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Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

In an ideal world, a story would come to one all at once, beginning to end, and all one would have to do is transcribe it. Of course, in an ideal world, there would be no conflict, so what would you write about? Unless it was the ideal writer’s world, which would have lots of juicy conflicts…but that gets into the idea that everyone’s view of Paradise is a little different, which is a different column for a different day.

Suffice it to say that stories do not come all at once, fully realized. (Well, maybe some people’s do, but we hate them.) Personally, I have an annoying habit of starting to write a story that hits close to home, and I get into all the little personal bits that make a story really sing, but when it comes to the ending the whole thing just stalls. It’s like knowing the question to ask, but not the answer. And since no one else is going to supply the answer, I’m stuck.

It seems that the solution (as opposed to the “answer”) lies in this rule of thumb: If you find yourself trying to graft an ending onto your story, you’ve written the wrong story.

While that ideal world doesn’t exist (for most of us, anyway), an ending must grow organically from what went before. That’s a rule.* So if you’re trying to write to a particular ending, and it’s not working–or if you can’t find an ending at all–don’t mangle some words to make them fit. You’ll end up with a Rube Goldberg contraption that looks like a vacuum cleaner made love to a model train set, and still won’t make toast–or worse. Instead, back up–and keep backing up, to the point where the story went wrong, even if that point is the line right after the title.

They say, “There’s never enough time to do it right, but there’s always enough time to do it over.” I say, “There’s never enough time to write, but if you don’t get to the end, it’ll never be over.”

*Yes, I know there are no rules. Except this one.

#SFWApro

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This weekend only, my debut novel, The Invisible City, will be available for free on Amazon.

The Invisible City, first book in The Stolen Future trilogy, tells the story of Charles Clee, a World War I infantry officer who stumbles onto the greatest secret of the war–perhaps the greatest secret in history. Pursued by German troops lying in wait for his own men, Clee escapes by leaping through a mysterious silvery door and finds himself 800,000 years in the future, an Earth where everything has changed–except the heart of Man. Even after his incredible journey, Clee is still hounded, by the assassins of the Time Police, and the Earth’s new masters, the alien Nuum–the former who want to prevent all knowledge of time travel, and the latter who will stop at nothing to obtain it.

When the woman he has fallen in love with is kidnapped, he must follow her trail across the exotic planet he once knew, but which is now home to apocalyptic nightmares created out  millennia of dangerous experimentation. Whatever the hazards, his path is clear–until he learns that a working time machine may still exist which could return him to his own era and allow him to prevent the massacre awaiting his troops.

Captain Charles Clee can follow his heart, or fulfill his duty, but not both. Whatever he decides, someone he loves will die.

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In amongst all of the trials and tribulations of writing a novel (or even a story), every once in a while a miracle occurs. Your story needs something to be True, something you can use as an anchor. This is particularly telling in historical fiction, when you’d like to tie your narrative to a known fact, or place, or person. Trouble is, you may not have any particular fact, place, or person in mind. You just need something to be where you already are, like jumping off a cliff and hoping there’s a deep pool of water at the bottom.

And there it is. I’ve been having difficulties lately with my latest, Marauders from the Moon (no. 4 in the Nemesis series). I’ve always known (not a spoiler) that it would take place on a movie set, but early on I decided it would be better (all right, easier for me) if the action was being filmed on location, in a ghost town, where I could create an air of claustrophobic paranoia due to Mysterious Happenings. Ever wonder why so many 1950s monster movies were set in small, isolated desert towns or on remote islands? (Or if you’re a bit younger, Tremors?) It’s so your victims, er, heroes, will be cut off from help and forced to fend for themselves with limited resources.

That was my plan, except that I put my people so far away that it felt unrealistic. I was going to have to return to the movie lot idea, which would mean scrapping hundreds (if not thousands) of words, and re-writing. But what could I do? Where was I going to find a ghost town that was not prohibitively far from Los Angeles–and which featured mining and was subject to flash floods (for reasons I won’t go into)?

To the World Wide Web-mobile!

It took me about five seconds to find my deep pool at the bottom of the cliff. With pictures. It turns out that for a place only about 300 years old, LA has lots of hidden/lost history. Abandoned gold mines. Hitler’s secret bunker. An underground river. All things an enterprising author can take and build upon.*

Miracles. Sometimes they’re right where you need them to be.

*And did I mention the lost Confederate gold cache?

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One of the advantages to outlining is supposed to be that you will never have to go back and re-engineer parts of your story because you suddenly realize that they make no sense. The idea is that you have plotted everything already, so when  you write there’s a long uninterrupted tapestry pattern to follow.

Maybe I need to outline a bit more.

