in general and it was really relaxing and fantastic. I explained my burgeoning theory about LA that, in spite of appearances to the contrary and general conventional wisdom, LA is the national capital for Introverts. I know. You’re probably thinking i’ve gone completely nuts now. And i might be. I would need a much longer time to explore this theory, but there it is. And i think i’ll leave you with that for now. The theory itself might be better served in another blog post.

Hey… i’ve got to keep you coming back for some reason right?

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Have Pen, Will Travel or Get The Heck OUT THERE, Writer!!!

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Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re a writer. Congrats. I can tell by your moleskine notebook and brace of pens, the book crammed under your arm, your messenger bag, your laptop. That’s nice. Oh look, you’ve made your way to the coffee shop. That’s great. Whatcha working on? Huh? Huh? Not going to tell me are you? That’s alright. I get it.

But here’s the thing, writer. There’s a little more to writing than… well… writing. So put that pen away for a second. No, i’m not going to stop bothering you. Put it away and listen for a second. This is important. No really. You’ve got to hear this. Are you listening?

Good.

Get out there.

Look. We’re all better off, as writers, sequestered in our respective monastic cells tapping away our stories and such. It’s one of the reasons we do what we do and love it. But there’s really more out there that you need to experience. You need to travel. You need a vacation.

Well. Duh. Is what you probably just said. But, seriously. There is a huge pile of experiences and stuff that you need to be having to restock the warehouse of ideas. There’s things you need to see, people you need to meet and experiences you must have that will just make those pages sing a little louder, a little more confidently.

But it’s not enough to just pack your bags and sallie forth. You’ve got to be open to the whole thing too. In the next few blogs i intend to post a few little whys and wherefores on the whole travel thing. Again, they aren’t meant for everyone. They won’t be a ‘do this or else’ list. In fact they’re just going to be a few things here and there that helped me on my most recent travels and stuff i’ve been reflecting on since. Things like what bars you should frequent while out on your travels, What sort of tourist traps should you hit – if any – and which one’s you shouldn’t. Then i’ll key you in to my own little travel log. Or whatever.

But let’s just start here for now. You’ve got to get out there. Find a retreat. Find a conference. Go. Hang out among the locals and get to know people. Be open. Take public transit and most importantly, chat with total strangers. Travel is an opportunity that writers must take. It’s the big golden gate to your brain that doesn’t open nearly enough. When it does amazing stuff pours in. Stuff that can and will color your words and creations more vividly than anything else.

So think of this lame post as an exhortation and an introduction. If you’re interested, just stay tuned for more. I’m hoping – of course – to tell you all about my most recent travel. I’ll be getting into specifics, so it may end up sounding a bit like a travel review type thing but i promise there will be plenty of writery stuff to it as well. And yes, in case you’re wondering, that big ship at the top has something to do with it.

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An Experiment in Self-Publishing: pt. 2

No. You don’t get a fricking drawing or a picture of any kind. Nuh uh. Why? Because 135 people have ‘viewed’ my story Cuhlyn’s Tale on Payhip and of them I have sold 6 copies. SIX!!! And 2 of those were to the same people. So they bought it TWICE! Which must mean it’s awesome, right? Guess that shows you. You could have been on the ground floor of something amazing but nooooooo…. YOU chose to sit on the sidelines and see how it all plays out. Didn’t you? Didn’t YOU?

Naw… Just kidding. Sort of. It’s no big deal. It’s a little story anyway. Not something I was looking for – just something that happened along one fine day. So I wrote it. NOW GO BUY IT!

Truth be told the experiment isn’t working all that well. I’ve had a friend in Scotland have some issues with the Payhip site, there was some trouble in the very beginning with Paypal (my fault), and it needed some editing. It has now been edited. Again and resubmitted. According to the site, if you purchase a copy you get it as a Doc file or a epub file. Or both. It’s a little hard to tell. Personally, I really don’t understand the doc file thing. That really shouldn’t even be an option should it? That would enable anyone to purchase, download, alter the heck out of it and resubmit it under their own auspices. Hmmm… I think I’ll have to pull that doc file down before someone with more marketing understanding rips me off.

Also, the same friend in Scotland has mentioned difficulty with the ‘sharing/liking’ of it on FB. She’s not even getting those options on her browser. This is a problem as I have it set right now so that you (yes YOU!!!) get a discount if you share or like it. This amounts to 50% off if you share it. Which seems to work backwards if you ask me. It’s a great idea but maybe the discount should be paid forward? If you buy something and like it enough to recommend it, you can click share or like from the main page and have a discount applied to your next purchase. I mean, who really want’s to go BACK and like something after you’ve read it? Okay. Wait. I do that all the time.

I have to say, though, one thing i do like about it (and dislike about it) is that there is no place to leave comments or reviews. Payhip, as a whole, is very stripped down and no frills. There are no pushes, no marketing slams of ‘if you liked this story, you might like this one that someone with more money has had professionally promoted’. It’s nice because the review thing has become a game. You see it all the time – people begging on the cobbled streets like Dickensian paupers: ‘Please, sir – would you kindly review my vampire novel? I promise it will be no trouble. There’s only one werewolf in it. Honest, sir…’ I know reviews matter. I know i have none. I read reviews all the time, but – as a writer – i tend to review the reviews if you know what i mean. Too many spelling mistakes in a review, loose language use, colloquialisms and it’s as good as a bad review in my opinion. In any case, there is no place to put a review on Payhip, even if you wanted to. There’s no rating system, no genre searching, Really, i’m not sure how you’re supposed to find anything on there.

That said, their percentages are really good. Definitely worth it. And i hope they keep that in place should they choose to expand. They’re also really easy to upload to and the sharing/liking features (when they work) are really easy to use, but as i said i have had at least one friend have difficulty getting them to work.

In any case, the experiment continues. If you would like a short little tale about a barbarian trying to save his little village from slaughter you can find it here. If not, that’s cool too – just leave me tips and pointers on how better to market stories, because i still suck at it.

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