Bouncing Around

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I’ve been bouncing around a lot these days. I’ve lacked focus on any of my writing. I’ve even put off submitting those works that have received a rejection. So what gives? Good question. I don’t know.

According to Word, I haven’t worked on my WIP novel in over a month. I’ve finished three flash stories though, and I’m one scene away from finishing the novella I thought I’d finish last summer. That’s some progress, I guess.

I feel like I’m waiting for something, which is probably the wrong approach. If there is any upside, it’s by not resubmitting my stories, I have a catalogue worth I can combine into a collection for the contest mention in Submission Dilemma III. Needless to say, I’m going for it. I’ll spend the $25 on the submission fee and take my chances.

But, first, I need to finish the novella. The submission guidelines say no story should be longer than 15,000 words. The novella is longer but already broken down into a couple stories. I estimate the longest of those stories will come in just under 15,000 words. Regardless, I plan to spread the individual stories out in the collection to build tension.

Collecting my stories into a single work will reduce my number of submissions for the year while I wait to hear back from the contest, but I’m okay with that. I like the idea of having a collected works manuscript. Now I just need to finish the novella and organize the collection before the April 15 deadline.

How has your writing focus been lately? Have you been productive, or are you finding distractions? Let me know in the comments.

Do I Really Want to Hurt You?

1/10/19

The title of this post is not in reference to you, dear reader, but the characters in my stories. Since interesting stories require characters to be in conflict, that means they eventually get hurt. Of course, the hurt could be psychological, but the point of this post is physical hurt.

The Writers Path recently had an interesting post on How to Write an Effective Fight Scene. I found this timely. There is an escape scene coming up in my WIP where I expect an altercation will happen.

For the fight to be effective (or possibly even final for a character?), someone must get hurt. Thinking back to all my short stories, the worst a character has had it is experiencing a cramp. Having had plenty of those, it wasn’t too difficult a task to describe it.

What about more advanced and painful injuries? In 2017, I purchased the ebook version of Hurting Your Characters by Michael J. Carson as part of the 2017 NaNoWriMo Story Bundle. I have not yet made time to read it since hurting people hadn’t come up in my writing. I guess the time is ripe now.

Let me know in the comments how you describe an injury? Do you draw on personal experience? Research testimonials from others who have experienced the same injury? Make it up? (Always a solid option. We are fiction writers after all.)

Photo credit: Free-Photos via Pixabay

Post #52 – Writing Prompts

12/20/18

Do you use them? Do you shun them?

According to Amazon and a perusal of my local Barnes & Nobel, there are numerous books full of writing prompts. How many would you like? There are books with 300, 400, 642 (oddly specific), and 1000. Or, if you want to go big (because there is no reason to go home), how about a box set of 5000! There are books devoted to just science fiction prompts.  Too limiting? There are books for science fiction and fantasy prompts. Not your thing? There are books with prompts for westerns. Too broad? There is a book with prompts for western romances. Clearly, there is something for everyone.

Don’t want to buy? Searching “writing prompts” in Google returned 183 million hits.  Have at it!

Earlier this year, I came across an interesting take on the writing prompt phenomenon.  A literary publication, The First Line, provides authors with a writing prompt in the form of the first line for every story. As the website puts it, “[e]ach issue contains short stories that stem from a common first line.”

I have mixed feelings about prompts. Part of me feels I shouldn’t need them. I can come up with story ideas on my own, can’t I? That’s ego speaking though. I take story ideas from lots of sources, so why is it cheating to use a supplied prompt?

The other part of me is scared to even look at them for fear I’ll come up with a story idea and feel the pressure to write it. For example, I received an email from The First Line with its list of lines for 2019. Instead of one line per quarter, for the journal’s 20th anniversary, they offer several first lines from past issues for each quarter next year. I made the mistake of clicking through to look at the available prompts. I couldn’t even get through those for the first quarter. After reading almost every first line, a story began to form in my head. I couldn’t take it. I had to look away. I didn’t want all these new stories bouncing around in my head while I’m at work, for starters, and also while I’m still plugging away at the WIP novel.

