Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 Writing Resolutions

Monet's Garden, Giverny, France (photo by D.G. Hudson)

Establish a daily writing time

--Include writing for a novel, short stories, editing, or outlining. Give it priority in the day.

Define a writing goal & specify time frame for completion

--Choose a goal by word count, number of pages, or number of chapters to be done

Establish a suitable writing area

--Locate your writing spot (your home, or an off-premise location--coffee shop, library, the park). No browsing on the web allowed during writing time.

Organize writing area and storage

--Choose your filing method - digital, or hardcopy. Keep a backup, and keep it current.

--Keep tools close at hand. Coffee can quality as a writing tool.

‘Chunk’ the big goals into smaller pieces.

--Focus on one part of the process at a time: characters, scenes, narrative, story structure, world building

Carry portable writing materials or recording device

-- Record ideas when they occur (while running errands, waiting for appointments, at the airport). Not recommended while driving.

Use a calendar to record progress

--Record your writing progress- online or manually.

--Free calendar in monthly format offered as download by Elizabeth at Reading Writers (see below** for link and site details).

Keep blog updated / use timely topics

--Determine frequency of posts and maintenance of content. Track on writing calendar.

Stay informed about the industry

-- Select a few writing blogs, or websites with quality content. Writer`s Digest 101 Best Websites for writers is a great place to start. Keep the number manageable.

Research and refine list of literary agents or publications

--Use online databases or other resources to compile a list of prospective contacts


2011 Reading Writers Calendar.

**Compliments of:  R e a d i n g W r i t e r s
The ultimate reading service for writers, by writers.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Curiosity as Research or Just Plain Nosy?

RainForest Pickings # 4

As a people watcher, I like to observe how individuals interact and react, in groups and on their own. Part of this interest is tied to my writing and the desire to create memorable characters. The other part is purely intellectual. Why do they walk that way, why do they look threatening, why are they dragging that dog, and why do my observations of these individuals nearly always cause them to turn and look at me?

‘People watching’ is a time-honoured pastime in Paris, where small tables encroach on the sidewalk, forcing the passers-by to walk more slowly. In the small bistros and literary cafés people sit for hours, talking and watching others go by. If the weather permits, an outside table is the preferred location. The term ‘flâneur’ originated in Paris, referring to those who observe daily life in the city with more intensity than the average person. The various meanings of the word are stroller, lounger, saunterer, or loafer which comes from the French verb flâner, meaning "to stroll". Strolling is another way to watch and observe what makes us human.

When I’m writing, the knowledge gained from my observations helps me determine attributes for my characters. I need to know how a character looks if he’s strolling down the sidewalk, whether his gait is loping, long strides or mincing steps due to a possible injury. Is the person swaggering from too much drink or walking like a bodybuilder with every muscle under control? Are the shoulders bent from hard work or age? What is the overall image of that person -- active, sloppy, or a well-dressed suit? What props do they carry -- briefcase, skateboard, groceries, baby in sling, dog on leash? Is anything unusual about the location or that person being in that location? Sometimes it’s the circumstances -- why is that anxious looking person over there walking down a remote stretch of highway at dusk, without a jacket or backpack? Such observations become story ideas, or help with characterization.

One important trait is needed for this type of observation. Unobtrusiveness.

Keep some form of writing pad or media tool to record interesting facts or any ideas that may come to mind. Try to be surreptitious as this sort of activity seems to alert unknown sensors in the target, causing the aforementioned turning of the head. Staring blatantly is verboten.

Various aspects seem to contribute to actions which certain types of people exhibit. Location is one determining factor. If one knows the location and feels comfortable, the behaviour is different than when the location is new or threatening or unknown. Companions also affect the way a person may act in a given situation--think mob behaviour, preschoolers, or a group of teenage girls. Group dynamics usually reveal a leader, a backup supporter, a jester, a few sheep, and sometimes, an independent thinker.

As writers, we must observe to learn how to portray the range of human emotions in words. By recording the specific details, we can use that information to describe how a character might respond in a given situation. We see the effect, then we must determine what caused it.

Look around you -- there’s always something going on. Just keep your distance and don’t be too obvious. Pretend you’re a historian.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

RainForest Pickings #3 - RainForest Reviews

Books I’d recommend: an eclectic mix of Science Fiction, Mystery, & ‘Odds-Bodkins’ books

The Winds of Dune, by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson, Science Fiction. Published by TOR. This book follows the recently published Paul of Dune, but chronologically is the direct sequel to Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert.

