Tag Archives: writing

Whale Puke to Ambergris

2 Aug

So I finished the first draft of my most recent novel, and man… does it suck. The plot goes nowhere, the characters are unrealistic, and I’m sure if I look too deep, a dragon will appear for no apparent reason. How do I turn this crap into a spun gold?

When I decided to give my “writing career” another try (a year since self-publishing my last book), I figured that doing the July version of my favorite writing motivator – NaNoWriMo – would be a good way to get those creative juices flowing. And it has! I am feeling much better about myself, I’m expanding my outreach, and even started writing this blog! (BTW, I’m grateful that you’re reading this.) However, as much as I’m happy about expanding my writing opportunity, I’m incredibly disappointed in what I wrote.

When it comes to this situation, I keep remembering a scene from Dean Koontz’ Lightning, in which the main character (an author) is writing her latest story. Her husband comes in and asks, “How’s the story coming?”

She responds, “Ugh. Whale puke.”

He smiles and says, “Great! That means it’ll sell another 10,000 copies!”

Ambergris, one of the precious perfume components and is rather expensive, comes from whale puke. I try to remember that your first draft will never be publishable. What’s important is that you get the words out first. You can polish it all you want before you publish, but if you don’t have anything written at all, you have nothing to polish… or publish.

So the current plan is to throw it in the drawer and not look at it for three months. Give my mind a chance to breathe and try and remember what I liked about this universe and where I want it to go. In the meantime, I’ve got another novel that I need to edit and get ready for publication. I’ve got this audiobook project that I want to make of one of my stories. And… as always, continue to promote the books I’ve already published.

Speaking of which, have you checked our my latest Kindle offering? #shamelessplug 🙂

Do I suffer alone? Do you have finished novels that haven’t seen the light of day in… years? Do have uncompleted stories that you just stopped one day and never came back to? Cry on my electronic shoulder in the comments below!

Hate the Length, Not the Writer

29 Jul

As I’m releasing my short stories on my author’s page, it occurs to me–I really don’t like short stories. I’ve written very few, as compared to the tons of first chapters in my folders that never got anywhere. It occurred to me that the reason was very, very simple.

You simply get no chance to be invested in the story. It takes a while to setup the universe, the characters, to get into the rhythm of the story. Then… it’s suddenly over. Your entire job is to convey one cute concept or rough idea or something you want to discuss. The characters and the universe are irrelevant in a short story. It’s a plot, straight and simple. Take one of my favorite short stories, “The Rule of Names” by Ursula K. Le Guin. Great concept, but apart from the dragon, do you know any of the characters? No… it’s not important. You build up this universe just to abandon it on the side of the road. Maybe the universe couldn’t hold up a whole novel (as has happened to me).

I find this annoying in other forms of entertainment as well. It’s why I prefer TV series over movies. If you’re gonna spend time with characters you care about, you want them be around for a while. That’s why having a universe where main’/supporting characters die is so effective!

But there are exceptions to this. Memes, for example, are easily digestible, bite-sized nuggets of wisdom. Whether they match your wisdom is another question entirely–they’re there to get a point across and leave. They’re also easily shared and travel fast. You don’t have time to make a connection. Blogs are also great for this, because although they’re short, you know the author and make a connection with them instead.

Now I’ve actually sold short stories, and they’re great for anthologies, but those have the same problem for me. Unless you’re following the same characters, I really couldn’t care. Even anthologies from a shared universe are… iffy. For example, Changer of Worlds is set in the Honorverse, which is a series I’ve followed religiously written by David Weber. Three of the four stories are referenced (but not essential) to the plot of other books; three of the four are also written by the author himself, so one wonders why he bothered. Even then, it still took a while for me to read them… even after I bought the book! In this case, I was simply getting backstory… and although that was enjoyable, it wasn’t desirable.

Novellas are the worst of both worlds. I should know, I’ve written two of them. They’re just long enough to convey the story, universe, and characters, but not enough to continue. About 20K words–that was my comfortable spot for many years. I couldn’t write more than that until NaNoWriMo and Grad School taught me how to crank words out. There was one novella I wrote specifically for a contest, so it had to be that long, but it didn’t win… so… poopy.

So when I seek out new reading, I hope for series, I hope for long epic stories, and characters that are worth following. Am I alone here? Do you feel the same or do you crave the nice bite-size morsels of a short story? Or even the single sitting meal of a movie? Let me know in the comments below!

