Respect…

With all the shutdowns and kerfuffle around the Covid-19 situation, I’ve been watching the publishing and media news with interest. Some of what we’re seeing has been on the way for a while. Some things were a bit of surprise (I didn’t expect Disney execs to cut their own pay until there were no other options…). One huge through line in it all is a lack of respect.

Media companies…  writers… directors, they don’t seem to respect much except their own ideas and agendas. They don’t respect their audiences. They don’t respect their characters or the cannon of their worlds. They don’t even seem to respect other writers, directors, and companies.

Respect for audience.

No, you don’t have to cater to every whim of the audience. Sometimes they’re not sure what they want. Often, they want you to tell the story instead of asking what they want. But…  it’s a lousy idea to deliberately piss them off. Lately this has been happening a lot.

“Hey! People don’t seem to like our female Doctor in the Doctor Who series. Guess what, we just retconned the series so the original Doctor was female!”

“You know what? Batman’s Chinese now. Yeah, and instead of a butler, he’s got a gay uncle.”

“I’m naming my new characters Snowflake and Safe Space. You know, to empower people and junk!!!!”

By all the Gods, I wish I was kidding…

That last one (Snowflake and Safe Space) is my favorite. By the responses I’ve seen, the author pissed off the usual audience and offend the people he’s trying to ‘empower’.

The writing represented by these examples does no good for your audience or your relations with them. Spend more time figuring out who your audience are and how to grow that audience without alienating them.

Respect for characters and lore.

Sadly, I wasn’t kidding… Hartnel is supposedly no longer the first Doctor and Batman’s Chinese now (he’s also apparently back in high school). This problem has been going on for a while…

Your readers and viewers love the backstory and mythology that come along with characters. That stuff takes thought, effort, and commitment. You and your reader/viewer will have to put in some time before characters and story mythology are really known and developed. That’s part of why the piolet episode of a series seems so awkward when you go back and watch it after season six or seven.

When you go changing things up for a character, there needs to be real consideration for the character, the character’s world, and what would ‘really’ happen.

Just deciding “Ok, Thor’s a chick now!” or “I’m bringing back Palpatine and I don’t have to justify it,” Is jarring to the audience (please don’t throw them out of the story with ‘what the @#$%#$#!!! was that?’ moments).

Please don’t throw your reader/viewer out of the story by being stupid about how you use your characters. I’m not saying they can’t do something out of character (sometimes that’s good!) but there should be a reason for it that makes sense within the world and your character’s story.

Also, please don’t pirate a character’s name and storyline just because you’re too lazy to do the work for your new character.

I could get behind a rich Chinese kid in high school as a character; just don’t call him Batman and trash a lifetime’s worth of known history and lore.

Want to pass the baton to a new generation of Jedi? I’m good with that. I’m also good with a female Jedi main character.  But do you really have to trash Luke in the process? I don’t think so.

These kinds of changes aren’t improving the character, they’re just the mark of a lazy writer who doesn’t want to pay his/her dues in creating a new character. In story terms they’re about the same as the guy who plays Call of Duty once then goes around telling everyone he won the Congressional Medal of Honor when he was fighting the Tsarist Nazis in Vietnam back in ’96.

Summing up.

When you lose respect for your audience and characters, you make your stories unreadable/watchable. The golden rule applies to characters and audiences: do unto them as you would have them do unto you. Yes, this can mean more work. Yes, it means you have to earn the audiences respect and build the story and popularity of your characters. But it’s a lot better than making useless garbage and pissing off the people you want to resonate with.

That’s it for this one, dear reader. Think about your audience and work with your characters. I’ll be doing the same. I’ll see you next post!

We interrupt our regularly scheduled…

Well dear reader, it seems even we in ‘happy valley north’ are affected by the Corona virus… As I’m writing this, I just got word that my local school district is closing until early next month. So… Instead of sitting here working on the wordy stuff, I will spend some time helping my team.

For some of my thoughts on dealing with crises and my YouTube team try the attached links (there they are again if you missed them: Crises and YouTube team).

Take care of yourself and your loved ones dear reader. And, I’ll see you next post.

Controlling the uncontrollable

“One of my characters and I have spent years trying to tell thunderstorms when and where to thunderstorm,” with that thought I realized a big piece of why it irritates me when people try to dictate (or even interfere with) when and where I write. I’ve spent years trying to control this, channel it, and now someone wants to come in and change it?

