Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Thursday, March 27, 2014
So I was throwing down words the other day, and was surprised when my characters started doing things that I really wasn’t comfortable with. This both amazed me and worried me. It amazed me because I felt that I had actually finally created a character that wasn’t just based on some loose idea of but it also worried me because if I wasn’t happy about what the characters were doing, then what would total strangers think about them.
Now, this might not be that revolutionary to most. I admit I’ve only been studying the art of fiction writing for about a year (and I have a lot to learn). In all of my previous projects the protagonist has always been someone that I liked, the ultimate hero, the person who’s always going to have the answers and never fails, but with BEAST I really didn’t start out to make a character that people would “like”. In fact, my protagonist was originally supposed to only be a minor supporting character and the character I intended to write the story about was pushed to the background. The thing is, it works better this way, and I didn’t force it.
That’s when I realized that it wasn’t really my place to say how or why or anything about what my characters do. Sure the ideas were mine, but apparently you can’t control everything.
About two weeks ago I bought “Structuring Your Novel by K. M. Weiland” and so far it has been a fantastic read. Just in the first 50 pages I have learned more about writing than I have in the past year and I still have 200+ pages to go. Ironically, about a week after I had this “I don’t need to like my characters” epiphany I read this:
“The artist should not be the judge of his characters and their conversations, but only an unbiased observer.”1
I set the book down and laughed—then I picked it back up and kept reading. Like I said, I still have a lot to learn but now I know some things that I need to focus on, more than just finishing a project.
Well-rounded characters are a necessity for good stories, more to the point, believable characters are imperative to any story and our characters know this. So the next time you find yourself not approving of what your characters are doing, just let them do it. It might make your story better. I’m not an expert by any means, but it you’re seriously about making your projects better, you should pick up this book, you might be surprised at what you learn.
1.) Anton Chekhov, quoted in Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer (New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2006) p. 244 (Structuring Your Novel, K. M. Weiland, p. 52)
Thursday, February 20, 2014
I have a problem and I feel the need to tell someone.
Hello, my name is Josh, and I am a first-draft-aholic. What is a first-draft-aholic you might ask? Well, first let me tell you it’s an actual thing—I know because I just made it up—and second that it’s an extremely hard thing to get over--I know because I’m fighting it as I’m writing this post.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “write until it’s done.” Well, duh, of course you’re going to write until it’s done, what would be the point otherwise? The real meaning of this phrase didn’t hit home, however, until I was reading a bunch of blogs about writing and BAM it hit me.
I always thought that phrase was talking about writing until your were satisfied with the story--that it was actually “finished”—polished and ready to be consumed by the masses. It never occurred to me that a project could technically be “done” and still not be “finished.” Have I lost you yet?
I have started many projects, had many great ideas that I knew once I started writing them they would just write themselves, that the words would just flow right out onto the page. And they did at first. But I would find myself typing a paragraph, hell, a sentence, and then spending several minutes looking at it, trying to figure out a better way to say it. Trying to make it perfect. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted on Thesaurs.com…
The squiggly red line was light a Stop Sign, which I absolutely could not run.
Sure, you want to spell words right, make sure your “the” doesn’t look like “thr”, but all that correction takes time and that is time better spent in creation…not deletion.
The same goes for the dreaded “Backspace Key”. I’m pretty sure I’m driving myself insane while typing this, because I’m typing about not hitting the backspace key, thinking about not hitting the backspace key, and for the love of God keep hitting the backspace key! It is one of my biggest issues with writing my first drafts, and I think that it’s actually prevented me from finishing quiet a number of times.
Hitting the backspace key—for me anyway—stops the flow, it puts little speed bumps in the journey from your brain, through the fingers, to the screen and it’s a frustratingly hard habit to break. I’ve found that more often than not when I break that flow with “spell check” or hitting the Backspace Key, things start to go south. That’s when the words stop being story and start just being words, and when the story stops. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been twenty or thirty thousand words into a story and stopped by the words. The words are actually causing writers block!
My biggest problem is trying to make the First Draft the Final draft. A first draft that doesn’t have any mistakes and where everything fits together like a perfect little puzzle. But that’s not how stories form is it? Recently I’ve read blog post by Peter Clines, “Writing is Rewriting. And Then Stopping”, in it, he wrote “The 1st Draft—This is the ‘get it done’ stage…” He goes onto write that it usually takes him about 6 drafts before he feels the book is ready to go off to the editor, and even then it needs work. So if Peter Clines can write crap on his first go-around, why can’t I?
First drafts don’t need to be pretty; they don’t need to have all the right words, hell they don’t even really have to make complete sense, they just need to be done. You don’t polish your silver until its clean, so why would you polish a book while you’re writing it? It’s having the STORY out and put on paper that matters, all the spell checking and backspacing and making sentences make sense comes after.
Now you might say, well yea, that’s easy enough, you’ve been doing that for years. Well, not for me it isn’t, in fact, I’m trying this method, for the first time ever, with Beast and my daily word counts have almost tripled. They’re horrible words and most will have to be changed or taken out later, but that doesn’t matter. Only the story matters.
I hope to have my first draft done by Mid-March, but having never done this kind of writing before; my estimates are mostly likely going to be off. But so far I’m am really enjoying this kind of writing, I feel more relaxed than ever before while writing and that makes the words flow that much faster.
So for now I’m just writing, and I’m trying my damnedest to leave the editing until later.
My new project note is this:
“Finish the story and then make it good.”
…and now I going to edit the crap out of this so I can post!
Thursday, February 6, 2014
Do any of you have this problem?
