Monday, October 19, 2015

Writing Week in Review 10/12--10/17 2015

Writing Week in Review:

This week started off rough. On Monday, the words just didn't want to emerge. Writing was brutal; the mental equivalent of scratching fingernails on a chalkboard, with BOTH hands. I barely got 4 pages in eight hours of writing ("trying" to write).

Tuesday and Wednesday moved along better with 8 pages each day. Good but not what I was hoping to achieve.

Thursday, mental gears rolled along much better. 11 pages.

Friday was glorious. I wish every day came this easily. For some reason I was in that writing zone. I was inside the novel and trying to keep up with everything that was going on. 20.8 pages!!!

I mentioned some days back that I "hoped" to be finished yesterday with Lady Squire. VERY close now. In the home stretch! Here's where it stands: On Chapter 79. By the standard 250 words per page, it is 709 pages long. You heard it, too? Trees in the forests are groaning! Good thing Kindle sales are much higher than PB.

Thanks, guys, for your patience! I plan to write more today (7 pages in 4 hours) and back into the grind on Monday. I will keep you posted.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Keep the Reader Guessing

Years ago, when I first decided to write "seriously," I submitted a lot of short stories to science fiction/fantasy magazines. Sadly, a lot of those publications are now defunct. But, I learned a lot from various editors during that time.

Some editors were gracious enough to enclose pointers with their rejection forms. However, a few went a bit further and actually wrote comments on their forms (ALWAYS a good sign). One piece of advice was to avoid using too much exposition. Basically, get to the point and don't bog down the reader with nonessential background information. Marion Zimmer Bradley put it another way, as she had been told by an editor, "Johnny gets his butt caught in a bear trap and spends the rest of the story trying to get out of it." Dean Koontz suggests start with the action.

I've learned that adding the urgency and dilemmas early on--like the opening--really pulls the reader in. After all, if readers aren't interested in what you're writing, they won't finish the work. No audience? What's the point in writing other than for one's self-amusement?

I took creative writing courses during my senior year of college. The professor kept insisting that I show the monsters of Predators of Darkness on page one. His advice was to put it all on page one, but page one is only so long, right?

I argued  that I don't need to put a description of the monster on page one. When he asked, "Why?" I explained. If I show the monster on page one, I just killed the suspense and mystery that attracts the readers to the main character's problem. You're more afraid of what you don't see hiding in the shadows than when you find out exactly what it is. Ask anyone that's terrified of spiders or snakes that steps into a room where a spider or snake is hidden what level his/her fear is. If you know where it is, you can avoid finding it. Not knowing where it is . . . means you might accidentally walk into its path. Sometimes not seeing is MORE frightening. The possible element of surprise, so to speak.

This is why I try to start with the action first and keep the reader guessing until the end.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Getting into the Flow of Writing

The hardest part about writing is getting into the flow. For the past two days, I've added 8 pages per day to Lady Squire, but it took a few hours of staring at the computer before the words dislodged. Once the dam breaks, the words seem to spill out faster than I can write them. That's a wonderful sensation once it occurs, but it's hell before that.

I love being in the writing zone when the story unfolds right before me. One of the best compliments readers have given me is that they feel like they are there in the story, too. But, as the writer, I am there. I am in the characters' world, seeing and hearing everything around them. Maybe that's why others feel that way too?

Time to venture back into Aetheaon! Here's hoping it doesn't take long to step through the portal.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dee's Mystery Solvers: The Beating Heart Beneath Hollow Hill Cemetery

When I was young living in rural Alabama, my sister and our friends made a club to investigate mysteries in the pastures and woods behind our house.  So, it comes as no major surprise that I'd eventually begin writing about a club of teenagers (Dee's Mystery Solvers) who seek to solve mysteries.

Behind our house, an old dirt road divided the dense woods and a large pasture, but the owners finally blocked the old dirt road when I became a teenager.  Along the old road were places where people had dumped garbage long before I was even a thought.  We found old bottles, shoes, discarded clothes, and other odds and ends that made for interesting "loot."  But also, in the center of the pasture, within sight of our yard, was an old house the pasture owner used for a barn to store hay.  Unpainted, and missing parts of the walls and tin roof, this house certainly looked haunted.

My older brother and I had once gone into the old house to investigate.  I was only about five years old, so the experience was frightening and exciting at the same time.  He had me stand on the ground floor beside the old brick fireplace while he walked up the short spiral wooden staircase to the top floor.  He wanted to knock on the fireplace to see if I could hear him from down below, but I never heard the knock.

Later, I went upstairs to find him.  About one fourth of an upstairs wall was missing. Outside this open space was a panoramic view of the pasture, trees, and the pond on the next hill.  An old iron bed frame stood against the other wall.  Rusted hangers hung on an old metal wire with tattered clothes dancing in the breeze.  The inside of the house wasn't as frightening as I had imagined it would be, which is also how most unknown situations can be when one explores.  Our minds often paint darker images of the unknown.  Of course, my brother and I also read all kinds of scary comics, so in my mind I feared what might actually be hiding in that old house.  To my satisfaction and partial disappointment, none of the things I pictured were there.  It was rather tame.

