Tuesday, August 15, 2017

You Don't Know What You Don't Know

I apologize once again for the lack of activity on this blog. It’s not that I’m losing interest or running out of things to say, but I’ve hit a sticking point in my story (the same one I mentioned a couple of weeks ago) and I’m loathe to spend time here until that issue is resolved. However, the fact that I’m posting today is a good sign. I think (fingers crossed) I’ve decided how the scene should resolve itself and how the MC is going to get there. I may turn out to be wrong—it won’t be the first time—but I’m staying hopeful.

We all know how important it is to have other eyes on our work, especially those of us who are still working on our first book. We often have no idea how bad our writing is at the beginning—what our weaknesses are, what’s missing in our stories, cringe-worthy dialogue, etc. Even after we have a few stories under our belt, we still need that vital feedback because we’re often blind to our own problems.

Basically, we don’t know what we don’t know.

Last week, at one of my critique group meetings, the nominal head of the group spoke to one of our newer members about their latest submission. She complimented the writer for already being at a place on her writing journey where her words were in reasonable shape. There were still a few problems, but as the leader pointed out, new writers often have so many problems with their writing that it’s hard for the critiquers to know what to say or where to begin, and this writer was definitely past that stage.

All well and good, but as the leader was saying all this, she kept glancing back at me, as if expecting me to confirm this or something. Finally, after about the fourth look, I finally asked her why she kept looking at me, and after she hemmed and hawed for a while without actually answering, I finally realized she had been talking about me.

I’ll admit I was stunned. I’ve been getting good reviews on my submissions over the past twelve months and this very same leader had publically announced (more than once) that my writing had grown immensely over the past year or so, and how much she enjoyed reading my submissions. So all is good now, but apparently, back when I joined the group three years ago, my writing was pretty bad. Bad as in “we don’t have enough time to tell you everything that’s wrong, but here’s a partial list of where you might want to start.”

I went back and looked up some of my earliest submissions to the group, and yeah, there were some glaring problems that would have been hard to critique. Nothing technically wrong, the grammar and punctuation were fine and the sentences made sense, but my submissions were full of sentences that didn’t quite fit together. There was no glue to bind them together into a coherent whole; no mortar to smooth out the bumps and potholes. In other words, it was kind of hard to figure out where my story was going. But somehow, the advice my crit partners gave me at the time pointed me in the right direction and as a result, I’m a much better writer today.

So the next time I’m asked to look over a submission that turns out to be a mess, I’ll think back to when I first began many years ago and remember that we were all newbies once. When we didn’t know what we didn’t know.


P.S. Actually, if I had known what I didn’t know back then, I probably would have given up writing right then and there. Ignorance does have its advantages.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Insecure Writer and August's Pet Peeve

Today is August's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

What makes me an Insecure Writer this month?

I'm stuck on a particularly vexing scene and the wall next to my desk has dents in it from all the head banging I've been doing trying to figure my way past that scene. Oh well, it’s not the first time this has happened and it won’t be the last.  I’ll figure it out eventually and move on, so let's jump to the IWSG question of the month.

What are your pet peeves when reading/writing/editing?

My biggest pet peeve involves reading.  Over the past six months, I’ve noticed more and more books within certain genres are beginning to sound remarkably similar.  Take paranormal fantasies, for example.  Almost every one I see these days starts out in exactly the same way. The main characters all sound the same. The eventual love interest always sounds the same. The worlds sound the same. The writer's voice sounds the same.  It's like the authors are following the same template.  I know every genre has certain conventions a writer must follow, but come on people, at least try to be a little original.

Space operas are beginning to show some of the same problems, although at least they have the advantage of having five or six standard ways for them to begin.  The ex-prisoner/retired spacer/old miner who  just wants to retire in peace, but who immediately gets pulled into something that will decide the fate of the galaxy.  Or the bounty hunter/space scavenger/salvage reclamation person who discovers an ancient alien artifact that will decide the fate of the galaxy. There's nothing wrong with these themes, but it's gotten to the point where you could swap first chapters between these books and not notice the difference.

Have any of you noticed the same trends?


P.S. For those of you who write paranormal fantasy and space opera, I'm obviously not talking about you. :)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wonder Woman and Superpower Inflation

I saw the Wonder Woman movie the first week it came out and immediately decided to write this post. However, between life getting in the way and the fact that I’m a procrastinator, I’m only now getting around to it. 

