Monthly Archives: April 2013

Don’t Lose Sight of the Forest

One of the things I’ve found to be true for me is that every now and then I need a break. From life, sure, but especially from writing. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely LOVE writing. And not just the putting down of words on, well, not paper so much, but just putting them down. I also like the whole other side of writing. The long sessions just thinking. Thinking about the world, the politics, the social structures, the people and their society. And planning interesting things to happen. Which people will meet and where and when. Who hates whom and why. Who loves whom, secretly or not, etc, etc. Sometimes these things just intrude on me with no invitation. Thoughts will just pop into my head about someone or something. The stories really do take some measure of control over themselves, as odd a concept as that is to imagine. All that being said, however, sometimes I can get a little too intent on the various aspects of writing, can get a little too focused. When I stop seeing the forest, the over-arching story, and focus too much on the minutiae, whether it be details in the story or even making sure that everything I am writing is stylistically and grammatically correct the moment I write it, that’s when I know it is time for a break. Or if I start getting too frustrated, that too is an indicator for a break.

For the past nearly four weeks, I’ve been working on a short story that fleshes out one of the characters in my novel, Dragonlinked. Every day I would read and re-read the sections I’d presented to my writing group, reviewing their notes and thinking about which to incorporate and how. The second half of the story was giving me problems. There were a lot of details, background history, that I originally thought had to be in there. I was really getting frustrated trying to figure out ways of keeping as much in as I could. It was difficult and not fun. I eventually had a great idea on how to rework the second half a bit that both improved it and allowed me to keep the most important bits. Afterward, I realized that it was time for a break. I was just too frustrated with writing the short story, though I was happy when I got that part of it to work. I had been so focused on getting the tiny things to work in the story that I started to forget about the over-arching story being told. In this case, how Millinith got to Caer Baronel and what she went through on the way there. So for the last week I’ve been on a bit of a break from writing.

What did I do? Well, last Friday I saw Oblivion. Decent movie; I enjoyed it. I also caught up a little on the magazines that are piling up on my night-stand. Magazines are another way of keeping yourself in touch with various things. In a previous post I talked about getting out there and experiencing different things to keep your mind open and absorbing things to aid you in writing. Magazines are good for that too: Discover, Scientific American, National Geographic, Wired, and even Official XBox Magazine grace the little table next to my bed. Speaking of XBox, I finally finished Dust: An Elysian Tail. A fun little game. I also watched some TV (Game of Thrones is back!). And yesterday and today, I started working on a map of Lethera. A map wasn’t needed for the first book, but I start focusing on things that are happening around the continent in the second book. I really need to nail down, so to speak, where everything is and a map serves that purpose nicely. Plus, I can offer it as a little bonus to readers of the various stories here on the blog when I am finished with it.

And sure enough, the spark, the excitement is back. Now, you may not like movies, or video games, or whatever. But it doesn’t matter what you do. The point is to do something else for a bit. A day, two days, a week, whatever you feel like you need. Getting burned out on something is never a good idea. And so, if you start focusing so much on the trees that you can’t see the forest, well…it’s that time.

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Like Pulling Teeth

Writing isn’t too hard. Good writing is, however. At least it is for me. Not that I’m saying my writing is good. But I am trying to polish it as best I can. My method, so far, has been to get the words on the page first, then go back and clean up. Fine tune. It wasn’t all that hard to do when I wrote my first novel, Dragonlinked. Of course, I put the book out on Kindle before I knew even the little I now know about writing, so there are some errors. Mechanical issues, mostly. But it was not too bad an experience. Fun, even. Something I have found, however, is that writing a short story is not like writing longer prose. I’m writing one now, tentatively titled The Fruits of Death, featuring  characters from Dragonlinked (available now for Kindle, but soon as a trade paperback as well). I hope to write a few more, but the process is much more difficult, so we shall see.