Words come at weird and inconvenient times. If you haven’t experienced this phenomenon, you haven’t been seriously engaged in writing for very long. I have found those “Aha!” moments popping up in the shower, while driving, during meals, and at “annoying o’clock” in the morning. And I’m not the only one. One of the best, most important, and most powerful things you can do for yourself as a writer is to make sure you have a way of remembering those thoughts and words, and recording them promptly.

If you don’t record them, you lose them; that’s just the way it works.

Another of the best, most important, and most powerful things you can do for yourself as a writer is to train yourself (and those you live and work with) to a writing schedule. It won’t protect you from those random thoughts while soaping up or trying to sleep, but having a regular writing schedule and a good place to write, that suit what your working on, makes writing much easier.

When you train yourself to a schedule, you are providing a regular time to get writing done.

When you “just wait for the mood to strike me” you never really seem to get around to writing. You definitely never get around to editing (which is usually less fun in the first place).

When you find or create a writing space for yourself, and use that place for writing, you create environmental stimuli that help your mind understand “I’m supposed to be writing now”. You might even bring in or create stimuli that help you find ideas and solutions to writer’s block and other problems, or help you get your emotions in the right place to do writing work (even editing!).

It’s about creating opportunities for the words to come. It’s about making a place for you to communicate your passions, to tell your story.

And sometimes we have to defend that time and space.

Now, I’m not giving anyone permission to go spastic on a spouse, child, or neighbor. But there comes a time where you need to calmly stand your ground and explain to someone that you are working. You are getting productive and useful things done, and those things need to happen.

You also may have to be a little flexible. If the house is burning down and your wife is having a baby, please call the fire department and take care of your wife. The universe understands and the words will come back (if they were really meant to be). Other times you may need to do things like use the bathroom or rebalance the load in your washing machine (or deal with some other nerve jangling non-sentient stimuli).

The point is to create a time and space where you usually can get some decent writing done. There will be times you don’t get much done, but if you succeed more often than not, you’re winning.

This is the same logic as my decision to average at least a thousand words a day. Ok, Monday this week I got zero words. Tuesday, I got around 1,750. Wednesday, I topped 2000! As long as you’re averaging at or above your goal, you’re doing ok. And looking at the average helps fight the idea that “Ok, that was word number 1,000. Time to turn my brain off!”

Ideas come at weird times. You need to be ready for them. You can help them come more regularly by creating a scheduled time and a familiar place in which to write.

And sometimes you will have to teach those around you that this is your writing time and space, and they need to respect that.

Well, dear reader, I suspect we should both get back to writing now. So good luck. And I’ll see you next post.

Finding the end and going back to the beginning.

Well, the first 1 ½ pass is finished for last November’s NaNoWriMo project. And, as always, I’ve learned a lot!

Starting with the1 ½ pass method has had a distinct benefit. By reading and noting on the whole thing before I started making edits I could make better decisions than I have on the first pass for early books (I really wish I’d known about the 1 ½ pass technique back when the first edition of Johnson Farm came out…).

This first editing pass has led to major changes. As things stand now, the end of the book in the first draft is actually the end for the second book. I realized I was rushing events in my “third act” far too much. It didn’t work because I wasn’t letting it develop. The natural ending for the first book was actually about 100 pages earlier.

I still love the events of those 100 pages, and by putting them into a second book I can give them the space and development they really deserve. I can also develop my former “1st” and “2nd” acts (the real story of the first book) to perfection, because I’m not sweating the upper word limit my intended publisher has set for a mid-grade book.

I know. I know. Even I’ve said we should cut when editing. And, in the first pass, I did some serious cutting. Besides moving “Act 3” and a few necessary bits of “Act 2” to the second book, I burned a whole unnecessary chapter, which allowed me to divide another chapter which was really two concatenated together. Which satisfied my intent for the unnecessary chapter better and more naturally.

Elsewhere I’ve cut a whole page (or two… or three…) where a tighter and better reading version of the text needed to grow.

Cutting is important, and I recommend cutting the dead wood out of any story. But you have to build out the parts that need expanding too. Make sure you have all the right pieces in place before you worry about finishing and polishing them.

As of now, my first “1 ½ pass” pass is done. And, believe me, I’m celebrating my success. I’ve improved my story. Now (actually… Monday), it’s back to the beginning for the second 1 ½ pass. This time the changes should be smaller. The parts cut will be smaller. Anything added will be smaller. It’s time to move from the rough work to a refining step.

Now that I really know where the ending is, and where the next book goes, I can make sure the beginning points to the right place, that my promises will be kept, and that the dreaded middle of the story will support the journey.