First off, let me say I liked the movie. It was fun and had plenty of action, and, unlike the Superman vs. Batman movie, mostly made sense. But something did bother me about the movie, something that’s been bothering me about superhero movies for a while now. 

Superpower inflation. 

Now I understand the writers need to keep upping the ante in order to keep people flocking to see these kinds of movies, and it’s certainly easier to make the good guys (and of course the bad guys) more powerful than it is to come up with more compelling stories. But for a guy who grew up reading superhero comics back in the day, I find this trend disturbing. 

I don’t want to date myself, but back when I read comics, superheroes had to walk three miles to get to work, uphill—both ways. Back then, Wonder Woman wasn’t a demigod. She wasn’t picking up tanks and throwing them. Being an Amazonian, she was stronger than most people, was good at fighting, and had a strong sense of right and wrong. But other than her magic lasso and invisible plane, that was about it. Now my daughter tells me Wonder Woman has been rebooted so many times that now she’s supposedly almost as strong as Superman. Sigh… Back when I read comics she was basically a female version of Captain America. 

Of course, Captain America has been getting stronger and more invincible with every movie too, so I guess it’s only fair. In the beginning, Cap was great at absorbing punches. In Captain America: Civil War, the characters were surviving 20 to 30 foot falls onto hard metal platforms over and over again with apparently nothing more than a few bruises. Everyone else on the planet would have been dead. 

And it’s not just that everyone’s superpowers are getting bigger, it’s that they’re gaining powers they’re not even supposed to have. In Deadpool, for example, during the final climatic battle, every character started out with different powers, but once the battle began everyone seemed to be pretty much the same, super-strong and super-resistant to damage, even if that had nothing to do with their original abilities. After a while, all the characters became interchangeable. And that’s the real concern. That all the superheroes will eventually morph into the same SUPER superhero.

I could go on, but I’m probably in the minority here. Maybe superpower inflation is necessary to keep the superhero movies coming. And more superhero movies is (probably) a good thing. And to be honest, this inflation has been going on for a long time. Heck, in the first Superman comics (long before I read them), he couldn’t even fly—just jump long distances. I suppose when they finally gave him his flying abilities, the Superman aficionados of the time probably railed against superpower inflation then too.

That’s my two cents. 

What do you think?


Friday, July 14, 2017

Seven Writing Links -- Volume 174


Seems like this is the summer of missing blog posts. Another Wednesday slipped by before I remembered I had a post due. I've given up on the concept of feeling guilty about these missing posts. As long as I'm making progress on the writing front, I'm still happy. 

At least I had a bit of an excuse this week. As luck would have it, I had submissions for both my critique groups due this week, so I concentrated on getting those done. My biggest obstacle came from one of the submissions, where I couldn't decide which of the two stunts my protagonist was trying was going to succeed. After spending an embarrassingly long time pondering this question, I finally realized the correct answer should be "neither of them." Never make it easy for your protagonist. 

Actually, the tight deadlines wound up helping me out. I didn't have time to finish one of the chapters before it was due, so I fixed up as much as I could and just stopped writing, figuring my critique partners could see the last few pages of the chapter next month. Turns out the arbitrary cutoff point I'd chosen was actually the perfect spot to end the chapter. 

As much as I hate them, deadlines are good for me. 

Anyway, enjoy the links and have a great weekend! 


How to Tell if You’ve Received a Genuine Publishing Offer

Why Your Protagonist Should Have a Past “Wound”

Raise a Question, Earn the Backstory

The Basics of Advertising for Indie Authors

Mystery Cliches: Are They Boring Your Readers?
I found this one entertaining. 

7 Mistakes You’re Making With Your Book Promotion

7 Keys to Creating Bloodcurdling Monsters

Friday, July 7, 2017

Seven Writing Links -- Volume 173


Why am I posting this week's writing links late on a Friday night? Shouldn't I be able to find something a little more exciting to do? Well, the answer is that I've been on vacation all week (although that didn't stop me from participating in the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop  on Wednesday), so today was all about recovering from that vacation. And sitting down and sending these links out is a great way to relax and feel productive. 

