Sunday, October 26, 2014

More on Process.

At least, my process.

I may have mentioned before that I am currently writing a book set in a militaristic magitech fantasy setting.  I probably need to work on my elevator speech for it, since the other day someone asked me what it was about and my reaction was basically:

 My inability to tell you about my story does not inspire confidence in regards to its quality.

Fortunately, this medium lets me put my thoughts together in a slightly more organized fashion.  The plot of my first book is a combination of a Wizarding School story mixed with a missing-persons mystery in the nearby city that unfolds into a much larger threat.  The two threads begin to coil together, with our precocious protagonists encountering the law officer investigating the case by being where they shouldn't and have to deal with an unfolding crisis while still attending class at a place that is basically Harvard meets Ender's Battle School meets Hogwarts. 

Hogwarts Military Institute.

Plotting out the general direction of the mystery has been fairly straightforward since I'm working backward from what I know is going on; I have a lot of fun figuring out different ways my characters can figure out what is going on.  This is a fairly intuitive process and makes writing the mystery part pretty easy.

What has been much less easy, and where I've been stuck until recently, has been my precocious teens.  I have general ideas of what sources of conflict should be, but for a while I didn't have any specific path that I had set down.  This left me unsure of where to write to or what I should necessarily focus on.  This is not an unusual problem for me; I typically build a story in order of Setting->Characters->Plot.

I decided that the easiest (and possibly even best!) way to figure out what should go on was to take a look at what other writers have done.  I took three books about Wizarding schools and did a quick plot overview of each: Harry Potter, The Name of the Wind and A Wizard of Earthsea.  I ended up junking A Wizard of Eathsea as it wasn't quite as good as I had remembered, but the other two gave me a lot of insight into how I should arrange things occurring and what kinds of elements I should focus on and when.  It let me know that I need to design some specific rivals for our intrepid heroes so I could introduce them nowish.  It let me know that I needed to get a little bigger in revealing the more magical elements of the setting.

It hardly took me any time at all, and now I feel silly for not having done it sooner.  Now I have many more ideas for what I want to do and a path for what I need to do.

Now I just need to, you know.  Do it.

 Oh sure, I get pissed that everyone is LITERALLY TALKING IN RIDDLES and suddenly *I'm* the asshole.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

3 Ways to Start Writing Deep POV Today

Have you ever gotten to the end of a story without caring about the protagonist? Or worse, have you ever put a book down after a chapter or two because you just couldn’t be bothered to continue? Chances are great that the author kept you at arm’s length by writing too shallow a point of view. Basically, the protagonist didn’t love you enough to let them into your head. It’s not you. It’s them. So don’t take it too seriously.

On second thought... do. Because you’ve got this story of your own, right? And you don’t want to let your own readers down. You want to be emotionally available to them. You want to make them ache. You want to make them scream. You want to make them laugh and cry.

So resolve to be different. To do better. 

But how? How do you engage your reader? How do you make them fall in love with the characters that live so vividly inside your head?

The answer is all about point of view.

What is deep point of view?

Shallow point of view: Red Riding Hood decided to take a walk. The road she walked on was rocky and long, so by the time she got to her grandmother’s house, she was tired.
Deep point of view: It was a cool, breezy fall day, and Red wasn’t really up for housework. She needed to be outside. Why not take a walk in the forest and visit grandmother? Instant karma, right? By the time she arrived, her muscles throbbed and her feet ached, but it was a good ache. Totally worth it.


Okay, so, shallow point of view tells the story from outside the mind of the viewpoint character. A well-defined POV will be right over the character’s shoulder, but might still be from outside. The language is clean and sterile. Details will be from the reader’s perspective, not from the character’s.
Deep POV slips right behind the character’s eyes. The narrative language is the narrative inside the character’s head. Their words, not yours. The reader feels, not in response to the character and the events, but with the character and through the events.

So how can I start?

Here are three simple ways to start writing Deep POV. This list is a jumping off point, not a comprehensive guide. Deep POV is an art form, not a science. There’s no one right way to do it. As you think about these tips, be reading other stories, particularly modern fantasy and sci-fi, and watch how the writer sharpens her POV.

