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.

Scrivener… after NANO thoughts (part two)

Last week {link} I started my after NANOWRIMO review of my experience with Scrivener. This week we’ll pick things up where we left off and start with the things I really appreciated about Scrivener during the first draft process.

Chapter titles and finding stuff (organizational help)

Last week I mentioned that the way Scrivener handles documents and folders can cause some headaches in dealing with titles and finding things. But there’s positive power in Scrivener’s.

Because of the way Scriver handles document, folders, and chapters, it becomes easier to go back and insert that piece you know really belongs between chapter 2 and chapter 3 but you didn’t come up with until you were working on chapter 9.

Because of the way Scrivener works, it is easy to move parts and pieces around. I find I’m much more willing to move things to where they should be because there is less effort involved. If I decide that Chapter 14 should really be chapter 3, I drag and drop. I don’t have to worry about changing all the chapter numbers because that will happen later during a compile (and without me having to lift a finger or click a mouse!). It is also easy to combine or split up parts of a chapter (even when you’re importing that chapter from some other program…).

One of the data views in Scrivener is note cards on a corkboard. And, it is just as easy to move your stuff around in the program as it is on a real corkboard (actually easier because it’s a drag and drop versus shifting all the cards).

Compiling and formatting (with stuff you’ve written)

As I mentioned, chapter numbers happen during the compile process (and happen mostly automatically!). There’s more to it than that. When you compile, you can compile to a standard manuscript format, just compile to print, or several other options (including an E-book format).

If you put in the time you can even create custom formats to compile to.

You need to learn what the different formats do, and maybe even tweak them for your purposes. But once you put in the effort to learn, formatting becomes fairly effortless. You don’t even have to worry about ordering those chapter numbers.

And, you can simply and easily create several versions in different formats; if you’re self-publishing you can create the print book and E-book versions at the same time. (Gee… I remember when I used to pay someone to make the E-book…)

Statistical information

Besides being a writer, I’ve got a degree in psychology and have a deep love of statistical information. Scrivener provides a variety of statistical information about your work, including things MS Word and other packages don’t…

Scriv example

As you can see you get a typical word count and character count for the whole project (the parts marked for compilation at least…). But you also get page counts both in standard manuscript and novel formats. You also get these statistics for the specific text document you’re working on within the project at the same time. That means all you have to do is open a document and get statistics on it, along with information for the project as a whole. No more “highlight the whole section you want a count on” headaches…

Seriously, the statistics options make it easier on writers who want to make their chapters relatively consistent, and give you a better feel for exactly how big your novel would be as a standard paper back. The information makes it easier to figure out where you are in some real-world aspects of your book.

Keeping it all together

I mentioned that things within a Scrivener project can be marked for compilation or not. This is powerful because you can tailor things for different packages and audiences. If I was using Scrivener for a business plan, I could do tailored sections and keep them all together in one unit while only printing the ones I want for the particular audience I’m providing the plan for. The money folks get more on the financials. The marketing guys get more details on how to sell what we’re making or writing. And I don’t have to have multiple versions of the business plan lying around and wonder which one is which.

Within a Scrivener project you can also add notes and research information, including PDF documents… That means those of us working on a well-researched book or a doctoral dissertation can include the research information we use and cite within the project. No more trying to remember which article by that one scientist is the one I quoted! There are also options to interface with research packages like Qiqqa.

Summing up the positives

Scrivener allows you real freedom in writing a draft. You can move things around and don’t have to be as focused on final formatting while you’re doing a first draft. You don’t have to stress about chapter numbers while you’re trying to focus on getting the order right. I found myself more willing write directly into my Scrivener project than I have been with MS Word manuscripts because I knew how easy it was to move things if I wanted to and I could just focus on getting the words right without having to fool with formatting questions in the first draft.

I can also fiddle with different formats without too much effort (which is more of an editing thing, but helpful in figuring out what the $%@#$@@!!! I’m doing…)

I can also include my research, notes, and reference materials in the same package as my actual text. In practice that means fewer documents and “stuff” to worry about keeping track of, which is helpful since I like to let things settle a bit between first draft and serious editing.

There is a lot of power to be found in Scrivener, and that’s just based on a first draft.