And then, once this pass is done, I can move to doing some polishing work (I hope). And then… It goes to the publisher (who will trigger another round of refining and polishing before the book goes to print and I can get on to developing book two).

Each book has its own quirks, challenges and rules. The rules for this book aren’t the rules from the last book. And they aren’t entirely the rules for the next book either. Our stories develop, and we grow and learn as writers. That means every project should have new challenges. And at every ending, it’s back to the beginning.

Good luck in your own writing dear reader. And I’ll see you next post.

Scrivener, update and correction…

Well dear reader I’m about half way through the full pass {link} part of my first pass through the new novel and I’ve learned a couple things about Scrivener that I’m ready to report (for the earlier portions of my adventures in using scrivener try these posts: Almost first thoughts, Scrivener… after NANO thoughts (part one), Scrivener… after NANO thoughts (part two))

Keeping it all together:

The ability to keep notes and reference material, in addition to the actual manuscript, in one place is paying off.

About a week ago, I decided that what I had understood as “Act 3” for this book was happening way too fast, there was more that needed to go in there and I was already hitting my upper word limit (I and my intended publisher feel that a mid-grade fantasy (one for the kids just below the young adult level) can be too long, so there are upper and lower limits on this project). So, with Scrivener I was able to move all the relevant chapters (even the one in “Act 2” that’s only relevant with “Act 3”) into a separate folder that’s still part of the project. They’re still there if I want parts of them, or to refer to them, but they’re not part of the manuscript and I don’t have to worry about them.

On other projects (can you ever have only one?) I’m keeping track of reading lists, research notes and other necessities easily and efficiently, and without having to open other files or programs to get to them.

Scrivener’s keep it all in one place concept is really working for me.

Editing issues:

I haven’t spent a lot of time fooling with formatting in Scrivener yet, nor have I spent a whole lot of time editing directly in Scrivener. As an old-school guy I do a lot of editing on a ‘dead tree’ edition of the manuscript where I can easily X or line through things, write notes on the draft, and still see what’s there. I’ll be commenting more on editing in Scrivener in my next past, when things are a little more ‘work directly on the computer’ friendly.

One thing I’ve really noticed is that transcribing from a compiled (formatted) printed draft to an uncompiled (’wild state’) Scrivener text can be difficult, the paragraphs don’t look the same…

Compiled manuscript format…

manuscript version of paragraphs

‘Raw’ Scrivener view…

scriv version of paragraphs

So the exact spot I’m looking for can be hard to find.

While this is sometimes frustrating, it also forces me to read what I’m working on and not just skim, and (like any of us) I need to be actively reading at this point in the game.

More to come here, but there are lessons being learned.

 

Correction! Printing problems, they aren’t quite what I thought…

I said previously that I couldn’t figure out how to print just a selection of pages from a scrivener document… Well, the ability is there:

choose pages pic

But, since I haven’t figured out how to actually see the compiled file without saving it, and there are no page numbers in the raw Scrivener file, it’s hard to know what pages I’m actually supposed to print. So… different problem, same place in the end. But, I’m learning.

I’ve also learned you need to select and compile the folder and the document to get chapter formatting in your print out.

choosing pic

On the other hand, at this point in time I’ve been moving whole chapters around and other major structural changes. So, the page numbers on the print edition aren’t necessarily reliable right now anyway…

I’m still convinced I like using Scrivener. It really is helping in some ways. But, there is definitely a learning curve!

That’s the latest, dear reader. I’m sure I’ll have more to share somewhere in the next pass.

Until then, good luck in your own writing, and I’ll see you next post.

Reading bad books…

I’m a lucky guy, my wife supports me in my writing endeavors. Recently she brought me a couple examples of recently on the market novels for the audience I’m writing for at the moment. Neither one was one that I would have picked up myself. And both taught me something.

One book, the one I’m reading is good. There are things that I wouldn’t do. But, then again, the world I’m building isn’t the same either. If I was working in this author’s world, I would make some of the same choices. I like what the writer’s doing and I’m learning a few things.

The other book, which I read first, taught me a lot about what I shouldn’t do. I’m not mentioning authors or titles here because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s “feelers”, but let’s face it: the book really wasn’t all that good.