A short story is just that—short. There isn’t room to explain in detail, to spend too much time on anything. Words count for even more than say, in a novel. You have to trim and trim and trim some more. And it’s hard. Especially if there is back story you need to get across to the reader. With so few pages, even a mere four paragraphs of back story seems an interminable time to a reader. That wouldn’t be too much in a novel, perhaps, depending on presentation. But in a short story? No way. So I’m having to use some tricks and advice from my writing group.

Break up the back story into chunks and present them at different places. Have some of it presented as dialog between the main character and someone else, instead of just ‘remembering.’ And some of it can come through an argument. That also gives you a great opportunity to present the back story through two or more different eyes. They can remember it slightly differently and give readers some insight into their personality.

The other issue is pacing. ‘Put conflict on every page’ is advice I’ve read many places. But you should not keep the tension level at full power the whole time. You should include slow periods to give  readers a break and to give them somewhere to go (up) when the next exciting scene comes along. Otherwise readers may get exhausted, or find the story artificial. But you can’t have the slow periods last too long, or you may bore readers. It’s a bit of a tightrope, getting everything just so.

And that’s why, for me, writing can sometimes feel like  a trip to a dentist. But once it is done, once the words flow like a smooth, rich whiskey, say, then the sense of accomplishment is all the more powerful. So I keep plugging along, filing down a rough molar edge of dialog here, putting a nice ceramic finish on a description there. Hoping to get the words to sparkle.

Categories: Lethera, Tips, Writing | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Google as Toolkit

There are many resources I have access to as I write, whether a novel, a short-story or a post on this blog. Novels and stories I’ve read, experiences, friends, family, bits of information like maps, castle layouts, etc, that I’ve collected over the years, books I’ve bought on the subject, and more. But the one I seem to get the most use out of is Google. That’s right, the search engine of the simple interface. It’s amazing the things you can do with the supposedly simple page.

Need to know how long it takes a horse to travel 183 miles? Google-smack it.

Need to know what 183 divided by 20 is? Type 183 divided by 20 into Google and hit enter (it’s 9.15, by the way).

Do you need a snappier word that means the same thing as tired? Type tired syn and click the first link. You will find exhausted, weary, haggard and more.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. Google-smack it! Type principle def and note the definition that pops up before you even hit enter. Did you mean principal?

Thinking of writing a novel or starting a blog? Be sure to refer to books you own for mechanics. Also, Google-smack it! Search speech tags, thought tags, most common grammar errors, comma usage, en dash, em dash, hyphen, point of view, passive voice and how to avoid it, show don’t tell, clichés in writing and avoiding them. All are important to know about. Also, there are many books available on writing. Google books on writing and read reviews to find the ones best suited to you.

From word usage to punctuation to pronunciation to almost anything you can imagine, Google will show you links for it. However, for complicated things, you should verify information from various sources (links). Not everything on the internet is true, and some of it is unverified. Also, for synonyms, be sure to check the definitions of those listed. Each has a subtle difference that may not fit the use you intend.

Google: the swiss army knife in the writer’s toolkit. Just make sure it isn’t the only tool in your utility-belt, Batman!

Categories: Blogging, Tips, Writing | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Get Out There and Experience

I was out and about last night when a thought struck me.

But first, a tiny bit of background. A friend of mine, former house-mate even, owns a gallery. She features art from a variety of local artists, herself included. She has shows for First Friday and also for Third Friday—that is, the first and third Fridays of each month.  I try to attend for First Friday and occasionally go for Third Friday as well. She generally has live music and beer, wine and snacks. Sometimes more than snacks. For her birthday, a chef friend of hers catered the affair with excellent offerings.

So, I was at her gallery last night, partaking in some very satisfying white wine sangria and listening to the performer for the night, a chanteuse playing an acoustic guitar. She was quite good. She had a guest electric guitar player with her and the two of them were playing some of her own music. I had wandered about the place, a former house converted for commercial use (my friend rents roughly half the space). Having attended her shows for a few years now, I knew some of the artists and their friends and also some of the regulars who dropped by to enjoy the art, music, and camaraderie. I had chatted with several people, got several sangria refills, and had nibbled on some snacks.