1.       See What the Character Sees

When you walk into your living room, do you take in all the details at once, in a counter-clock-wise motion, while also noting the exact shade of the paint on the wall and the family history behind the displayed artwork? Course not! You’re seeing what’s important right now. If you’re tired, you see only your chair. You sink into it, noting how comfy the cushions feel under your aching muscles. You see the magazine you knock to the floor when you put your feet up and then you notice the dust crusting the TV when you flick it on. When the phone rings and you have to drag yourself out of the chair, you notice that the one of the screws that holds the phone to the wall is coming undone and the lime green paint is started to chip loose where the base of the phone is rubbing against the wall each time you bump it. And why the hell is your apartment so small that you’re bumping against the phone, anyway? Clearly you need a better-paying job. Of course it’s your boss on the other end of the line and while he berates you through the receiver, you peer into the connecting kitchen, hypnotized by the second hand spinning around the Elvis-themed clock your grandmother gave you last Christmas, and as he talks and talks, the hand seems to slow almost to a crawl. Now, I’ve never met you, and I’ve never been in your apartment before, but I see the whole thing now, all through your eyes.

2.       Talk the Way the Character Talks

In our geek and writing group, there are people from all different parts of America and all across the world. Rcently, we had a weekend-long conversation, with almost five hundred comments. About what? Beans on toast: yes or no? Through that conversation, we learned about different kinds of food in different parts of the world, different words that mean different things to different people, and different ways that people feel about things that you would think were the same.

Mostly, we learned that we’re all different. That those differences make us interesting, and they don’t have to make us dislike each other. We can learn from each other.

Your characters need to have these same kinds of differences. How do they think about the world? For example, what word do they use for people of a different gender? A man who thinks about lovely ladies is a very different sort of man than the sort who thinks about sexy chicks. Another man entirely might categorize different women using words like sluts, bitches, and dykes. Your reader probably won’t like that man — I only just wrote him and I already kind of hate him — but it’s a strong way to define a character, isn’t it?

Here are just a few ways to differentiate narrative voice. There are many, many more:

Education: Is your character intelligent or poorly educated? Do they use long, poetic words or short, punchy ones?

Slang: Do they use slang? How much? What kind of slang? Are they using is habitually, or are they being ironic?

Geographic background: Where are they from? How does that affect their words?

3.       Feel the Way the Character Feels

Traditional narration is emotionless. Deep POV swims with emotion. Drips in all over the reader. If something exciting is happening, the narrator may use obscenities or ejaculations. The narration may express surprise, disappointment, reluctance, or judgement.

Shallow POV: Susan was confused and felt sad. She didn’t understand why this was happening.
Deep POV: Why was this happening to her? What had she done to deserve it? Susan’s eyes stung with unshed tears. Life just wasn’t fair.

Shallow POV: Landon had waited impatiently for the names on the list. When it was finally released, he was disappointed to be named the understudy rather than the lead actor. He didn’t feel that Jerry was as good as an actor as he was, but he resolved to learn the part anyway.
Deep POV: Bullshit. Jerry? Jerry got the part? Jerry couldn’t act his way out of a detention, let along play Peter Pan with the flair and panache the part deserved. Bullshit! Mrs. Haney liked him better; that was all. Kiss-ass. Whatever. Maybe Jerry would get sick and he’d need to step in. Landon Harrison would be the best damn understudy the Steelton High Drama Club had ever seen.

Well, what do you think?

Can you make your reader care about your main character? Try it right now. Even if you are already working through deep POV, take a few paragraphs out of your WIP and follow each of these steps to deepen it further. Share the results with us in the comments below!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Sharing Is Caring

I don’t pretend to speak for every writer, but for most of us there comes a time when we want to share what we’ve made. To talk about it, to fan over it, to give it to someone else.

This is a good urge. I’m not talking about the urge to show off here, though that is natural and (sometimes) good in a number of ways, like when you’ve done something you’re particularly proud of and you want to show a friend.

Look here. Writing—art—is about connection. Maybe you do it alone with the lights off, but you’re still trying to speak, to communicate, with someone. Here’s something. The book is different for every reader, right? How are you going to know how it reads to someone else if you never share it?