This is the story of Alia Atreides, who is left to pick up the pieces of an empire and consolidate her forces after her brother, Paul Muad’dib, vanishes into the desert. Lady Jessica Atreides is drawn away from her seclusion on Caladan, and quietly tries to help maintain the delicate balance between all the opposing forces threatening to topple the government on Dune.

Making appearances in this book are Duncan Idaho (or his clone derivative), Bronso of IX, Gurney Halleck, and Princess Irulan. Each has his own agenda, which conflicts at times with Alia or Jessica’s plans. The witches of the Bene Gesserit continue their manipulations, using their far-reaching claw-holds to remain a functioning order.

Intrigue upon intrigue, this book continues the grand epic tale of Dune, and whets our appetite for more tales of the desert planet. That seems to be the intent, judging from the book title shown as ‘in the works’ on the overleaf.

I’ll be waiting for it.

Paul of Dune, written by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson - Science Fiction; Published by TOR; this book explores the time between Dune and Dune Messiah.

The jihad of Paul Muad’Dib’s is sweeping across the galaxies of his new empire, when enemies of the regime start to appear and betrayals seem to flourish. Paul begins to question his tactics, his mental stability and his supporters. He must look forward to assess the outcome of what he and his valiant Fremen have put into motion. Most of the major characters appear in this book - Duke Leto, Lady Jessica, Chani, Stilgar, and Gurney Halleck, just to name a few.

Highly recommended for those who enjoy the Dune universe.

Sandworms of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson - Science Fiction; Published by TOR; sequentially follows Chapterhouse: Dune, Frank Herbert’s final novel.

At the end of Chapterhouse: Dune, a ship escapes with a crew of refugees intent on hiding from a mysterious enemy. Unsure of their chances of survival, they use genetic technology to revive some of the strong figures of Dune’s past.

What happens to the sandworms? What about Arrakis? How about the man vs. machine war? Who really is the Kwisatz Haderach? Most importantly, who is the enemy? Many of these questions will be answered in this new volume.

Prepare yourself for the ride.

Invasive Procedures by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston - Science Fiction; published by TOR. This is a collaborative effort between a well-known author (Ender’s Game) and an experienced screenwriter (Johnston).

The ‘Healers’ can cure the incurable diseases, but their therapy is customized for each individual. Inoculations improve the person’s health, eradicate the disease and as an added bonus, make the recipients compliant to the will of the ‘Prophet’. The healers and the prophet belong to a religious cult intent on control of its members, by whatever means are available. The Prophet envisions great things for his followers, but especially for himself.

A virologist working for a government biohazard agency opposes the Prophet by producing a neutralizer for the DNA-changing virus. The major problem he faces is the animosity of the people he proposes to help. Not everyone wants to be neutralized against the Healer’s virus. The fight is on as these two opponents try to out-manoeuver the other.

This story illuminates the hazards of charity with strings attached. It’s an engrossing story which brings back memories of the X-files, those secret government folders containing information not deemed suitable for the average person.

Never underestimate the power of the warped mind.

Robert’s Rules of Writing - 101 unconventional lessons (every writer needs to know) by Robert Masello; Published by Writer’s digest books, an imprint of F+W Publications, Inc. Robert Masello is a journalist and a television writer, has authored fifteen books, and written numerous articles, essays and reviews.

Unorthodox writing advice from a seasoned writer. Mixed in with the humour are ideas that provide an alternate viewpoint on some of the traditional writing maxims. The light-hearted manner is evident in the chapter titles, ‘Burn your journal’, or ‘Buy the smoking jacket’; it’s easy to read in small bits of time as the chapters are short.

I initially planned to gift this book, but kept it for myself. The writing managed to surprise me and I like books that do that.
Note: These book reviews will be added monthly. They will reflect the (short) list beside the posts. Format may be dynamic.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Rainforest Pickings #2 - A Bouquet of Words

Words have unique powers, and learning to manage that power is a skill the writer must acquire. The choice of which particular word is used can change the intent or the tone of the written information, whether it’s an article, a short story, or a novel. A writer’s background and the extent of his vocabulary will influence the word or combination of words chosen.

Words must generally adhere to spelling, grammar and context rules. They should also be suitable for the target audience, something that can be determined with a little research. Wordsmiths might not mind checking their dictionary, but most readers will.

Words evoking emotions must be selected with their intended purpose in mind. The writer must determine the response he is seeking -- fear, anxiety, excitement, or hope -- prior to selection. Too much gnashing of teeth, or eloquent sighing, and the effect is diluted. Revising the first and subsequent drafts enables the writer to consider alternate words that might not have occurred to them in the initial creative stages.