Listening to the two musicians playing, I realized something. The writing nest is comfy. We have our reference materials close at hand, our snacks, perhaps, maybe even a bottle of liquid refreshment. We have the internet. But what we do not have is direct, personal interaction. If you want to create believable characters, you need to know people. Observe, even if it is after-the-fact. Everyone has their quirks, their “life tics,” as it were. Everyone has their own way of speaking, which can vary. Someone may speak one way when talking to you, and speak in a different way entirely when speaking to someone else, or to several people at once. Having observed these things, these personality facets, you can drawn upon them later to create people who feel real. Give someone a speech quirk, or some kind of physical habit, like biting the tip of their tongue when they are thinking really hard. Or, maybe give them an unhealthy attraction to apples. Who knows? As long as it isn’t overdone, you don’t want to create a neurotic character (or maybe you do?), giving someone a quirky little trait can go a long way to making them believable.

So, get out there and have some fun. The bonus is that you get to see how real people behave.

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It’s a Quiet Heart, Like a Car Alarm

I’d listened to True Loves by Hooray For Earth several times before those lyrics finally hit me. They made me think about the first time I fell in love and all the times I’ve been deeply in love since, and I had to agree: that’s kinda how it feels. I also realized that it was the same feeling I had as this writing bug made its presence fully known.

I’m kind of odd, or maybe not. I’m not completely sure. You see, it takes me a while to realize when someone or something has won over my heart. A failing of mine that I lament. But about this writing thing—I’ve crafted tales, made up elaborate stories, since I was a young child. My mother has reel-to-reel audio tapes of me going on and on about monkeys feasting on tortillas and other happenings that are perfectly logical to a child of six or seven (you younger people scratching your heads can google reel-to-reel audio). And in high-school, I crafted several beginnings of tales, some science fiction, some fantasy, though I don’t believe I actually finished any of them. The first taste of ‘real’ writing didn’t come until college, or university, depending on your country of origin. I had been going for a BS in computer science and had convinced the dean of the department to allow me to minor in English (English is now one of the standard subjects in which a CS student can  minor, but at that time, I had to get permission). I left college having acquired the degree and several good friends. At any rate, one of the electives I took was Creative Writing. Most of the assignments were short stories. The mid-term and final were longer stories, perhaps twenty pages. What a joy that class was. But even so, it took me eighteen years to consider writing as a serious pursuit. One day I decided to give it a go.

There was no method at first. I was essentially puking words out onto paper. Which is perfectly okay. Corrections can come after. Well, those first pages eventually got scrapped. But the process had begun! And as I continued to write, it got easier. The story started filling out in my mind. Links started forming between characters, events, actions, and reactions. As I continued to write, I also took some time to formally plan the world: social and political structures, the rules of the magic system, character histories, etc. I kept track of things in several documents, almost appendices. And I created a timeline in a spreadsheet for easier reference (It’s  surprising  how often characters had occasion to reference events, and I needed to know how many days, months, etc, previous they had happened). It was exciting, frightening, and crazy fun. And somewhere along the way, the quiet passion became a blaring claxon echoing through the parking garage of my life.


P.S. The writing became my debut novel, Dragonlinked, which is currently available in eBook format for Kindle at I’m going to see about using Amazon’s subsidiary, CreateSpace, to release it in Trade Paperback format as well.

Categories: Biography, Books, Life, Writing | Tags: , | Leave a comment

And so it begins…

Hello World.

Those were the first words I saw on a computer screen that I had worked to place there. Most computer programmers will recognize those words as many computer courses, and even some demonstration programs from programming languages, usually have a very simple first program that outputs those proud words onto the screen. Since then, I’ve placed many words on screens and numbers too. Charts, histories, graphs, and more have been output by systems I’ve designed or written. But recently, I’ve put different kinds of words on the screen. Prose. Words intended to evoke images, emotions, or even actions.

I am a writer. I am an author. There, I said it. And because I am putting the words out there on the mystical internet, it must be true. All kidding aside, I’m in it for the long haul. This is my passion. I only wish I had gotten over my fear and started sooner. But I’m here now.

I guess I’m a blogger now, too. Go figure.

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