Summing up (the big one…)

If you make the jump to Scrivener, you will have some learning to do.  A lot of things look different in Scrivener as compared to MS Word and similar programs. You will have to break or change some habits and develop some new ones. But Scrivener has been created for writers working on books, screen plays and other big projects. It has powerful tools that can be helpful and worth the effort to learn about.

Those are my thoughts about Scrivener now that I’ve used it for a first draft. We’ll probably come back to Scrivener and Scrivener issues in March or April (after I’ve had some experience editing in Scrivener)

In the meantime, do you have any thoughts on Scrivener? Any questions? If so, leave a comment. And either way… I’ll see you next post!

NANO’s here…

Well, dear reader… NANOWRIMO starts next Friday.

As usual, I’m putting aside other projects to push my way through a new manuscript. So… I’ll be giving the blogs a rest until December. I’ve got the manager stuff handled. I’ve made sure the other characters and stories on my plate are safely locked away until I finish. (Umm… Zeek, check that door again… Geez… Let’s rounded ‘em up, again… This time make sure they don’t have lock picks ok…)

This year I’m working on a mid-grade/YA story (Planning for mid-grade but could skew a little older) about Ruby, the younger sister of a character in my 2017 project. Hopefully, this one will be a little simpler to do and get into print faster (Not really the sister’s fault she and her fiancé ran into people who got a little Downton Abbey into my fantasy story…).

Since I’m running with some younger characters and heading for a younger audience, this time I’m aiming for 50-60 thousand words. Which is a step down from the 75-85 thousand word manuscripts of the last two years. But, I’m also hoping less unexpected themes and subplots pop out at me…

I’m confident in getting the NANO win (it’ll be the 5th running win…). And I’m hoping to learn a few things.

I’m also inviting you to join us in the fun and madness of NANOWRIMO (if you haven’t signed up already (in which case see you in the trenches)).

And, either way, I’ll see you next post (in December…).

Plantser’s gambit…

Well dear reader, as of Monday this week I’ve announced my NANOWRIMO project for this year.

I’ve talked about NANO before (like a couple minutes ago in my other blog…). I’ve shared some thoughts about why I do NANO . And, I’m doing it again (both talking about NANO and taking part).

This time around I’m building on what I’ve learned over the past four years and once again using NANO as a sandbox to experiment with something new. I can do YA fiction. I can do fantasy. I’ve even successfully written cross gender. Now I’m shooting for a mid-grade fantasy featuring a female protagonist.

Trying this during NANO I know it’s a first draft. I know there’s a lot of work to be done on the back end. So, I’m not afraid to experiment. This is only the first draft, the sandbox model, not the final product. So, I can tell the internal editor to back off and get some real writing done.

NANOWRIMO is also my version of a vacation…

I’ll be talking about NANO again before November first, as a “plantser” there’s prep to do, even though I’m not doing a full “planner’s” outline… I would also love to see you join us (if you haven’t announced your project already (If you have… Great! I’ll see you there!). If you’ve been wanting to write a book (even if it isn’t a novel), or if you want to write another one… Check out the website and join us!

Think about it dear reader. And, I’ll see you next post.

POV and understanding

This week I finished the “1/2” portion of my 1 ½ pass editing pass for the Johnson Farm reedit and The Calm Inside the Storm. One of the biggest results is some serious thought about point of view.

Some scenes only get one point of view. Sometimes there’s only one character around to have a point of view. Sometimes only one character is trustworthy enough to give his/her point of view (and then unreliable narrators happen…), sometimes we’re trying to keep it simple and only use one POV throughout the work. But sometimes we can benefit from multiple points of view on a scene or situation, even if those points of view don’t all make it into the final work.

