Friday, January 30, 2015

Writing Links -- Volume 61

Another week has disappeared on me.  Not that I'm complaining it's Friday, but OMG, where did the week go?

On the writing front, I received some feedback from my critique group on my latest chapter. Sigh... Nothing a glass or two of wine can't fix.  Even so, I know the chapter is headed in the right direction, so I know I'll eventually get there.

Enjoy this week's links.

Working With a Cover Designer: Time-Saving Techniques

The Evolution of a Fantasy Map

Avoiding Awkward (or Unnecessary) Internal Questions

Red Ink In the Trenches: A Copyeditor’s Perspective

Tax Tips for Writers Who Hate Math

Editing, Uhh! What Is It Good For?

Tricks of the Trade 2: Red Herrings

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

First Chapters. Argggggh!

We’ve all heard the advice. Don’t obsess too much on the first chapter during your early drafts. Chances are you’ll make massive changes to it (or completely throw it out) before the book is finished. Until we know how the story ends, they tell us, we don’t know how it should begin. All good points.

The trouble is, I just can’t do it.

Perhaps I’ll do better as I gain more experience with writing, but right now, I just can’t move on with a story until I have the first chapter locked down—at least in part.. Knowing that I’ll probably have to rewrite it later doesn’t make any difference. If I don’t have the basic structure of the first chapter down on paper, my muse refuses to move on with the rest of the story. Even if I know where the story is headed next, without that first chapter to keep me anchored, I might as well be typing at random.

I wasted over six months on a MG story because I couldn’t decide how to begin it. I must have gone through a half dozen complete rewrites of that @#Y%^ first chapter, none of which worked the way I wanted. I tried moving on to later chapters, but I kept running into roadblocks that required knowing what had happened at the beginning. Eventually I admitted defeat and moved on to different story.

Fortunately, I had a pretty good idea how the opening scene in this new story (YA paranormal) should go, so progress has been good—at least for a slow writer like me. It’s quite possible I may come back later and totally trash the first chapter, but I don’t care about that now. I’m moving forward and that’s all that counts.

 P.S. This doesn't mean I've given up on the MG story.  Every once in a while, my mind will drift back to it and I’ll think of yet another way to begin the story. All these ideas are safely stored away on my computer for a rainy day.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Writing Links -- Volume 60

Friday already? It's amazing how quickly the week flies by when my writing goes well. Finished up another chapter in my fantasy story and should have another chapter of my Hogwarts fanfic done by the end of today.  Woo Hoo!  Writing sure feels good when things are working.

Happy a great weekend and enjoy the links.


10 Common Fiction Problems and How to Fix Them

Balancing Conflict in Romance Stories

Working from Home as a Writer—Some Truths

5 Easy Tips to Fix a Boring Online Bio

The Holy Trinity of Character: Goals, Obstacles and Stakes

4 Ways Besides Query Letters You Can Contact Literary Agents

The Sum of the Parts: Writing a Synopsis

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Is Your Story a Railshooter?

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons and Brian Katt

Last week I discussed why a writer needs to be careful with the time he spends on various aspects of his story in order to minimize the chance of sending the reader the wrong signals. Spending too much time on a description or subplot, for example, can trick the reader into thinking those things are more important than they really are, often confusing the reader. The flipside, of course, is that it’s also possible for the writer to spend too little time on the secondary details. If the writer pours all his attention into driving the plot inexorably forward, the story runs the risk of feeling like a railshooter.

In video game parlance, a railshooter is a shoot-em-up where the player only has a limited degree of movement. The game world constantly scrolls by in a predetermined route, leaving it up to the player to maneuver up and down (and/or left and right) across the limited screen area to shoot enemies that move the same way every time. In story terms, if every event in your scenes marches linearly toward each scene’s climax, your story may be in danger of boring the reader.

While revising one of my chapters this week, it occurred to me that my natural tendency is to make this kind of mistake. For example, if my MC is about to discover he has magic powers, almost everything that happens to him prior to that moment will foreshadow the event, either by having weird things happen around him, or by having strangers make cryptic comments, or… well, you get the idea. So by the time the big reveal happens, my reader will be pretty much expecting it. After all, I figure the reader already has a fair idea what’s going to happen based on the book blurb, so why should I bother to hide it? The answer, of course, is that I don’t want to bore the reader.

I suspect this mindset stems from my days of teaching. During class, I tried to lead my students through the lecture in as linear a path as possible, building on concepts in a logical fashion, so that by the time I hit them with the big concept, they’d already grasped most of it beforehand. Good for teaching, not so good when writing fiction. In fiction, the journey is often more important than the final outcome.

Who cares if your reader already knows your MC is going to gain magical powers? That doesn’t mean you have to lead the reader there by the nose. Have fun with it. Divert the reader’s attention with other things. Convince him the big reveal is happening in the next chapter and then spring it on him now.

 In other words, find a unique way to tell the reader what he already knows. He’ll thank you for it.

Friday, January 16, 2015

7 Writing Links -- volume 59

I've managed to get some writing done this week, but most of my time was spent either critiquing/beta-reading for other writers or working on our home computer. 

Last Friday I mentioned I was upgrading our computer from Windows XP to Windows 8.1.  Needless to say I'm still working on it.  Missing DVDs, problems with the BIOS, out of date drivers, new cabling, switching from Outlook email to Thunderbird, the list goes on and on.  I've solved most of the problems, so all that's left is reinstalling some programs.  Wish I could find where I put that damn Quicken install disk.