Of course, there’s an etiquette to this. For example, it’s best not to ask a working writer, especially one who’s working as a writer, to read for you. It’s absolutely a gesture of respect to the writer involved, but it’s best to wait and see. Let him or her offer. Most often, they don’t have time, and many of them (okay, I) feel bad for saying no to you. If we’re really interested, we’ll ask for it.

Ultimately, I think the best place to share more than a couple hundred words is with your writers’ group, where you have all agreed to set aside time for each other’s work.

No, it doesn’t work for everyone. But sharing your writing is the fast track to improvement. Some people like to have just one critique partner. This works best at or near your own skill level—you learn together. I’ve done that, too, and found it an excellent way to grow as a writer. Is it hard, sometimes, to find beta-readers and others who will give you critique? Sure it is. But it’s worth it.

Share it. There’s no way it’s the worst thing in the world. Trust me.

Look here again. This is a lesson I need to learn every day. Your eyes are nobody else’s eyes. Everybody reads a different thing, even if it’s the same thing. If you can reciprocate, do it, and take the work you’re presented with seriously, even if it’s not your particular cup of tea. It’s as important to the person who shared with you as your work is to you. They’re as excited about it as you are about sharing yours. It’s a gift: “Look at my naked soul. Look what I’m excited about.”

Just keep that in mind.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Mad Science of Inspiration

Famous authors seem to get tired of being asked, "Where do you get your inspiration?" Maybe I'll be famous enough to be tired of that question one day. I get the feeling that authors don't like it because they don't know the answer or it's too complicated to quantify.

Pish. How hard can it be to say where you got your inspiration from? It's an easy answer: EVERYWHERE.

What a writer's brain looks like:
(kind of like a serial killer's obsession
board, eh?)
Authors are like Dr. Frankenstein. They dig up inspiration in graveyards. They steal it from hanged corpses. They pay off shady characters to steal it from the morgue. Sometimes its donated freely. Hell, sometimes it drops from the sky to land at their feet.

Shall we look at how a writer becomes Dr. Frankenstein when it comes to writing? I'm going to use my own books as examples because I can speak best from my own experience. Your mileage may vary.

Bazaar Dreams

The Bazaar is the first book I've published but not the first I wrote by a long shot. It started as a dream that was so vivid it stuck with me and nagged at me until I was forced to write it down. Of course, I had this great idea: a magical bazaar, a woman in desperate need of help, a giant spider bursting from the head of what looked like an ordinary human but I didn't have any framework for it. Sometimes ideas come to you that don't have any anchors. This one didn't have an anchor. Who was the main character, anyway? The lady who needed help? My character in the dream who wanted to help? What was the point of the story, beyond having the epic visual of a spider splitting a person open and crawling free? When the dream came to me, I knew it would have to be a book. I let it percolate, knowing that eventually, my Dr. Frankenstein imagination would cobble together a whole monster from the pieces.

Dreams are great fodder for stories. Sometimes the dream IS the book. Another story I'm writing, Hell Wrecker, came to me as a fully formed story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Of course, it wasn't until I started writing it that I realized there was more to the characters than I could ever hope to fit into the story the way I'd dreamed it. In dreams, you just know that the character had a bad childhood and you hold that story in your head. In books, you have to work in the back story in a way that won't clog up the main story. For this book, it meant accepting that what I thought was a complete story arc was actually the middle and last part of a book that actually started many years earlier. 

So, from tiny bits of ideas to fully-fleshed stories, dreams are a tremendous resource for ideas. If you have trouble remembering your dreams, start making it a habit to write down the last things you remember the minute you wake up. It will get you in the habit of remembering and will greatly enhance your ability to catch your dreams. 

So, besides dreams, where else have I found ideas?

Creeptastic Conversations

I am revising and editing Bug Queen right now. The idea for it came to me in a conversation with M. A. Ray, one of my fellow epic authors here on the Scriptorium Blog. I don't remember how the conversation got started, but I remember jokingly saying, "Wouldn't it be cool to have a lady who could control bugs? I see her with this giant tornado of bugs behind her and her in control of them all." It was a fun conversation but the idea stuck and soon I was writing about Vedalia and Sabra and an alien bug called the Calx and an insidious alien fungus come to take over Earth. From a silly conversation to a book. How's that for awesome?

