(Blog) Hopping Down the Author Trail

This week’s entry is Phil Giunta’s idea. Phil asked me to join in this Blog Hop, where I answer four questions and then nominate three other writers to do the same, and they’ll nominate three other writers, and so on, and so on…

I don’t normally do these “pyramid scheme” types of posts, as my friend Nobilis Reed calls them. But this is an opportunity to talk about my writing and to give some other authors some exposure. These are a few of my favorite things, so I’m in.

1. What am I working on?

Lots of things, always. I’m outlining a sixty-minute radio play for performance at Farpoint 2015. I’m kicking around ideas for a flash fiction piece (I don’t think I’ve ever written one, unless you count this. It’s 1470 words, so it’s probably too long.) I’m writing a 6,000-word short story, my third in as many months, and I’ve got a novel outline in development. I’ve also got a page of bullet points for potential projects, including some possible Appalachian romantic comedies and ghost stories. Science Fiction is starting to chafe.

2. How does my writing differ from others in my genre?

I’m very character-driven. VERY. I don’t tend to really plan out plots as much as create characters I want to spend time with, and then see what happens as I play with these imaginary friends I just thought up. I figure any idiot can write a clever plot. And many do. But not too many people can really create characters that readers fall in love with. I don’t know if I succeed at creating such characters, but that’s my goal. More than one reader has told me my characters are compelling and unforgettable. I also love happy endings, which is verboten in the SF community these days, and I love and respect my characters. I never do anything just to shock readers. I want my readers to feel safe with me, except maybe when I make them think about things outside their comfort zone.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Again, all kinds of reasons.

I write what I want to read.

I write to make people see the world as it can be, not just as it is. I write to let people know that there are solutions to the problems they encounter, and to show them what some of those solutions look like. This is the science fiction tradition, grown out of the older tradition of satire. (I thank the late, great Barry Morse for pointing out that connection.) The genre turns the world on its ear so you can look at it a different way and learn something.

I write because I have so damned many thoughts spiraling around in my skull, and I don’t want to lose any of them; so I get them written down to clear the brain-clutter.

4. How does my writing process work?

Sort of like building a Lego set. I generally start with one building block. It may be a character I want to write about. It may be a situation I’d like to develop. It may be a taking a current trend to its ridiculous but logical extreme. For some of these ideas, I have to build a whole new universe, or work in a universe similar to our own. In the case of new Arbiter Chronicles stories, I’ve got a playground, I just have to decide who’s going to play on what piece of equipment this week. Especially in a complex universe like Arbiters, the stories start to grow out of the characters, just as they do in episodic television or comic books.

Once I’ve got my idea, I tend to free write. I jot down the one line, and then I ask myself a bunch of questions and start answering them. If my idea is intuitive or just comes to me well developed, I’ll start right in with bullet points in a rough outline. If not so much, I’ll write paragraphs of dialogue with myself, like I’m having my own story conference write there on the screen. Then I go back and pick what works, and a story starts to gel.

Usually I’ll impose structure right up front, to keep the pace right. I used to always use a three-act, motion picture structure. I’ve moved away from that some. I’ve used Lester Dent’s formula for a short story with a great deal of success, and not just for short stories. If my story is actually illustrating a point, I may use actually use a three-part argument structure, so that each segment illustrates a point. My most recent novel was written to follow the journey of the ephebic hero as he discovers the mysteries in the cave. I’ve also become very cognizant that, for adventure stories, it’s important to reinforce the danger with each scene change. Not necessarily a cliffhanger in every chapter, but you’ve got to keep the danger in the reader’s mind.

All of this leads me to write a premise that’s one to ten pages, depending on the length of the work. For a short story, I can go from the premise to my first draft. For a novel or an audio drama script, I do a full outline with scene-by-scene breakdown first. If I DON’T do a full outline for a longer work, I ALWAYS regret it.

And then I write a first draft. I am of the “Don’t get it right, get it written,” school. If I get stuck on a plot point during the actual writing phase, or, more likely, just can’t decide how to write a transition between scenes, I do NOT go back and re-plot. Ever.

Finish the draft. ALWAYS finish the draft. Going backward is death. If you realize you didn’t outline enough, that’s tough, asshole. You shoulda told me before we left! Now we’re committed, and you’re gonna finish this draft! So smack yourself upside the head a few times and write something that you’ll probably be ashamed of. That’s your punishment for skimping in the outline phase.

Sticky transitions are easy. I write “This they now do” and separate it with asterisks. I go back in second draft and write the transition, armed with a better understanding of the story as a whole.

Stuck plot points can get hard. You get into a scene, realize it doesn’t work… what the hell?

Here’s where it’s important to remember that not everything you write should see print. Embrace that, and write some stuff that you KNOW won’t see print. The villain is about to kill the heroine with a giant intergalactic sponge in the kitchen. The outline says she goes out the cat door, but you realize only now that you wrote it so that the dog is already stuck in the cat door. And it’s such a riveting scene, the dog moaning and squirming in that damn door, that you can’t cut it out. Plus the dog being stuck in the cat door allows him to be there to bite the fuse in half in chapter 18, before the house blows up. So… You are totally stuck and out of ideas.

There a knock at the door, and the pizza guy shows up. He’s the heroine’s long lost high school sweetheart, and she and the villain have to pretend that the villain is actually her butler. So the butler goes to make crepes while the heroine and the pizza boy do it on the kitchen table.

Why would you write this? Because you’re stuck. And this is funny. And no, you will NOT submit it with the manuscript. BUT, while writing the heroine’s reaction to her pizza-boy, you realize she’s not such a boring little so-and-so after all, you actually like her. No, you LOVE her. And so your novel is better for it.

And yes, when I’m dead they’ll find my pizza delivery scenes on my hard drive, and no, you may not read them now. Unless I can find a market that will buy them.

Once I have a completed first draft, sans pizza delivery, I sometimes put it down for a year or three. Or I sometimes attack it and finish it right damn now. It depends on whether or not I think I have an immediate market for the work. Either way, it’s MUCH easier to finish a second, third or fourth draft when the first is a more or less living being already. Even if you have to cut off the last quarter of the book, run it through a shredder, and start over, which I’ve had to do on my last two novels.

And there it is…

And now, because no one else responded, I nominate Nobilis Reed to hop aboard this here blog hop thing.

Nobilis Reed is:
1. The host of the best speculative fiction erotica podcast ever (nobilis.libsyn.com)
2. The author of some of the weirdest erotica you’ll ever find (nobiliserotica.com)
3. The unofficial Balticon shoulder demon (www.balticon.org)
4. All of the above

And if any of my other author friends think this sounds like fun, drop me a line and I’ll add a shameless plug for you in the comments below.

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2 thoughts on “(Blog) Hopping Down the Author Trail

    • You kidding? That’s SHORT for me! I barely have time to write, you want me to EDIT? Believe it or not, it takes me a lot less time to write 1000 words than to write 500.

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