Some mistakes were simple. Some of them were complex. Some of them were in world, some of them were in story/audience interaction. There were a lot of things wrong and a lot of things I learned slogging my way through the book. For example:

  • If you’re going to use the word soon in the blurb on the back… Make sure soon isn’t page 260 of a 280-page book. Even if you intend to have sequels, 90+ percent of the way through the book isn’t soon…
  • If your story is based on what happened in your Dungeons and Dragons campaign that one time, I can tell that (and so can other readers).
  • Timing on ending a chapter really matters for other chapters when your writing from multiple perspectives. If you want your reader to agonize with a character about the fate of a sibling, it’s a bad idea to tell the reader the sibling is safe before your character hears about what’s going on…

The book also highlighted some mistakes that I kind of knew about but was glad for a reminder of:

  • If you have more than two characters, and half (or more) of your characters have similar names (same first letter, same except for the first letter, etc…) you will confuse your reader. (in fact, if you have exactly two characters with similar names you can have problems). There are exceptions, but messing with similar names is playing with fire!
  • You need to think about the history and technology of your world. If you’re working in a medieval Europe type setting, your bad guys shouldn’t be running around with shotguns… (again there are exceptions but this book wasn’t one of them…). If you are in a world with no electricity or computers, why would anyone’s chief servant be a ‘comptroller’?
  • Avoid generalizations about a group or gender. Sorry, not all males are stupid. Not all females are powerless. Not all villains are rich. And you don’t have to orphan your hero or heroine to make him/her a hero or heroine.

The book wasn’t one I would read for entertainment (if I was reading just for entertainment any of the items on that second list would have given me serious reason put down the book and not pick it up again). But I did learn a lot from reading it.

There’s another book I’ve read, in which the writer was trying to pick up someone else’s world and tell stories there. No, it wasn’t fanfic, fan written fiction would have been better. This author did not understand the world he was writing in. I learned something from that one too: know the world you’re working in at least as well as the average fan before you try to publish anything!

Bad (as in poorly written) books happen. I don’t advocate writing one. But when you find them, read them! Learn from other author’s mistakes (even mine (if I had a problem with that, I wouldn’t be doing this blog…)). If you can recognize and solve problems in someone else’s work, then you are that much closer to being able to recognize and fix those mistakes in your own work (and even Steven King has had problems in his writing).

When you’re a writer, and even if you’re not, reading is at least as much about learning as it is about entertainment. As writers, reading the bad (poorly written) books can help us improve our books.

Well, I should get back to reading, and so should (No. Wait… Your reading this, so you are reading…)… Good luck in your reading and writing dear reader, and I’ll see  you next post.

A modelers tool for writing projects

As a kid I made plastic models. At first, before I knew better, I threw away the leftover bits and pieces. That was before I learned to keep a parts box…

One of the best lessons of my years making plastic tanks, jets, and other models was that serious modelers keep a parts box, a place where they store those leftover bits and pieces. Why? Because sometimes the extra bits are useful in making other models. If you have extra parts, you can customize kits and experiment with techniques cheaply and safely. Having and using a parts box gives you options and helps you develop your skills.

The lesson of my parts box paid off for me as a college student.  When you’re doing psychology research, you need to run statistics, and big stats packages like SPSS and SAS frequently require you to do a little coding to do the big heavy-duty analyses. Some of my fellow students dreaded those big analyses. Not me… I saved my code and re-used it. For a lot of the big analyses the code is fairly similar. So, I could copy a previous use of the same test, modify it, and have the new test ready much faster than if I had tried to code it from scratch.

Over on the fiction side of the house, the concept of the parts box is still helping me.

When we edit, we sometimes struggle with those bits of writing that we love, but know we need to cut. It can be hard because you don’t want to lose those little gems, even though they don’t fit the current story.

Well, with a parts box (in this case a folder on your hard drive/cloud/flash drive) you can save those bits. And, after you’ve saved them you can use them!

Are you looking for inspiration? Need a writing prompt? Climb around in your parts box of fiction pieces you already love (or at least find interesting). Odds are that there will be something in there that works for you.

Are you stuck on a scene? Maybe the solution is already in your parts box. It’s just like back in the old days with plastic models; if I’m stuck I can ask myself “Do I have one of these already?”, and then go look.

The concept dear reader, is to create a place to store those bits that are too good to throw away, but aren’t necessarily useful right now. If you’re in this business long term (and most of us who really write are) they will be helpful eventually, and they’re easy to store (and if you can figure out a good naming and organizing scheme, they can be fairly easy to find!).

I practice what I preach dear reader (or at least I try to…), and a writer’s parts box is helpful. In my first “one and a half pass” through the novel I’m working on I’ve found over a dozen ideas that I should really explore in short stories of their own. Putting them in the “box” means I don’t forget them and I can use them to both expand my world and fill those times where I’m really having trouble finding something to write (it happens…).