World Building vs. Plot… Fight!

22 Jul

It took me twenty thousand words, but I finally figured out why I was having such trouble with my current work in progress – I was more concerned with the world I was building than the plot I was going to put in it. I guess I just figured that the plot would naturally feed itself, since I fell in love with my idea, but that quickly proved not to be the case.

This particular novel started off with a comment that Peter Gold, a fellow member of The Royal Manticoran Navy (a great fandom), told me. “The
sci-fi writers of the 50s and 60s knew the importance of the merchant
marine during WWII, and wrote sci-fi stories built around merchant
ships rather than the navy.” So this got me researching how merchant marine worked today, watching great videos from mariners on YouTube (TimBatSea, JeffHK, Chief MAKOI), and figuring out how to fit that into a sci-fi situation. Trying to avoid being Firefly, I reused one of my previous universes, shifted it ahead 40 years, and BOOM! I’ve got a great universe.

“Hey, Camp NaNoWriMo is coming up,” I tell myself, “let’s grind this out and write a story in this universe!” I came up with a comprehensive character sketch for the crew members on this merchant ship, so I knew who to have my main character interact with. My main character? Eh… he’s the POV character, so naturally not knowing anything (like the audience) is fine. But then, I never bothered to develop his backstory, or character traits, since I figured that would come out in the writing. (Partly right.)

Now what I should have realized as soon as I started is that all I had in my head for the plot was a couple scenes. Once those wear out, well… I can talk to all the characters I worked so hard to sketch out. Okay… then what? At some point, my main character has to DO SOMETHING. That’s where things got iffy. “Oh, crap! How do I keep my word count up?”

So I pulled a trick that Scott Lynch did in his book, The Lies of Locke Lamora: start in the middle of the action, flashback to the character building later. That worked… let me get back to who this character actually is. Still don’t have a plot, but hey, I’m getting more scenes in. I’m getting a glimpse of where I want to go. But that only lasts so long.

Now I’m at 35,000 words and I realize, “Oh, I have no idea what story I want to tell in this universe!” Now I’ve got 11 more days in the “contest,” I don’t want to stop when I’m so close, I don’t really want to keep writing it either. So I’m left with the realization that I’m going to finish this, a novel that is unpublishable, and it’ll take another month or so to rewrite this into something that I’ll be proud to show. And editing is not my strong suit – and I’m too cheap/broke to hire someone.

Oi.

However, this whole process has taught me the valuable lesson – figure out what story you want to tell first. Even if it’s not completely fleshed out, have a goal that you want your character to reach, and this will go to a far, far better place.

Have you ever had this problem? Most of the time, I’ve given up on the story, but have you just muscled through a story that you knew was going nowhere? Tell me in the comments section below!

Plot Bunnies Aren’t Much Fun

13 Jul

There is a strange inverse ratio–the more responsibilities I do, the more I get inspired to do my creative projects. In the middle of getting a class together, I can suddenly realize, “Oh! Fatebane can realize that Nazar has been the traitor all along!” Meanwhile, there’s a video that needs to get done, and a presentation that needs to be done tomorrow. What to do?!

Of course, I can do nothing about it, and because of that the idea festers in my brain… until I realize it was a stupid idea, or I write it down somewhere. The term for this I learned from NaNoWriMo is “plot bunnies.” Those plot ideas that sit in your head, and if you don’t let them out, they start multiplying, until you can think about nothing else. The best thing to do is to write it down and forget it, so you can come back to a later. Much like Google searches; you’ll be watching a film and suddenly think, “What was the Battle of Ashdown?” (Don’t worry, I did the work for you – click the link.)

This could just be procrastination on a grand scale, but I have the best ideas when I have no time to explore them. You would think when I’m bored, my mind would be desperately trying to come up with a story to entertain me, but no, I’m least likely to write when I have nothing else to do.

At present, I have a my regular job which has two projects I’m balancing between. My wife needs my input with the mortgage refi, the kids occasionally need my attention about Hamilton, the new version of DuckTales (Whoo-oo!) and insert current obsession here. Then comes my extra-curriculars: there’s my D&D campaign on Monday nights, the fan club newsletter that I’m responsible for that’s now two weeks past the drop-dead date for submissions, the unpublished book I’m trying to edit for my new press, expanding my exposure in social media, and then my current novel (20,000 words and climbing, yeah!).

Seriously?