Sometimes you're in public or sitting with friends and someone says something that catches your imagination. Once, long ago when I was riding on a bus (ugh), I overheard a woman say, "My husband told me his contribution to our marriage was his paycheck" That has stuck with me through the years because it's so evocative. Someday I'll write that story. Until then, it sits in my memory banks, waiting for the right moment to come along. 

Just like dreams, some of the ideas that come from conversations won't have an anchor. They aren't a story in and of themselves. They need cobbled together with other ideas from other places. This is where the Dr. Frankenstein method of creation comes in. Take a dream idea and sew it to a conversation idea and see what happens. It may work great or it might destroy the city in a rage. You just never know until you strap it to the table and crank it up onto the roof to get struck by lightning.

Singing Past the Graveyard

Graveyards are great for inspiration too
Music is often an inspiration to me. From powerful lyrics to a sexy beat, from the mood of the piece to the place where I first heard it, songs often spur ideas. Sting writes songs that spark pictures in my head. It's one reason I love listening to his music. It's like dreaming when I listen, and I love to dream. Sometimes songs help me write scenes and sometimes they are the impetus for a book. 

Lovers on the Sun by David Guetta and featuring Sam Martin is a song that is a book to me. I just haven't written it yet. It's a song that paints all sorts of epic scenes for me, I just have to find the anchor and get them on paper. I don't have any stories I've written solely from a piece of music because more often, songs act as the filler for my stories rather than the inspiration for them. They help me find pieces of scenes that weren't there before, and they help me find the emotional depth that wouldn't have been there without that music. 

Truth is Stranger than Fiction

We have inspiration all around us if we're open to it. A news story might spark the idea for a book, the way an article about teenagers dying mysteriously led to the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. I'm often inspired by books I've read, either because the book was so good, I want to write like that too, or the book was so bad, I know I could write better. Sometimes, a book almost works but some element really disappointed me. In that case, I try to figure out how I could write a story that gives me what that book failed to do. I have a story in progress tentatively called Endless Winter, that comes from that space. By the time I'm done with it, I doubt anyone will ever know where the inspiration came from, but it will be my answer to the book that royally screwed up (in my mind) what could have been a great story.

Other places to find inspiration would be non-fiction books. If you're hurting for ideas, go visit the non-fiction section of your local library. There are a million ideas waiting for you there. Or pieces of ideas, anyway. You might take out a book on serial killers, on Abraham Lincoln, and on myth and come up with a great story. (Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. Maybe that's how the author came up with his book, eh?) You might pick up a book on knitting, a book on hunting, and a book on the American Revolution and end up with Betsy Ross, Bounty Hunter. Who knows? The point is to keep your mind open. Ideas can't get in if you don't welcome them.

Inscribed in Blood

A vampire! Now with more nipple,
Another great place to find ideas is in your own writing. I've gotten lots of story ideas from my books. Perhaps there's a character who's a bit player in your novel who you think would make a great main character in your next book. Maybe you mention a town in a short story that you realize would be the perfect setting in the werewolf book you're writing next. The cool thing about writing is that you're using your imagination as you do it and when you exercise that muscle, it grows bigger and stronger. Imagination atrophies if you don't use it. 

One of the books I wrote, Blood Curse, came from a what if idea: what if the Renfields were a family who served vampires through the ages and considered it an honor but one of the daughters hated vampires? I played around with the idea for a long while but didn't get anywhere until I anchored it to writing I'd done in high school. I had characters from pirate stories I wrote then that needed new life. I took those characters and folded them into this idea. Voila, I suddenly had people with backgrounds and personalities ready and willing to play out their parts in my story. 

It's Alive! It's ALIVE!