Other mysteries abounded during our younger years.  Some we never found explanations for why they occurred.  One unknown occurrence was what we called the "ghost dog" because this dog barked and howled but we never ever saw it.  We learned to accept that he was there, even though we never found him.

My oldest brother lived a while in the old one room shed behind our house during his mid-teens.  Even to this day, he talks about the strange things that happened at night in the woods behind that shed.  Things that frightened him, and he was never one to show fear.

So many elements during our youth shape us.  Our earliest fears, curiosities, and obstacles get stored inside our minds.  For writers, this is a wealth of information that later comes out in our stories.

And along comes Dee's Mystery Solvers.  The Beating Heart Beneath Hollow Hill Cemetery is based on an account told to me from a friend years ago.  The overall premise is based upon this legend, and the outcome is nothing less than what others discovered about the strange mysteriously beating heart near Chattanooga, Tennessee.

More stories are to follow with Dee's Mystery Solvers.  I enjoy the freshness of how teenagers attempt to discover the truth through adventure and investigation.  Writing these accounts brings me back to a younger time when there was so much to learn and new places to explore.  Of course now, most of my explorations occur on the page, leading me to places I'll never find in this world.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Shawndirea: The Magic of a Faery

When I started writing Shawndirea, I anticipated that the story would be a novella (40-50,000 words), as a back story for the characters in Devils Den, which is a novel set twenty years after Shawndirea takes place.  This didn't happen, and for whatever reason, the book took to life on its own.

I suppose this shouldn't be a shock to me.  Most of the characters were from a novel I had started in 1993.  The novel was bad, so I scrapped it.  However, the characters remained inside my mind for nearly twenty years.  During this time, they matured without my knowledge, and once they were placed onto the pages, they came alive and took the reins.  They had things they needed to do and voices that needed to be heard.  I let them take over so I could see where they were going.

Truth be known, I don't consider myself a writer.  I'm a note-taker.  I write down the scenes as they appear vividly, and stand idly by, taking careful notes while eavesdropping on my characters.  This has never failed me.  The next thing I know, there's a completed novel.

But still Shawndirea was different.  This wasn't an ordinary novel for me.  Amassing 528 pages, this proved to be the longest of my projects, but it has also opened many doors in the realm of Aetheaon.  Already, I have tentative ideas for three novel plots in this series, but as the second book is coming along (at 200 pages currently), I realize there may be many more.

What I love about this journey is meeting new characters within different races that I never expected to meet.  Some of the strongest characters are the ones that show up unannounced and introduce themselves.  This happens far more than you might expect.  But these are the things I enjoy about being a note-taker in a new world.  And for those of you who are following this journey, there aren't enough words to express my thanks and gratitude.  The feedback has been overwhelming and knowing that others love these characters and novels as much as I enjoy putting them on the page, is one of the greatest rewards this author could ever have.

My thanks to each of you!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Using Sensory Impressions to Bring Your Scenes to Life

Using sensory impressions in your creative writing helps draw a reader into your story.  Certain sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and textures produce pictures in readers' mind that are connected to emotions in their pasts.  A writer doesn't have to be flamboyant with the descriptions.  Sometimes subtle depictions do more than over-description.

If you've ever walked through a forest after a heavy rain and kicked up wet leaves, your mind picks up that scent and visual while you're reading the setting right now.  Does the thought of a freshly plowed field in early spring trigger anything in your mind?  It might, if you grew up in an area where farmers planted their crops. What about walking along a pier as the misty breeze off the ocean flows past you?  Moth balls in your grandmother's closet.  Honeysuckle on a late summer afternoon. Freshly picked tomatoes.  Dill pickles.  Grandpa's pipe.  These images remind me of times in my youth and as I grew up.  They might mean something totally different for someone else, or others might visualize similar things.

The point is words produce images in our minds, and sometimes those images are linked to our emotions.  Exact sensory words connect with readers, but they won't if the writer doesn't get out of the way.  "Show, don't tell" is an adage that is more valuable than most writers understand.

A simple example is:

I saw a big tree and heard a bird singing on a branch. (Telling)

A red robin sang on the leafy branch of the massive oak tree. (Showing)

Even in the modest example, showing is more beneficial for the reader.  You get specifics, which are details that paint a picture with words.  So, if you're writing about a man driving a car, don't be vague.  What kind of car?  What color?  Rental or does he own it?  How old is the man?  Does he have a beard?  Is he bald?  Tall and skinny or short and chubby?  The possibilities are endless, but all these details give the reader insight into his personality, his tastes, etc.

However, don't be too overly descriptive, either.  Too much detail will cause a reader to skim ahead or skip entire passages because it bogs down the plot and eliminates the urgency.  Have you ever read a novel where the entire room or house is thoroughly described to the point where you flip ahead?  Yeah, me too.  Overdoing description is almost as bad as not enough details.

Take a notebook and go for a walk sometime.  Find a place to sit and describe all the sounds, smells, and sights.  Bring your surroundings to life on the page.  It might take a few attempts, but the effort is well worth it.