It’s not an absolute “have to”, but it’s an idea I encourage you to try. And, I think I’ll go crawl through mine to see if I can find a little help for this next chapter.

If you have questions or experiences with a writer’s “parts box” I’d love to discuss them with you. And… I’ll see you next post.

Blowing out and reading up…

When I’m not writing I’m occasionally known to do metal work. Among my favorite moments is the moment where I safely (yes, I hear some of my old teachers yelling) plunge a hot lost wax mold into water. It’s one of the most exciting, rewarding and sometimes gut-wrenching moments. It’s the moment you get to see your design realized in metal… Unless something went wrong. And then, you’re working at a lump of metal that was supposed to be your project but didn’t work out.

Once your metal comes out of the mold, even if your piece comes out well, you still have a lot of cleanup work to do. The sprue has to be cut. The scar from the cutting has to be filed down. The whole thing needs to be sanded. Pits may have to be filled.  And after all of that you still have polishing, and stone setting and inlay tasks that may be waiting.

There’s a point in the writing process that’s almost the same, and as I write this, I’m in the middle of it… If you’ve finished a first draft there comes a moment when you have to go back to the start and edit that first draft. Instead of discovering a successful casting we hope to find a good manuscript, but we still have a lot of cleanup to do.

The processes are similar.  True as writers we rarely attack the project with saws, files, scrapers and sand paper. We rarely worry about literal pitting and porosity. But we still have cleanup and fixing to do.

It’s just that we cut words instead of oxidation and roughness. We polish words rather than surfaces.

We still face parts that didn’t quite fill in the way we wanted. bits that don’t look as good as we thought they did when we started, and parts that will take more work than we thought they would.

It’s an exciting part of the process and, just like with metalwork, it’s a good idea to look over (read) the whole thing before jumping in and working on stuff. Some bits will need to be moved. Some parts will need to be reworked. If you’re like me, you may have a section that needs a different point of view (or was just plain in the wrong place).

Reading through and looking over can be depressing and hard… There’s so much to do! But by completing a read through we can make an actual plan that saves time, effort, and heartache in the long run. I’ve written about the “1 ½” pass editing technique before , and this represents the first ½ pass of the technique. it might seem like you’re not getting a lot done. But, by getting a look at the whole thing before you fiddle with parts you can cut out one or more whole editing passes because you have a better idea of what you need to do and why.

Those of us who “won” NANOWRIMO, and anyone else with a first draft manuscript in front of us have a lot of work to do, and a first read through will make the whole process a lot easier.

That’s it for this one dear reader. I’m on my way to finishing my read-through, and I suspect some of you probably need to get back to writing too (you know who you are…). So, I’ll see you next post.

Not politically correct, but…

Merry Christmas dear reader. Merry Christmas to all!

There are those who would tell me not to say Merry Christmas, that saying Merry Christmas is somehow offensive. Well, I’m not going to say they aren’t entitled to their own feelings, but most of the “Don’t say Merry Christmas” crowd that I’ve met either don’t understand what the phrase Merry Christmas means, or they don’t want you to have a Merry Christmas.

Yes dear reader, there are people in our world that don’t want you to have a Merry Christmas; there are people who don’t want you to have peace, joy and hope! But, to you and them I say Merry Christmas.

Christmas is a Christian holiday. I know that there are Christians among my readers. I also know that there are Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus and many others… And I respect your rights to follow whatever faith you choose (if you’re at a place where you choose not to believe I respect your right to do that too…). I also expect others to respect the fact that I believe what I do. My beliefs come from a lifelong process of learning and seeking for understanding. I do not believe the things I do lightly.

Christmas is the celebration of a birth, the birth of a person who would spend his life teaching all who would listen regardless of race, gender, or social class. This person, our Savior, then capped those teachings with a personal example. He laid down his life for us and then took it up again.

To teach what you believe, even when it isn’t popular, takes courage.

To live the things you teach takes even more.

So, if you don’t accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. I’m ok with that. I hope you change your mind but I’m not here to force or silence you; that’s against what I believe in. But please accept that I celebrate the life of one who “walked the walk” and “talked the talk”.  Please accept that I have considered beliefs and that when I say Merry Christmas, I am wishing you love, joy, and peace; and celebrating the life of someone who not only taught principles, but lived them.

I am also celebrating the fact that we (all of us) can practice what we preach. That we have the right and the ability to both say and do according to our beliefs and principles. That’s what Merry Christmas means to me dear reader.

And so, Merry Christmas. And, I’ll see you next post!