Words have the capacity to destroy -- as in slander or defamation, to inspire -- as in sermons or stories with a moral lesson, or to teach us and increase our understanding. Even when a slanderous allegation is proved untrue, those words are remembered. Careless words published in the public domain can become fodder for lawsuits, so tread lightly.

Words alone name things, words linked together become something new -- more than they were, and words placed in a coherent order help us to communicate. Of course, one must have an understanding of the alphabet symbols to make sense of the words themselves.

Words are fickle entities, changing their meaning over time to reflect the attitudes and social mores of the populations at large. Each generation wants its own everyday language, a particular vocabulary of words better suited to their ideas. Words their parents don’t understand, referring to things their parents don’t know about.

Words make up the slogans we see on banners and protest signs. They may inform us, incite us, or express our beliefs. Words have whatever power we give them. A chemist is dedicated to his formula, a musician treasures his instrument, and a writer loves arranging words in some type of sequence, whether prose, verse, or stream of consciousness rambling.

RainForest Pickings - a series of writing related essays or musings.

For more information about rainforests refer to the following links: Rainforests in North America Refer to article titled: ‘Pacific temperate rain forests of western North America’

Thursday, April 15, 2010

RainForest Pickings #1 - It’s a Mystery to Me

The novel I’ve been working on is at a crossroads. It’s currently in Ideal Reader’s hands and I’m taking a breather before I begin revising this draft. During the break from my sci-fi universe, I start thinking about the next project -- a mystery that’s been brewing since I first saw the main icon of the story.

Mapping out at least some of the main points or some of the characters helps me decide how they’ll interact with the protagonist or the other characters. Even if I totally change some of the initial writing, thinking about the characters and the storyline gets me started.

Drafting character profiles helps me to find what type of character I need for this particular story. For this novel, I’ll be using a main character that I created for another story in the same genre. This protagonist needs more development for the different format and perhaps a helper/associate. It’s always handy for the main character to have a partner to discuss the clues with, and to cover his back in some of the tight situations.

Research for this story is required for several reasons: the type of weapons used, forensic information related to the weapons, and specific details about the location. A lot of thought and decision-making go into the preparatory work, as the possibilities are winnowed until the particular ones that suit the story emerge. Many variables can affect how long one can spend in this stage -- but to move forward, there comes a point where the elements seem to fall into place.

Now I start to imagine the scenes, and the dialogue needed. In one of the writer’s books on scenes that I refer to, the advice says to have a purpose for every scene which relates to the story arc, a reason for being where it is, when it is. More thinking time needed for the scenes -- who will be on stage, what the interaction will be, what the scene is trying to accomplish as far as story arc. I begin with scenes and dialogue since that does more to bring the characters alive in my mind. I add notes around the scene to help later when I’m writing the narrative and setting details for the action taking place in the dialogue. It works for me.

There is another thought process which needs to be interwoven into the storyline, and that’s the clues which need to be strategically placed, there to be seen, but not explained. Clues and hints seem to come out of the material at different times, so even when I’m writing another chapter, I can go back and add a clue or suggestion to lead the reader in a particular direction. This sounds easier than it is, but the point is not to try to force the issue when you’re laying the groundwork.

That’s what’s on my mind today as I walk through the rainforest, sorting out the story pieces and picking those I like. (From the viewpoint of a writer starting a new project -- this is only how I organize my writing, not written as an expert’s advice, but rather as a layman’s observation.)
April 2010

Monday, January 4, 2010

Ten for 2010

Writing Resolutions:

Establish a writing time, and keep to that schedule as much as possible.

Decide on a word count, number of pages, or chapters that will be the writing project for that day.

Work in a dedicated writing area in your home if possible, or an off-premise location (coffee shop, library, at the park, etc.) Try to eliminate or minimize distractions, or use the time for observation (a good way to obtain material for characterization).

Organize writing area and files of Works in Progress.

Set goals for the projects you want to pursue. Short term goals (e.g., writing two chapters) are a way of ‘chunking’ a larger goal (completing the novel in progress). This makes the task less imposing.

Always take portable writing materials with you for recording ideas when you’re running errands or waiting for appointments.

Use a calendar to record your progress, your submissions, and deadlines (when applicable). Use the submissions trackers available online or do this manually.

Keep blog updated on a regular basis as a form of discipline. Frequency is discretionary. Keep it professional in tone, if the purpose is to further your writing career.

Select a few favourite blogs, or websites that offer value for the time invested, and be very selective in forums, and other discussion areas.

Research literary agents or publications well before submitting work, and only send when the work is ready.