Something’s got to give, right? Thankfully, I’m running a published adventure in D&D, so I don’t have to worry about that until I’m running it. “I promise, I’ll work on the newsletter tomorrow!” I tell myself. I haven’t started it yet. Ick. I haven’t touched my finished novel since last week, and thankfully, my social media expansion only takes between 30-60 minutes a day. But the new novel? The one I can’t stand? Never better… I’m also back on target word count!”

Of course, that’s not counting writing this blog… which I do to get me in the mood for writing my novel. So what do you think? Do you have the same inverse problem or does any work get in the way of sitting down and writing? Put your issues in the comments below!

The Opposite of Writer’s Block (Negative)

10 Jul

I have the opposite of writer’s block. No, not the good kind, where the story is flowing well and you don’t wanna stop typing because you’re afraid it will stop? No, this is when you really hate your story, you know you’re writing “whale puke1,” but you can’t stop.

So my idea was to write a cool story about a sci-fi merchant ship. But it hasn’t been going so well. I enjoy writing the characters, but it’s been hard getting a reasonable plot involved. So I’ve been stealing a style from one my favorite authors, Scott Lynch. He starts his story (The Lies of Locke Lamora) in media res, then inserting in the background/history as it becomes relevant to the rest of the story.

Not sure if it’s going to work yet, but I feel that the story is getting better. The action is there, the background is good, and the characters chatting about everything and nothing is starting to pull together. I’m hoping that works. Meanwhile the story that will not die continues…

Have you ever had this problem? Tell me about it in the comments below!

1“Whale Puke” is what Laura (a fictional author) says about her writing in Dean Koontz’s book Lightning. To which, her husband replies, “Oh, that means it’ll sell another couple thousand copies. 🙂

Why You Should Write In Code

30 Jun

Lie to me and tell me you never wanted to be a secret agent. If nothing else, you wanted to be able to keep your secrets… Well, secret! One of the reasons I had trouble keeping a diary was that I was afraid someone would read it! (There’s some embarrassing things I’d like to keep private.)

Now I tried different secret code systems over the years, but none stuck. At 10 years old, I wrote one letter ahead (A became Z, B became A, and so on). Then as a teen, I kept the same system but added vowels in-between. At 24, I learned the Korean alphabet and could write English in it. At 29, I learned Hebrew letters and tried the same thing.

The reason none of them ever stuck was because I had to do too much “code switching.” This is the problem of going from one language to another. I remember working with a lot of people from Mumbai and they jumped between Hindi and English easily… Because they had to in daily life. Most Indians are tri-lingual (add native language) because they use all those languages daily. I tried telling my Korean students something in Korean and I had to repeat it twice… Because they were used to me speaking English – they didn’t expect me to speak Korean.

So at age 38, I discovered Quikscript, and I absolutely love it. It was developed by a man named Kingston Reed to compete in a contest that the playwright George Bernard Shaw held after his death. You see, Shaw wrote longhand, and kept cursing how much English doesn’t write like English sounds. Because it doesn’t – it’s a Latin alphabet. Shaw learned shorthand, but he still didn’t like it. So in his will, he asked for somewhat to come up with a better alphabet for English. Reed won and it was called Shavian.

Ten years later, Reed saw some serious problems with his alphabet and wanted to correct them. So he created Quikscript. Now this alphabet flows better – you don’t have to lift up the pen to cross i’s and dot t’s. You write your words like they sound… Not as they are spelled. So once I learned the characters, it was very easy to write!

Now, it does have its flaws. For example, code switching still is a problem, but only when you want to read what you wrote. (It gets easier the longer you use it.) So if you use it to take notes in a class or meeting, it’s a little difficult to be useful. I tried writing stories in it… I gave up, because it took so long to decode what I wrote!

Then I learned the true joy of Quikscript. You don’t use it for notes you need, just the notes you DON’T need. I’ve been in so many meetings that I couldn’t care less about, but I need to look like I’m paying attention. Here’s where writing coded notes comes in handy. I can write about how my co-workers look, or song lyrics, or story ideas and never have to worry that someone needs those notes… I look diligent and good off at the same time!

I also use it for my diary, full of my dark, secret thoughts, and I occasionally look back and read them. I’ve been able to keep that journal for seven years… The secret code works!

So I thoroughly recommend it, even for your fewer handwriting needs in the modern era. But what codes did you use as a kid? Share them in the comments section below. Don’t worry – I won’t give away your secret decoder ring.

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