Multiple points of view can make for a complicated scene and a complicated story. But:

  • Sometimes multiple points of view are informative. The reader can learn more about the situation and the characters. If your hero describes the scene one way and the villain another, you can learn something about the story from the differences, the things not said and the things that conflict. As a writer, you can “show not tell” by allowing your reader to extrapolate from multiple accounts.
  • Sometimes one character might “have the angle” and can see something another character can’t. if this is true for only one character and the information is relevant, then you want that character’s point of view on the page. If it happens for two characters, you should consider ways to get both points of view onto the page.
  • Sometimes you learn something from writing from a different character’s point of view. I have a case of this in my current work. Both John and Jamie have accounts of a particular scene and those accounts will be in their respective stories. But, Jamie’s mom is also in the room and I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around decisions she’s making. Solution: rewrite the scene from the mother’s POV. It probably won’t make it into the book, but the finished scenes will be better because I know what the Q%$@#!!! is going on in mom’s head while the teens are being teens.
  • Sometimes those points of view that don’t make it into the main work can be used in other ways. I just mentioned rewriting a scene from Jamie’s mother’s perspective. How hard will it be to turn that scene into a promotional short story to help advertise the book? (I don’t know because I haven’t written it yet, but it’s a possibility)

Alternate points of view can be a resource sink. But, sometimes the reader and the author learn something worthwhile. Writing from multiple perspectives can help you and your readers understand things that would otherwise be missed or require a bunch of story-slowing exposition. Multiple perspective take more work (sometimes…), but if they make the story better, they’re worth considering.

These are my thoughts dear reader. What do you think? Are multiple points of view good? Bad? Over complicated? Enjoyable? Leave a comment if you’re so inclined, and… I’ll see you next post.

“Pure science” the biggest lie in science fiction

On the one hand, there’s an upswing in reported health issues associated with vaping, and news reporters feigning shock.

On the other hand, my wife asked me to read and discuss a book: Science Fiction Prototyping: Designing the Future with Science Fiction by David Johnson.

Somewhere between the two I hit upon a realization: “pure science” is the greatest fiction in science fiction.

Just for clarity and understanding (you can argue in the comments if you want to…), I define science fiction as fiction that examines the effects of science and technology on people’s lives.

Enders Game is science fiction; it looks at the lives of people fighting a high-tech war against aliens, that doesn’t happen without the tech. It’s a significant factor in the story. The Empire Strikes Back isn’t science fiction; you could do the same thing with horses, boats and pre-gunpowder weapons and have the same story. (Face it… The AT-ATs are discount elephants…)

Wargames can’t happen without the computers. The Terminator (the original one) can, you could omit the ‘sci fi’ trappings and tell the same main story with a couple stoners from Newark.

Note: I still like The Empire Strikes Back and The Terminator… They just don’t depend on the science and tech the way the others do… (And, like I said… If I’m wrong, leave a constructive comment)

Within science fiction (the kind where science matters to the story) we occasionally find a huge flaw called “pure science”. Somewhere, someone (I blame Star Trek) came up with the idea that scientists will “do” science for the pure and sacred sake of science, without all those silly little human traits, factors, and motives. It’s a great Utopian idea. But, like the rest of Utopia is doesn’t exist.

How could “pure science” exist? In some ways it would be nice. We could have unbiased information to work from. But, science doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There has to be some living being to “do” the science. And, since we don’t have super intelligent aliens to do it for us, that means humans are involved.

Coming from a psychology background and writing character driven fiction, in my world the characters have reasons for what they do. The “pure science” scientist is hiding from something. The scientist wanting to cure cancer “for the good of mankind” has seen a loved one die from cancer and never wants to see it again (so he/she sees it over and over while trying to cure cancer…)

Science takes time, effort, and money. People don’t invest any of those if there’s no return on investment. Companies (and companies pay for a lot of the research in real life…) don’t pay for science for science’ sake, they want something out of it.

People seek after scientific advances for a purpose.

If you argue they’re doing it for curiosity… I say, great but where’d they get the money and equipment?

If you say they’re doing it for a purpose (to win a war, cure a disease, rescue their beloved)… I’ll buy that.

If you suggest they’re doing it to see someone naked… Yeah… I’ve got to buy that one too (you’re reading this on the internet… click on enough links and you’ll find your way to porn whether you want to or not…)

The one argument I won’t buy is that scientist are conducting research and making discoveries for no benefit to themselves or someone they care about. The benefits may only be psychological/spiritual but the exist; that’s just basic human nature.

Humans and human desires are the driving forces behind human science and technology. Anyone claiming their science is ‘pure’ and untainted by human desires and motives is hiding his/her motives, or unaware of them (making her/him kind of clueless…). Understanding the human drives behind the science makes our science fiction better and more accurate (even if the underlying reasons never make it onto the finished page or into the final cut of our movie…)

It might be interesting to see ‘pure’ science, but I doubt I ever will. In reality the humans keep getting in the way.

