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…).

Soundtracks for writing?

Environment is important for writing. There are a lot of plusses and minuses to writing in different locations. There are also a lot of elements in those environments that can be hard to control. But, there’s one environmental element we can control, and even bring with us as we travel. It’s also been claimed to have the power to transport us to other places. It’s as simple as listening.

Music can tell stories. Music can trigger memories. Music can tap into raw emotions. Music is a tool that shouldn’t be overlooked in the preparation and process of writing.

There are also complications and problems. But many of those can be controlled by choices you make.

(Some of) the problems with music

Some of us like to write in public. And, it’s problematic to listen to our ‘writing music’ in public places. We don’t want to be offensive, but we also want our music. Can you (safely) wear headphone or ear buds where you’re writing? What about finding somewhere that has ambient sound/music that works for you?

A bigger problem, whether you’re in public or private, comes in the form of sensitivity to lyrics. I don’t mean the “I’m gonna shoot a cop then rape your grandma” lyrics (though there are problems with that kind of lyrics…). The problem we’re talking about is that for some of us, and in some processes, lyrics in music can be distracting.

This one is easier to cope with when you can choose the music you’re listening to (so… in your writing spot at home or using those ear phones/buds…). Choose music with lyrics that work for you, or just instrumental music.

It’s true that sometimes the lyrics you’re listening to get in the way. Sometimes that happens. For me it happens more in new writing. I like lyrics during the editing process. The answer (as usual dear reader) is to experiment a little, learn what works for you, and use it.

And music can work for you dear reader.

Music, emotion, and taking you there

Music (the sound portion) operates on a different level of thinking/feeling than the spoken word. It can convey emotion to us in ways the written or spoken word can’t. This effect can be amplified when you add the right lyrics. Because of this ability, music can be helpful for getting into the right headspace for a scene in a story, or for building up our courage for writing that difficult or scary part of your non-fiction (both my wife and I have finished graduate degrees we know about difficult and scary parts in writing fiction and non-fiction…).

Music can also be linked to a time and place. That’s both good and powerful.

It wouldn’t be too hard for me to get to some of the physical locations we call the old west (a lot of them are within a day’s drive). But, getting back to the time of the old west is harder. Music can help with that. I can find modern (recorded) performances of old western music to help put my mind in the frame of that time and place.

I can also pull out my Japanese, Pilipino, and Thai music to get me over to Asia.

Or, I can throw on some Bach or Telemann (You know… Just in case I need to get back to Leipzig in the 1840s and my TARDIS is in the shop…).

We have the technology to feed ourselves a steady stream of music that helps us be in the mental space to write and even to feel a link to times, places, and experiences near and far. We can use that music to inspire us and make writing easier. (It even helps some of us concentrate better!)

For me, developing a ‘soundtrack’ for a writing project is as useful, or more useful, than ‘teacher approved’ techniques like outlining. Thinking about and planning my soundtrack gets me thinking about what the themes of the story are, what the feeling of the story is. In its own weird way, planning my soundtrack is outlining the story on an emotional level… It can also count as part of my research if I’m doing a period piece.

What are your thoughts about soundtracks for writing dear reader?

Leave a comment if you like. 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.

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.