I hope everyone enjoyed the 4th of July. The weather was great in Michigan, and I only got a little sunburned. Actually made some progress on the writing front too. 

Anyway, enjoy the links and have a great weekend! 


Writing an action story: 8 tips for good pacing

How Indie Presses and Authors Can Collaborate on Marketing Campaigns


What Do You Want Readers to Wonder About?

Define Your Target Audience: The Intermediate Stages (Branding/Discoverability)
As usual Kristine Kathryn Rusch has great information.

Rejected By BookBub? Look In The Mirror And Change Your Marketing Ways

What you NEED to know for successful Amazon Ads!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Insecure Writer and Lessons Learned

Today is July's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

What makes me an Insecure Writer this month?

Worrying that my vacation this week isn't going to be long enough. So this month I'll settle for answering the question of the month.

What is one valuable lesson you've learned since you started writing?

That's a hard one for me. I've learned so much over the years, there are too many to choose from. Here's my short list: 

1.  One of my first lessons had to do with showing and telling. I had no clue what "telling" was back at the beginning, and it took me years of practice before I could recognize it with regularity. Yay! Then, after a couple of years, I learned it was possible to show too much and eased back on it a little. 

2.  I used to think mortals like me could never dream up enough words to fill a 300 page book. Now I've learned the importance of cutting back and tightening my writing so my stories don't balloon into magnum opuses. 

3.  I used to be so obsessed with the rules of writing that I put off finding a critique partner for years because I was positive they'd be horrified with all the rules I broke, many of them without realizing it. These days, I understand the rules are more like guidelines. Heck, sometimes I break the rules just to see how my critique partners react. 

So when it comes down to it, I guess my most valuable lesson learned was the importance of having critique partners. With their guidance, my writing has grown tremendously over the years.  If you don't have a critique partner yet, get one. Reading books on craft and attending conferences help, but nowhere near as much as having another set of eyes on your work. You don't know what you don't know.   

If I had to do it all over again, I'd find a critique partner as soon as possible.

How about you? Are any of you still looking for critique partners?


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Knowing When To Add World-Building Details

Other than putting words down on paper, the task I spend the most time on while writing is deciding upon the order in which those words appear. The order of sentences, the order of paragraphs, the order of scenes. Should I reveal a nugget of information now or wait until later? Argggg! I tweak constantly, rearranging everything over and over until I feel I’ve hit the sweet spot. My hardest task, though, is deciding when and where I should drop in world-building info.

The commonly accepted rule is that authors shouldn’t reveal world-building facts until the reader needs to know them. Otherwise we run the risk of slowing the pace of the story and possibly boring the reader. Like most rules in writing, however, I’ve found this rule to be more of a guideline, because it’s possible to take this concept too far.

For one thing, common sense suggests writers shouldn’t always wait until the last minute to deliver world-building info. If the reader keeps learning necessary facts right before those facts become important to the story, he’ll spot the pattern and grow annoyed. It’s often better to drop in these bits of information well in advance of when they’re needed.

I can also imagine instances in which a writer will deliberately want plenty of separation between the delivery of info and when it’s actually needed. Consider mystery stories, for example. The writer needs to drop in facts/clues about the surrounding world so the reader has a legitimate chance of figuring out the mystery before the big reveal, but the writer usually wants to place them early in the story so those facts aren't foremost in the reader’s mind as the climax approaches. Otherwise it might be too easy for the reader to solve out the mystery.

Or how about when the author needs to foreshadow a future event? In many cases, it’s better to foreshadow well in advance, in order to give the reader time to build up anxiety over what might happen.

Heck, sometimes world-building info isn’t always needed for the story. Sometimes the author adds this kind of information solely for the purpose of the reader’s entertainment. This often occurs in fantasy or science fiction, where dropping in little details about how things work in this world are part of the draw. If the author followed the aforementioned rule, he’d never be allowed to add this info.

Of course, just because you can drop in bits of info early doesn’t mean you’re relieved of the responsibility of coming up with a valid reason for tossing it in there. No matter how entertaining you might find the religious system in your newly created world, the reader will not be pleased if you dump it on him for no reason. As a writer, it’s your job to dream up situations that justify the inclusion of this information. The reader may not need to know the information yet, but they don't need to know that.


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