Well, those are my thoughts dear reader. What do you think?

Think on it. Leave a comment if you’re so inclined. And, I’ll see you next post.

The short (and the long) of it…

Years ago a writer I really respect told me I should start with short stories before I go to long fiction, that there was nothing I could learn in long fiction that couldn’t be learned in a short story. Well, over the years I’ve found that there are a few things about long fiction that are hard to learn in a short story, and a few things about short stories you can’t learn in long fiction…

Long fiction is something I love, there are lots of things you can do with it. But, a 50,000-word story doesn’t teach you how to get to the point, or how to have a complete story arc in two pages. A 50,000-word story is about as helpful in learning to write efficiently, and short, as running marathons is for learning how to sprint.

On the other hand, a two-page short piece will never teach you how to tell the long story. You can’t practice what to do on page 158 if you end on page two; that’s like thinking you’re ready for the marathon because you sprinted twice. Sure, you can think of chapters as individual stories or story arcs (and in some ways you should). But, in novel the stuff that happened in chapter two matters in Chapter 14. The magic reset button isn’t something to press between chapters (if you press it at all!).

Even larger short stories, even the big 20-30 pagers, don’t have room for the cast of characters a novel needs. You just don’t have space for all of those characters in the shorter story. But your long story might have several of them in different places doing different things and expect all those lines to link up somewhere around page 250 (or 350, or 475, or…).

Long and short stories have different requirements and are useful for different things. You may not fully understand the differences until you’ve finished a few (or at least one) of each. That said, there are some valid reasons for starting with short stories (or doing short stories if you’re struggling with that first big story…).

There are many things in common between the story types. You (usually) need characters, settings, a plot, and the other ‘usual’ pieces of a story (you just have more space to play with them in the larger story (and (usually) more characters and locations to worry about)). Working on short stories allows you to practice working on these before you try to assemble the 50,000-piece set.

Short stories also have the advantage of being shorter to write (again usually). It’s just less work to write 2,500 words than it is to write 50,000. This means it’s easier to finish the whole writing process in a relatively short time. You will probably go through the whole process in less time than it would take to write a 50,000-word first draft. And, that overview of the whole process is helpful in finishing that big story (trust me, you can get lost in there if you don’t know where you’re going).

Short stories also make a great ‘experimental space’. In Statistics we learn about a t-test, a simple two group test that allows you to determine if there is a difference between groups. Short stories are like t-tests. They don’t handle the big complicated things very well, but as a ‘quick and dirty’ test for a writing technique or a character interaction they work pretty well. Short stories can be helpful in developing the characters, places and things you need for your big story. In model building/construction terms short stories can be a way of ‘dry fitting’ parts before you get into the more complicated work.

I think my teacher of years ago was wrong, there are things you can learn in long fiction that you can’t in a short story. But, that doesn’t mean that we should abandon the short story. Our short stories are useful for practicing a lot of things we need in our bigger stories. They give us a relatively cheap and easy place to experiment. They can serve as parts and models in the big picture. They give us ‘taster’ pieces we can hand out, put in our blogs, and enter contests with, without having to do the work necessary on that one big piece.

And, not every idea needs 50,000 words! There are some stories that just don’t need, and shouldn’t have, that much of our time.

Ultimately, I think we should write both long and short fiction. And, it’s probably worth starting with short stuff (maybe build a 1/700 scale kit before trying to build a full-scale, working aircraft carrier….).

That’s my thoughts. What do you say? If you disagree (or agree!) with me, leave a comment.

Either way, I’ll see you next post.

Office supplies and NANOWRIMO…

A lot can change in a week. In the last seven days: I got a novel to the publisher (toy/reward budget unlocked!), plans with my in-laws changed (three times…), and (at least in my area) School supply season is open!

Long time readers know that I’m one of those weird old-school writers who like to write things out long hand before using the computer. There are lots of reasons: I think at about the same speed as I write, my notebook never runs out of batteries, my handwriting is bad enough it counts a data encryption (sadly not a joke…), my notebook is lighter than my laptop… It’s a system that works for me (and as always I encourage you to find the system that works for you and use it).

The system works, but it means I spend a fair amount on office supplies.