If I had more time, I might consider going for it and attempt to come up with a story for each first line. Even if several went nowhere, there likely still would be numerous ideas worth fleshing out. Right now, I have plenty to keep me busy. I hope I recall correctly Mike Resnick saying he wrote down story ideas on little pieces of paper, which littered his office. Over the years he accumulated so many, he had no hope of ever writing them all. That’s how I would feel if I attempted this.

I actually wrote a nonfiction piece for The First Line. The market accepts essays discussing the first lines of novels. As soon as I read that, I knew I had to write about the first line in Stephen King’s The Gunslinger. So I did. The essay wasn’t accepted by The First Line, but I was pleased when Page & Spine accepted it. You can read it here. Maybe prompts aren’t so bad after all.

Let me know in the comments how you feel about writing prompts. Love ’em or hate ’em?

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Post #49 – Characters

11/29/18

The essence of any story is characters in conflict. To increase that conflict, or at least make it more interesting, some of those characters need depth.

Most of my writing has been limited to short stories. That form doesn’t provide room to dig much into a character’s background or motivations, at most a couple hints here and there. So when it came time to work on my novel this month, I didn’t have a lot of experience with developing characters. In prior months, I’d jotted down a few notes. This character’s parents died in an accident. This character’s brother saved him when they were kids and has suffered ill effects ever since. But I never fully developed them, probably because I didn’t know how.

I’ve attempted to read up on the subject. A Writer’s Path posted an interesting exercise titled Things I ask My Characters. By way of an interview, the author can get to know his/her character’s. The same blog then posted 3 Ways to Flesh Out Your Character’s Motivations as an additional exercise guide.

For a more classical view, Andrea Lundgren analyzed Victor Hugo’s techniques in Writing Lessons from Les Mis: Characterization.

ProWritingAid has had a series of blog posts this year examining Oscar Scott Card’s Elements of Fiction Writing: Characters & Viewpoint.  The most recent is How to Nail Third-Person Narrative. I found these lessons helpful. This is a book I wanted to read last year when first starting to seriously write, but the book is out of print. Coincidence or fate?

Since I’m new to the novel writing, and thus character development, thing, what I don’t know is what works better for me. Should I develop full backstories for my characters before starting the novel? I am a plotter after all. Or should I come up with a few key points for each character and see what else the story demands these character be? That seems to be more a pantser technique, though it provides the greatest flexibility when writing.

For my current WIP, I’m following the latter course by necessity. I may wind up determining that after the first draft, I need to think through each character again and fill in their stories as I conduct an initial edit.

Let me know in the comments how your develop your characters. Do you map out their entire lives first, or do you wait and let the story dictate who your characters really are?

Photo credit: aixklusiv via Pixabay

Post #44 – Writing Retreats

10/25/18

Are they worth it? Are they comparable or better than writing conferences such as CapClave, which includes small workshops in addition to panel discussions with writers and editors?

And what to choose? A blogger I follow, Luke Tarzian, recently went on a writing cruise. There’s, of course, Clarion West and Odyssey. This Wired article on the Strangely Competitive World of Sci-Fi Writing Workshops was eye opening too.

Then there is Writers of the Future, if you place in the contest. I admit I am skeptical about this contest given L. Ron Hubbard’s history. Based on what I’ve seen online, the contest and retreat appear to be legit.  Also, big names in the speculative fiction realm attend every year and teach during the retreat, but it’s hard to overlook the Scientology connections as reported here and elsewhere.

Nevertheless, I’ve submitted a story every quarter for the last year.  One of my stories got through the first round of judging recently, and I admit I am intrigued by the possibility of spending a week learning the craft. Since I’ve continued to submit a story every quarter, it may still happen eventually, though my conscience is weighing heavily on me these days.

The thing about Writers of the Future is it’s free. Otherwise, I don’t know if I can justify both paying for the retreat and taking the time off from work. One seems manageable. Both seems burdensome.

Maybe it’s an investment I need to make to get better. A couple beta readers have mentioned I’ve noticeably improved since starting out, which was a great ego boost. But I don’t want to plateau. I know I’m far from a good writer, and I want to continue to improve. I’m thinking it’ll be an investment to make when one of the two constraints are lifted, i.e. the retreat is free or I’m retired.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve attended a writers retreat, which one, and what you thought of it.

Photo credit: Christian Georg via Pixabay