You’re working on a project, it’s flowing and moving right along and everything is going fantastic. You’re typing away, chapter by chapter, when out of nowhere a great idea hits you that has nothing to do with the project you’re working on. Now most of the time, I’m surprised at what my characters do anyway, I’ll read a section of text and think, “what the hell just happened? That’s not what I plotted!” But when completely separate ideas pop into my head I have to stop and switch gears, open up a note and try to get everything written down before I forget it, it’s almost inconvenient. Unless, of course, it’s a good one.
I always have ideas that come and go, and I know some of you will point fingers and yell, but I could never bring myself to carry a notebook and pen (even though I have bought more than a few). So either, I needed to be sitting in front of the computer or it was lost…most of the time it was lost. Now, however, with smartphones—nothing more than a handheld computer with a phone “app”—I have a notepad everywhere I go. Different phones have different apps, but I like to use Inkpad Notepad. It is available on the Google Play Store, and automatically sync’s between the app on your phone and the app on your computer. Now all I have to do is copy and paste into a Word document and I’m ready to go to work.
I haven’t written very much at all over the last year, planning a wedding and honeymoon and now having a pregnant wife have pretty much taken up all my time. Recently though, I’ve been able to pick the pen back up and start living with my characters again and now that I’ve started I don’t want to slow or stop again! I’ve always enjoyed living with my characters and experiencing their lives and worlds, but lately they have been doing some inappropriate things. Especially the ones I’m not ready to live with yet! Wait your turn damn it! But they don’t listen.
In the last three weeks, this has happened at least a handful of times and most of the time it involves inspiration on a story and characters I’m already working on. But twice now, and quite involuntarily I might add, I’ve been pulled into worlds and have walked next to people that I have never met and they’re all like, “Hi, nice to meet you. Look at this crazy stuff right here.” Next thing you know I’m furiously typing notes into my Galaxy S3, trying desperately to keep up with what is going on around me.
The last time this happened I was sitting at work, having a completely normal conversation with a co-worker and BAM lightning struck and I was standing next to a serial killer…who has just learned that he is a serial killer. Are you kidding me? I’m already neck deep in my other project--and LOVE it--and now you want to come along and jump in the mix!
So now, I’m sharing my time between worlds, and I actually rather enjoy it. To quote my friend, Stan Finger, “Better a vibrant if sometimes untimely muse than a flat line for creativity.” I couldn’t agree more. I just send “The Watch” off to my editor for a final read through and hopefully will have it back in a couple weeks. I plan to have Pan done this summer and this new story, well, I didn’t think it was going to be anything bigger than a short story…but we’ll see.
I do want to say that I’m very thankful for my wife, Jamie, who not only reads my scribbling’s, but also gives helpful advice and criticism. Without her support, my efforts to jot down notes about the worlds I see around me would be for not.
It’s only February and this year is looking very promising for my worlds and I. I will share them as I experience them and hopefully you all will enjoy the ride as much as I do.
Friday, January 31, 2014
I’ve spent the last couple of days sitting in front of my computer screen, cursing it. Writer's block, you say. No, no...Well not exactly.
A little less than a week ago I thought I had a completed story. The original idea hit me last year some time, and I threw it together in about 3 hours for the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition, which limited the length to no more than 1500 words. I didn’t win anything. I’ve tweaked it here and there over the last year, and when I found it again last week, it sat at about 3500 words. The style of this short story is something I haven’t seen done before and really only come up with it as an experiment for the short short, but it like it, so I decided to flesh it out a little bit and publish it on Amazon. Why not? People weren’t reading it, just sitting on my computer, so why not put it out there so people could. I labored for a few hours and was able to add almost 1300 words to the total length.
I normally do all my writing on Scrivener, but Word 2013 does a great job of finding all the little things that Scrivener’s not designed to find. Fixed all the errors, formatted it, imported back to Scrivener and compiled my first eBook. Bam, published. Then I found Amazon Kindle Singles, a program specifically designed for short works of fiction. A place were writers can submit their works and if selected Amazon will promote and sell the work. I decided that this would be the best place to get publicity, instead of being a small piece of fiction that no one would ever find.
So I unpublished and went back to work.
This week marks the first time I have ever sent my work of to be professional edited and it has been an enormous learning experience. My friend and writing buddy Scott Moon recommended Samantha LaFantasie to edit the project and said would be “honest and brutal”. This sounded like exactly what I needed. After a couple introductory emails, one of the first things she said to me was, "If I'm pulled into the story it'll make the editing process go that much faster." I also knew that she was extremely busy working on other projects, including her own manuscripts and I thought, well, I'll get this back sometime around summer. Boy was I surprised when I received an email from her not a day later saying that she’d have my edits back to me the next day. I could barely sleep.
So I woke up the next day, and while I waited for the manuscript to pop into my inbox, I threw down almost 3k words on another project “H”. Sometime around 1 o’clock my phone chimed – you have mail! I opened up the file and scrolled down through the text and wow…talk about red. I mean red was everywhere; I hear I was thinking I’d done a decent job of catching all the mistakes before I sent it out. After the initial shock of “I’m a horrible writer” wore off and I began to see what she’d done, I learned a lot and two days later, I’m still plugging away on it. I think that by the end of next week I’ll have a final, polished project that I can then submit to Amazon Singles, my ultimate goal right now.
Samantha did a phenomenal job editing, and documenting not only the things she didn’t like but also the things that she liked about the project. She was also very quick to respond to any questions I hard regarding changes and additions to the story.
In short, I would recommend anyone who is thinking about looking for an editor to a.) Get one and b.) Consider Samantha LaFantasie, she does fantastic work.
And look for “The Watch” on Amazon! Give it a read and let me know what you think.