I guess you could say office supplies are a two-stage motivator for me. Office supplies make me happy (no idea why), and when I have a bunch of them, I find myself thinking “Well, I have them, so I’d better use them!” which gets me to writing. And then the writing depletes the stock sending me back for more office supplies (is there such a thing as a positive vicious cycle?).

School supply season also reminds me that National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) is just around the corner. And, that means I will need a new box of pens and at least 5-6 purple notebooks for my nano project, and at least 4-5 yellow ones for those edits/rewrites that will definitely happen. And then, since I have the stuff, I can’t let myself back out on NANO. It’s both a productive writing time and my vacation of sorts.

But, NANOWRIMO the organization is more than just a bunch of writers flogging keyboards and using massive amounts of caffeine. They also promote reading and writing in our schools and libraries. NANOWRIMO is both a way to get that first draft out and a way to do some good in the world. (If you want two ways to do good and like office supplies, why not donate some to someone in need as well?)

As writers we’re a lucky bunch, we get to chase our dreams and obsessions and call it work! We get to learn, do, and create things we want to. Those are perks of the job (make that a career… life style…?).

But, it’s also good to help others while we’re helping ourselves. And, NANO is a great way to do that.

I’m sure I’ll be talking more about NANOWRIMO (and office supplies) in the months to come (I do every year). In the meantime, check out the organization , think about giving, and writing.

And, I’ll see you next post.

The middle of the pass… And facing the hard stuff…

Two weeks ago I talked about the “one and a half pass” editing pass. And, 345 manuscript pages (73,500 words) later I’ve dug through the reader feedback, made my notes, and found three things that need more than a one word fix or altered point of punctuation.

Two of the three are relatively easy. I need to move a little character description earlier in the story. There’s work involved, but it could be worse. The first fits in with my heroine’s natural way of going and the second is easily dropped into my ‘rather particular’ (aka anal) antagonist’s running commentary about the people around him.

As I think about it, it’s kind of weird I missed them in the first place… But that’s part of the challenge of writing fiction. You have to get the story in your head onto the page in a complete form that the readers will want to read. It takes practice and training, but if you’re willing to do the work, you can get there (And if you think you’re there… Check anyway).

The last change is big. It’s the hardest change to make. It means the most work. But, it will pay off in the long run.

Part of the stress on my heroine comes from two videos that show up in the middle of the story. Initially, I thought the same character shot and posted both. But, the videos need to be on two different accounts, and have different styles and kinds of content. It feels like more than the original perpetrator would do. Generally, things don’t feel right.

The videos are important. They help put pressure on the heroine and drive her toward making a mistake. They need to be there. But, the way they were initially conceived didn’t work. So, I borrowed some teens I know and had a talk about embarrassing videos. And yeah… I’m making some changes.

And, the changes are more than just inserting a different name. Two different characters are putting up the videos now. One of those characters is the original. His video was put up on a false account and the two characters didn’t get along well in the first place (and the account hasn’t been tied to him yet). So there’s not much change to be done.

But, the other video is now being put up by a female character that the heroine knows. It will change some interactions between those characters, which means I have to work through all the references to that video, all the interactions with that character, and stuff relating to that character and rework things to fit her being the video poster.

It’s a lot of work. But, it focuses and increases the pressure I wanted on my heroine. It gives my antagonist something to be mad about (in his mind he’s protecting the heroine). And it fits. It’s a lot of work; it means digging through, thinking, and reworking, but makes the story better. Making the story better matters.

I’ve already put in a lot of work. This is supposed to be the last go ground. And, I’m lucky; there’s only one significant change, and it’s a fairly manageable one.

Taking your story apart and reworking pieces can be a pain in the butt. It’s not something we like to do. But, if you want the story to work, sometimes you have to rework a piece or two. And, that work extends beyond just rewriting a sentence or two. It can mean making changes across the length and breadth of the story.

It’s not something you have to do; it’s something you have to do if you want the story to be right. It’s something we all need to do from time to time (Ask Steven King if you don’t believe me…). It’s rewarding. It makes your story right; it helps your readers love your work; it matters.

Telling a good story should be a goal for any fiction writer. And revision is part of that. It is worth the effort.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Do your revisions. Make your stories great. And, I’ll see you next post.