Anyway, I'm a much happier camper today.

Enjoy the links!
And have a great weekend.


Avoiding Clich├ęs 

How To Grow Your Fiction Email List Subscribers. My Own Case Study

40 Questions to Ask When You Get THE CALL from an Agent 

5 Marketing Ways to Revive Your Series

A Peek Into The Cover Design Process

Tricks of the Trade 1: The Plant 

Characters and Character Relationships

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How Not To Lead Your Reader Astray

I tend to sprinkle short, humorous vignettes throughout my stories to amuse the reader, even when those bits don’t always push the plot forward. Some writers maintain that every word in the story should advance the plot in some way, but I don’t always agree. The Harry Potter books were chock full of these not-important-to-the-plot but fun-to-read-about bits, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed the series so much. The trick, however, is figuring out how to slip these bits into a story without causing problems.

For example, let’s say one of my minor characters is an alchemist who turns out to be allergic to many of the ingredients he uses to make his potions. It’s not important to my plot (although I suppose I could always try to arrange things so it was), but I decide the amusement factor is sufficient to add it in to the story. My first inclination would be to reveal this fact through some exposition, perhaps via a quick one-liner if possible, but I know I’m supposed to show, not tell, so my second option is to either reveal it through dialogue or by writing a scene where he experiences an allergic reaction.

But here’s where it gets tricky. If I devote too much time to delivering this information via a scene, my critique partners (and ultimately my readers) will assume it’s important to the plot. And when it never gets mentioned it again, they complain. Loudly.

And it’s not just humorous bits either. Spend too much time on any aspect of your story—even descriptions—and you’ll have your readers scratching their heads. I recall reading a story once where the author spent half a page describing the way in which a road meandered down a hill, along with a description of secondary crossroads, the surrounding terrain, and compass directions. He gave so much information, I braced myself for the battle I assumed was about to take place there. Turns out that location was never mentioned again.

Sometimes you want to trick the reader into thinking some irrelevant fact is important, especially if there’s a mystery involved. But if that’s not your goal, you should always keep in mind that the reader subconsciously depends upon the cues you provide to decide what’s important. Don’t accidentally lead them astray.


Friday, January 9, 2015

Writing Links -- Volume 58

Not much going on at our house this week, except for the constant complaining about the weather here in Michigan.

Not sure if I'll get much writing done this evening.  Tonight I'm scheduled to upgrade the family computer from XP to Windows 8.1.  I've reinstalled Windows enough times that it shouldn't be too much of a problem, but there's always the chance I'll run into a problem I haven't thought of yet. And when the rest of the family is standing around asking "How much longer?" even small problems can be a big deal.  Wish me luck!

Enjoy the writing links. And a Happy New Year to all of you!

Lord ChemistKen

P.S.  If you don't know where the "Lord" came from, check out the previous post.

Should You Do a Print Version of Your Ebook?

The Undeniable Importance of Paper -- For Writers and for Readers

Some Thoughts On Quiet Books, Timing, and the Ever Elusive Market

Ebook Marketing Strategies for 2015 — What Will Work?

The Little Reasons A Story Works

Do You Have Too Much Dialog?

7 Tips for Balancing Backstory

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Insecure Writer and New Year's Resolutions

Today is January's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

Why am I an Insecure Writer this month? 

Because it's January.

The weather’s turning cold, there’s snow on the ground, and it's time to face the fact that, once again, I came nowhere close to meeting my writing goals for the year. 

It's not all bad news. I made progress on both of my stories, but I’m still appalled at the amount of time required for me to work the kinks out of a chapter, even when the basic structure of that chapter was already finished. I’ll think I’m making good progress on a chapter, only to look up and realize a couple of weeks have passed. Yikes! Admittedly, I don’t have a lot of time to write, but I thought the pace of my writing speed would have sped up by now.

I’m pleased to say I did make some strides on the social media front. I’m still pretty much a newbie, but I  began tweeting and posting to Facebook on a limited, but semi-regular basis. This probably had less to do with me buckling down than it did with the arrival of my smartphone in June. Man, those apps let a person social mediate anytime, anywhere.

On the downside, my Pinterest board is a royal mess.

So here are the goals for this coming year, which, surprisingly enough, are nearly identical to last year’s.

1. Finish that damn fanfic I started four five six years ago. Then my kids will stop pestering me about reading it.

2. Finish the first draft of my own fantasy story. It doesn’t have to be publication ready, but I want the basic structure of the story locked in place.

3. Continue improving at social media. Did I mention I added some chemistry-themed social media icons to my website last year? Hey, it’s a start. BTW, feel free to follow me!

On a more positive note, I received a fantastic Christmas present this year. My wife bought me a square foot of land in Glencoe, Scotland, which means I am now officially a Scottish Lord. Woohoo!

The package came with all the documentation necessary for changing my name on official documents (like a driver’s license), but I think I’m going to hold off on that for a while. I’m still having trouble convincing my family to call me Lord Ken.

Until next month.

Lord ChemistKen

P.S.  May your insecurities melt away like a chocolate Snitch sitting in the afternoon sun.

Edit:  Appears I missed the memo where Alex asked each of us to introduce ourselves, so here it is.

I'm a chemist (and Scottish Lord) who loves castles, dabbles in alchemy, and hates writing.  Or at least I did before I began writing a story based on the Harry Potter universe.  Now I spend much of my spare time writing fantasy.  I haven't published anything yet, but hope to in the near future. 

Thanks for stopping by.