There’s something about this series of books (“Nemesis“) that seems to lend itself to backtracking. I was 20,000 words (about 25%) into the first book, The Choking Rain, when I realized that it just wasn’t working. I was planning a certain character set-up, where they had already embarked on their crime-fighting career and people came to them with their problems (a la Doc Savage or The Avenger). But that wasn’t the way they wanted to be portrayed; they wanted me to go back to the beginning–and the beginning was nothing like I had imagined. Still, as soon as I started over, I knew I was doing the right thing. The book progressed from beginning to end with no further backtracking.

This time, I only have to rewriter my latest three chapters, and I can salvage some of that. You see, I had figured out who the villain was, and I had a pretty good idea of what he was after, but I came to understand that the plot, as I had been writing it, made no sense in those terms. Why would he do X? Why not do Y? I had no clue. And no matter how much I juggled events, crediting them to one party or another (it’s my book, I can choose the villain(s)), it simply didn’t work. Doing X was not going to get the villain where he/she wanted to go. So X had to go, instead. I went, as it were to Plan Z.

I think Plan Z is going to work. I can still get where I need to go, and the parties’ motivations and actions will make more sense. It means throwing away several days’ work, but better now that later…

They say it’s hard to “kill your darlings.” They don’t tell you that the whole book is your darling. So don’t kill your darlings, just be prepared to prune them a little.

#SFWApro

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It’s time to admit it. I’m 8000 words into my new novel, Marauders from the Moon, the fourth book in the Nemesis series, and the damned thing is going to be written regardless of my personal feelings on the matter. I am still gamely attempting to write my short story at the same time, but I have a sinking feeling that it is going to take second place, and a distant second, at that.

Now, this may not be such a bad thing. After all, I am writing, which is the number one priority. And maybe the short story just isn’t ready; “Rights and Wrongs,” which was published in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, took me three years and several versions to get done, and then they sent it back with an R&R request (revise-and -resubmit) that took me another two yearsand I ended up re-writing the entire second half from scratch. I believe when a story is ready, it will write itself.

But I don’t want to take five years to write this story; I have one already that’s been half-done since 2015. Hey, it’s my process. I don’t have to like it, but there it is.*

So at least Marauders is progressing. After a quick start, it bogged down, but tonight I wrote 1100 words, and significantly, I did not stop at the end of a chapter; I wrote the first paragraph of the next chapter. If you’re a writer, you will understand what that means. (And if you’re a writer who has not tried that trick, I recommend it.)

Now, I re-read these words as I struggle to find a closing, and I am reminded that the hardest advice to take is that which you give yourself. Example: Three paragraphs ago I said, “…when a story is ready, it will write itself.”

Marauders from the Moon was busy tonight, writing itself. I guess it’s ready. I guess I’d better be ready, too, or who knows where these characters are going to go if I’m not there to ride herd on them?

 

 

*Yes, I understand the irony that I can write a novel in two months but I can’t finish a short story in three years. It is what it is.

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Once, I tried to write a book. How hard could it be? I thought. After all, there are thousands written every year… Oh, the lessons I was to learn. This was how it all went down (and by “down,” I mean careened downhill without brakes).

I started by setting up a writing schedule on my calendar, but I learned my days were numbered.

I tried to outline a plot, but I couldn’t get it write.

So I tried to finish the story in one go but I kept getting a draft.

When I finally finished, I contacted my editor by radio, but he couldn’t read me.

I put my idea to an agent, but she said the concept was too novel.

Then I tried to self-publish, but I wouldn’t make book on my chances.

Every time I tried to format them, the pages took a header.

I thought to publish a custom hard-bound copy so I started to learn bookbinding, but I didn’t have the spine.

And when it was time to hire an artist, I didn’t have enough to cover.

Maybe I should have gone into graphic novels. I could picture that.

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Hello, my name is Brian, and I’m a writeaholic.

Some time ago, I sadly announced that, due to extrinsic factors beyond my apparent control, I was discontinuing my planned series of neo-pulp adventure novels starring my mysterious hero, Nemesis. Some time later, I announced that I had been having some difficulty commencing a new project, but that I was feeling optimistic. I was going to overcome my own self-doubt and write as good a story as I could. Self-publishing was out, magazine stories were in.

I am not only a writeaholic, I am quite naive.

Contrary to writing novels to the exclusion of short stories for magazines, or short stories to the exclusion of novels, I am now doing both simultaneously. You have to understand, that’s not how I work. I don’t do simultaneous projects. I am not one of those writers who has six different ideas in play at once. I work on one thing, then another.

And yet here I am. I am writing a short story for the money and fame. (Ha! That’s a good one, son!) And I am writing another Nemesis novel, Marauders from the Moon, simply because that is what I want to do. And I am writing both at the same time.

Setting myself a short schedule taught me that I could write a novel very quickly. How I learned to do this thing I’m doing now is an open question. Whether I have learned to do this thing I’m doing now is likewise a question.

I feel like a newly-minted superhero exploring his own powers. I’ll try not to destroy the world.

#SFWApro

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