And the problem is… writing thrills me.

by on Mar.19, 2014, under Process

I have a problem common to all working authors–finding time to write. Almost every established author will tell you to write every day. No matter how you feel, make time to write every day. I try to follow this advice, but I am struggling with it.

However the symptoms of my affliction are very different from most other authors I talk to. The problem isn’t that I can’t find the time, my problem is that I can’t stop. Writing thrills me too much to disengage… (continue reading…)

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The essential key of a good critique

by on May.08, 2013, under Observations, Process

After more than four years participating in critique groups, both in person and online, I have come to the firm conviction that there is only one essential key to a good critique. This key is so essential that I’ve come to believe that a critique missing this key is worthless to the author, and that any critique containing this key, no matter how green or ignorant the reviewer, can be valued for its weight in gold by the author. (continue reading…)

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Do you groan about a story title’s inclusion in the text?

by on Sep.22, 2012, under Observations, Process

How often do you read a story and come across the title of the story in the text, and groan to yourself, thinking “Oh god, that was a horrible way to shove the title in?”

Apparently, this happens quite often. But I have done some analysis of this topic, and from what my limited testing shows, this may be an artifact of reader expectation. Let me share with you what I have observed, and then you tell me what you think. (continue reading…)

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Describe thyself, mortal!

by on Sep.21, 2012, under Process

One of the issues that I struggle with in writing is physically describing my point of view character. So very many readers come back with “I wish I knew what the protagonist looked like.”

This is a tricky subject. Gazing into a mirror is far too obvious, and will get snarly comments from editors. Switching to another point of view character is an easy habit, but many more of my readers would prefer me to use a single PoV character.

I’ve been googling around on this topic, and the Internet has spoken.
This is hard.

Unfortunately, that’s about all it has to say. The best I’ve got is to let the character interact with themselves in some manner that gives hints. Combing their hair, or tearing it out I guess is more likely in my stories.

In contrast, I was just listening to the Mary Robinette Kowal and others say in The Story Board, Episode 2 that it’s better to not describe the protagonist. That describing the protagonist takes away the reader’s ability to imagine themselves in that role. In doing so, I would need to choose to leave those readers unsatisfied.

If you are a writer, how do you tell the reader about the protagonist, through the protagonist’s eyes? Do you just leave it to the reader’s imagination?

If you are a reader, which do you prefer? Do you find that clearly described characters turn you off?

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Evolving the writer, Engaging the reader

by on Sep.19, 2012, under Process

When I think of how I have evolved as a writer, it is easy to see it as a staircase. Each jump, each step up in my writing ability came about due to a new understanding about what engaged the reader. Every time I learned what the reader wanted but did not get, or got but did not understand, my writing improved dramatically (as judged through the subsequent reviews of revisions or newer stories).

At this point in evolution, I’m not sure any other factor is involved in a writer’s growth. Most of the processes you learn in writing classes and workshops are tools to help the writer develop their vision. I can’t recall any of those tools being directly aimed at improving the writing output; the tools generally assist the writer in getting the job done.

This leads me to what I feel is an obvious conclusion: the only way to improve your writing is to put it in front of readers and get their response. The emotional engagement of the reader provides the only useful feedback from which to judge your output. And a reader who can elucidate which a certain piece really works for them, or really doesn’t work for them, provides the most valuable catalyst for growth as a I writer. For me, it seems to be the only catalyst.

Have you experienced something different? What works for you?

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Reading a story is like experiencing a role playing adventure

by on Sep.12, 2012, under Observations, Process

Very recently, a reviewer of one of my stories complained to me, “Reading this is like playing a role playing game. The reader has to advance up level by level.”

This statement was truly said to me as a complaint, although I still can’t figure it out. Should I should have given the reader a complete list of characters and a map of universe, prior to asking the reader to read the story? Do we ever get a map and character list prior to starting a story? Would you read a story that tried to give you all of this prior to the first paragraph?

It’s been 10 days since that comment, and I still can’t figure out what the basis of the complaint was. To me a well told story is where you the reader starts with a tight focus on a single scene, and expands outward as you learn more. Is this not the brilliance of story telling, such that a good story will tease us forward, into the darkness in hopes of learning more?

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How we cheat the reader

by on Jul.11, 2012, under Process

We as writers have a tendency at times to cheat the reader. We’re not intending to. But we use imagery that we think they’ll interpret, and save ourselves a bit of writing. Here’s an example from an upcoming story of mine:

Heinrich stood blocking the exit at the bottom of the access tube. He was covered from his head down in full military armor. He projected business. No wonder the crowd was afraid.

Yeah, that works. Most people will visualize what military armor might look like, probably grabbed from video game commercials. But did I really do my job as a writer?

There are lots of points of view on this topic, but for my own writing I say no. I was cheating the reader, making them do all the visualization work. Yes, the reader has to visualize but we can make this a lot easier for them. Here’s what I’ve revised that part to:

  Heinrich stood blocking the exit at the bottom of the access tube. He was covered in full military armor. The helmet was made of transparent ballistic plastics, giving him perfect visibility. His torso was covered in metallic armor emblazoned with the UDF logo. The interlocking segments of armor on his legs trailed down to large armored boots which likely had powerful magnetic clamps.

  The boots gave him another foot in height, so he towered over the crowd in the tube. A huge double-barreled automatic rifle swung from ball bearing mounts on his armor. His arms loosely held several control brackets, one of which was obviously controlling the weapon. A precision aiming device covered one eye. The gun was aimed directly at the crowd. No wonder they had stopped.

I think the reader has a much better image of what Heinrich is wearing, and exactly why the crowd was intimidated. I’m glad this part is better. I hope to avoid this mistake in the future and never cheat the reader.

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