I think people ask the question, "Where do you get your ideas?" because they think that the author must lead an amazing, fascinating life full of adventure. Writers, though, understand that everything is story fodder. The plain room with the dull white walls and the nasally bureaucrat behind bullet-proof glass IS story as much as the high-speed chase that ends in a shoot out. Writers borrow from EVERYTHING, which is why they probably have a hard time saying where their ideas come from. It's not just one place but many, and they don't usually arrive whole, those ideas. They are in pieces like a serial killer's victims and the author has to pick up the bloody bits of flesh and stitch them together in a way that makes sense. Then they have to breathe life into the creature and hope that the creature doesn't fall apart upon scrutiny.

Writing is all about using what you have to create new, wonderful things. Don't think that just because you live in Nowhere, USA or Boring, China that you have nothing to write about. Of course you do. Take bits and pieces from everywhere you go, everyone you talk to, every song you listen to, and every conversation you hear and put those things together to make something amazing. Hit that shit with lightning and raise your hands high with exultation as you scream, "It's alive! It's ALIVE!!"

Friday, October 3, 2014

3 Steps To Write Off Your Emotional Baggage

Write it off. See what I did there? Hahaha.

It's not funny, is it?

A few weeks ago the other Scriptors and I were supposed to be talking about whether we do or do not write sex scenes. I didn't actually know the answer to the question. I'm a relatively new writer myself. Confession: I haven't actually finished anything.  I've written some catchy flash fiction, a few gripping short stories, and some large chunks of half-digested post-apocalyptic novel. But sex scenes? Truthfully, I haven't decided yet. But I believed I could still sit down and write an honest, truthful answer to the question anyway. At the least, I could show my thought processes.

I ended up in tears.

I cut what I wrote, begged off the question, and chose to save my answer for another day, a time when my Issues wouldn't take away from my colleagues' clever, well-though-out, and varied answers.

So I thought I'd wait. For a spotlight. Cuz, I mean, clearly, there's nothing more fun than having a spotlight shone on your Issues, right?

Everybody has issues, don't they? They sell classy little air-freshener night lights for the bathroom: know why? Because you've got your grown ups who are afraid of the dark. There are a dozen apps in the Appstore with the sole purpose of making distracting noises that will drown out your thoughts, fears, and worries as you are trying to get to sleep. Medication for depression, anxiety, and various mental disorders are at an all-time high.

Look, I'm not saying it's a bad thing. People are getting help. They're doing something about it. Mental illness is slowing losing its social stigma. It's okay to be broken.

It's okay to be broken.


When I was unpacking my answer to the above tricky little question, I found multiple layers of baggage. Emotional abuse. Religion. Guilt. Adolescence. Confusion. Love. Things that had burned my soul for better or worse, and by sitting down to write, I had accidentally peeled off the scab that had been covering a bloody wound. You can't put scabs back on. I had to let the thing bleed for awhile before it could be stopped up again.

And when you write, even fiction, you're going to be pulling that scab off again and again and again. Why? Because writing isn't good unless you're putting pieces of your soul into it. It won't ring true. Your readers won't care. As Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

So what can we do? As writers, how can we deal with this job hazard of opening up old wounds in order to make good art?

1)  Watch for the signs

You might not know ahead of time that something is going to hurt. I was caught by surprise when answering a simple question about writing technique had me in tears and reevaluating my whole life. Try to be aware of how you feel while you are writing. Sounds simple, but so often we put ourselves into our characters lives and allow ourselves to feel their feelings rather than our own. That's good. That means you're doing it write. (hehe. Sorry. Doing it write. Darn again. Doing it right. There we go.)

But when you are done writing, take a moment to evaluate your feelings. You okay? Did the trauma that your characters went through affect you personally? If so, is it just a natural writer's mood swing, or could you be chipping away at something that you've pushed down, something that needs to heal?

2) Get it out

If you decide that there's something deeper going on, find a healthy way to observe those feelings. If there's someone you can trust, try talking it out. You need someone who is a good listener, who is non-judgmental, who won't tell you that your feelings are wrong, and won't try to fix them for you. Tall order. Not everyone has a friend like that. If you do have a friend like that, go write them a love letter or send them a bar of chocolate. Yes, right now. It's okay, the rest of the article will wait until you get back.

