Friday, February 24, 2012

Journaling the Journey

I keep track of my writing. By ‘keep track’ I mean I journal—offline—about anything and everything writerly, even if it’s just “This WIP is cursed!” or “I’ve just read the most awesomist sf story.” It is not the same as free-writing fiction. Journaling is about self-examination without concern for audience, craft, or pointlessness. It can be therapeutic and enlightening, even if it’s just to rant, rejoice, or sort out a mess of thoughts. 

In an entry from two years ago, I had decided to compare excerpts from a few successive drafts of one my first sci-fi stories, dubbed ORIGINAL, FIRST, and SECOND. With many months, if not years, between them, it presented a good sampling of my writing over time. The results were pleasantly surprising.

The first thing I notice is how the paragraphs got shorter and more deft. 

ORIGINAL reads like a list: I did this and then did that. There was this and then that other thing. 

FIRST is immediately more active. The mc comes to fore—he’s moving, and experiencing the world in real-ish time, not just relating some past event, but the deets are still painfully meticulous and that SLOOOOOOWS the pacing down to a crawl. 

SECOND is leaps and bounds better as regards word usage, structure, and style. It has cadence and mood. The mc not only comes to fore but his voice is so much clearer. Many of the same details remain but are described more matter of factly and succinctly rather than painstakingly or with many words that don’t paint a clear picture. Oh yeah, and he talks! Lol! Hooray for improved writing skills!

Journaling has helped me track and appreciate how much I’ve grown as a writer, which is not always evident deep within the trenches of writing and rewriting. Taking some time to read back those ramblings might show recurring problems. Fits and starts resolve into patterns for a writing regiment, solutions present themselves, ways to break bad habits and reinforce good ones. Causation clarified. Improvement illuminated.

Read the excerpts I’d taken, below the fold.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Finding Your Angle

Over at the Publication Coach website, Daphne Gray-Grant has some interesting advice for writers of all stripes. Like most Writing Advice, some of hers resonated and others didn’t. One such article that stuck: How to Find an Angle.

When I translated to fiction writing what she had to say about the difference between an angle and a topic, and why simply writing about a topic at face value will produce dull work, it all sounded so familiar. The vast majority of the stories that remain in my Never-To-See-The-Light-Of-Day trunk are all Idea Stories, stories about a topic with no angle, an idea with nothing to say. Pretty much all of my science-fiction stories had started with a Big Idea—or a What If—but the successful ones like Don’t Read the Books found an angle.

I can go through story after story of mine, and the same will be true for why each one rose above dross or remained just a good idea that went nowhere. Oftentimes, that defining angle will come from a character, and how the topic shapes their life and the world they live in. DRB went from being an idea about the extinction of physical books, to the story of a woman who lived through the change, what she lost, and what she gains.

While Gray-Grant’s process for finding an angle didn’t click as much as the idea of having one, the article helped to elucidate the importance of each story having something to say. I recommend How to Find an Angle. It’s short and sweet, and she gives good examples and clear explanations that just might be for you.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Characters and Purpose

Whether it’s to move the plot forward or provide a unique perspective on an event or another protagonist, every character should have a purpose. Not just, but no two characters should have the exact same function in the story (aka cloning.)

It seems obvious enough, but while working on my space opera WIP, I ran afoul of this critical idea, and rectifying it was not a happy experience.  Over halfway through the novel, I wanted to inject some new blood into the story. Enter Tara, an ex-U.S. Special Forces operative but geek at heart. She was funny, animated, and a breath of fresh air.

Five and a half thousand words later, I realized she was a younger clone of another character, Mrs. E. But, but, but! Tara was an ancient astronaut geek, so she could provide insight for the crew! So could Mrs. E.  There were some great moments in those five thousand words! Too bad. Why can’t I keep her? Because when I got right down to it, she served no real purpose. I had to contrive ways to involve her in the rest of the plot, and that inevitably marginalized more integral characters.

I've no words of wisdom to impart, just the foibles from which I learn on my writerly journey. I learned Tara existed because I was tired of writing all the other characters, and I just wanted to write something new. Don’t do that, even if it feels good—and fun and exhilarating. Make sure each character compliments others instead of replacing them. Make sure they fit the plot instead of the other way around. Make sure each has a developmental trajectory over the course of the story, a lifespan longer than one scene.

Anything less warrants no more than a few paragraphs, let alone five thousand words. Failing that? Cut ‘em without mercy…and paste them into a new document for another story. ;)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Don't Read the Books

Don’t Read the Books is my very first published story, ever. I’m not getting paid, but I’m still proud of this milestone. I’m proud of the work I put into it and the work I got out of it. I’m proud of myself and the finished product. A big thanks goes to my critters over at

But what is Don’t Read the Books?

It’s a humorous science fiction short story about a little old lady named Edwina Hoffman. She's determined to break the golden rule at The Hoffman Printing Press Museum & Library. Hence, the title.

Beyond that, it’s about a world where all printed text, including books, have gone completely digital with the advent of e-paper. Hence, the printing press museum & library.

And underneath it all, it’s the result of my spending a lot of time contemplating the changing tides of the traditional versus e-book market.

Do read Don't Read the Books at Larks Fiction Magazine, and leave a comment if you enjoyed it!