If you do not have a friend like that, write your feelings out in a blank book that can be hidden somewhere reliably secret or in a secure location on your hard drive. You need it to be secure so you can be totally honest. When you have wounds, some of the feelings that come out are going to reflect your true feelings, and some of them are going to be reactionary. You might find hatred, bitterness, violence, or sexual feelings that you feel aren't healthy. You might have feelings of love for someone that doesn't fit with your life, or that will hurt someone else. You might want to express feelings about hurting yourself, or hurting someone else. You need to get them out. Burn the paper afterwards if it's something that could really get you in trouble.

Don't hold onto the feelings. Sometimes writing things down makes them more real and you can fixate on them. Don't do that. Write them down with the intention of purging them. Write them out and out and out and out until they are gone then let them go. Repeat as necessary.

3) Take Action

After you've gotten the feelings out, replace them with something positive. Take a long walk outside. Play tag with a kid. Beat your spouse at Candyland. Or Risk, if you're really brave. Listen to music that makes you feel alive. Look at the stars. Swim. Eat pasta. Break bread with someone you love or someone that makes you laugh. Hug. Have some reallyreally good sex. Write a list of things that are still good about the world, of things that have improved in our generation.

Feel better. And then go back to writing. Tear the scabs off again, as gently and firmly as possible. Did you know that while scabs are good for keeping germs out (protecting us from further harm) skin actually heals better without them? I only learned that this past year. My whole life I thought you needed scabs to heal. Well, you don't. Rip them off, throw some powerful germ killer on there, then let your wounds breathe. Feels good to hurt sometimes.


I'm not a psychologist. I'm not even old enough to be wise. If you're hurting, please get help from a professional. Talk to a doctor or a therapist or a non-oppressive spiritual leader of your choice. If you're thinking about hurting yourself, tell somebody ASAP. The world would be less without you.

We need your smile. We need your art. Thank you.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


I'd like to say I prepared for this post by missing my September 28th blog posting deadline, but that wouldn't be entirely truthful.  Rather, in this case, missing my deadline turned my thoughts directly to deadlines.
Mr. Adams had a few things to say about deadlines.

That being said, that deadline is the reason I'm writing this post at all, even if it is three days late and totally a cop out in terms of being incredibly self-referential.  I need deadlines to spur me on, and even when I get knocked out of the saddle by work or study or the weather changing.

I have to say that joining a group like the Scriptorium has been a huge help in making me accountable to someone.  Well, at the very least, making me feel like I'm accountable to someone.  I had been with another writing group at the university where I work, but it wasn't working out.  A lot of it had to do with scheduling, but some of it (I came to realize in retrospect) was the fact that I wasn't getting a lot of suggestions on things to change or refine.  I would have a manuscript that my group would give me a thumbs up on that I would take home to my fiancee, who would promptly say, "What is this shit," and light it on fire in front of me.  Then one of the cats would throw up on the ashes.

Incidentally, she doesn't get to see first drafts anymore.  Neither do the cats.

You can't even get to the point where you're horrifying your pets and loved ones if you don't write, however. For me to write, I need a schedule.  Goals.  Writing deadlines.  Structure.  If I don't have structure, I can't have discipline, and without discipline my writing slows to a crawl.  Having a zany 2k word day once a month isn't going to get your shit written.

Discipline and deadlines also helps me to get my priorities straight.  I realize that I need to outline a particular thing or get create a name or a person or technology and that I need to do that in non-writing time because while that is planning for writing, that is not writing.  Sometimes that means I have to get really creative on the fly instead of deliberative, and you know what? That's okay.

I have found that I need to operate under some form of pressure to write.  Too much is obviously bad; there is definitely a zone of 'comfortable pressure' that I experience where I'm motivated enough to write but not staring at the page staring back at me and wondering why I can't just get my shit together dammit.

This is what (mostly) works for me.  Sometimes shit flies by.  I was just chatting with Casey and he reminded me I missed the corporate post.

Looks like I've got more shit to get done.

Addendum: Turns out I actually already did it, before deadline, and promptly forgot that I had submitted it and it's already sitting pretty under September 11th.  How's that for getting shit done?