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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Search and Research Were Sitting on a Rock, Search Fell off, who was Left


Research! Ok, I admit it that was a dumb play on an old joke our fathers irritated us with on car trips when we were little, but I do have a point. As a writer, research should be right up there with…well…breathing. How many times have you picked up a book, began reading and suddenly found yourself screaming out…”that’s not true”! I know because I have done it. In fact, I have done it while, ahem, reading my own stuff. (Crap!)

Research is required any time you are going to spit out facts in your novel. Nothing is more self-defeating for a writer than to have readers catch them with their pants down on a fact. Granted, if you write fantasy you can play with the facts but that is the only genre where that is possible. AND, even if you are playing with characters who aren’t real, vampires, ghosts and the like, there are still some accepted rules that you must follow or your brethren will stake you. (i.e. vampires don’t sparkle. I know, I know…back, Twilight fans, back!) Even when writing vampire stories, research is still required.

Now you might be talking to this blog as you are reading saying, “now what difference does it make if I get some small fact about quantum physics wrong. No one will notice”, I’m here to tell you, yes they will. It is like a writer’s law akin to Murphy’s Law, if you askew the facts, the only guy who understands quantum physics in five states will read your book. It doesn’t matter if it’s not the kind of book you think geeks would read, one of them will and then your butt will be in the fire for that “small thing that you thought no one would care about”. True story…in one of my first books I had some information about the Vietnam War. I had researched the crap out of that time period and the war itself and I was pretty confident that I would not screw it up. The book was a mystery-thriller, NOT a war history piece yet it attracted the attention of a Vietnam Vet named Scott. Scott wrote me a letter. (Not an e-mail but an actual letter, I still have it) In the letter he explained to me that the place in which one of the flashback scenes in the book takes place was on the south end of the country, not the north as I had stated in my book. I wrote him back, thanked him for pointing it out but stated (I was young) that it didn’t really matter, because the book was a work of fiction. I got another letter from him three weeks later and in the middle of the page there was one typed sentence. It read, (I kid you not) “That’s where my brother was killed as I stood next to him; it matters to me.” I felt like the biggest jerk in the world. It was a fast, hard lesson for me in how important research can be.

So, do your research even if you think it’s silly because that one small fact you spout out will matter to someone; it is really important to get it right.

 

© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 
 

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Your Shorts – Stop Hiding Them


I get asked about what I write all the time. My general answer is mystery/thrillers and a few short stories. It is when I say that last part that the person asking usually tilts their heads to the left and makes a caveman noise…eh?

Short stories, in my humble opinion, get a bad rap. Most people don’t even take you as a “serious” writer if all you produce is short stories even though there are some folks out there who are making millions off them. (i.e. the Chicken Soup guys) Anthologies are fun and a great way to shake up your writing. I am always working on one, on the side so to speak, because it gives me a break from the larger manuscripts.

There are also a number of things that writing short stories can do for your novel writing. You can use them as a tool. You can:

Write up a character – Short stories are a great way to build characters. Sometimes, depending on how important a character is to me, I write an entire short story that is the characters backstory.

Novel Samplings – Short stories are a great way to see if a story premise works. If you can write a short story that you can see fleshed out into a novel that’s great. On the other hand, if it doesn’t work, all you’ve spent is a short story.

Use them as a sort of story coffee break – Sometimes we can get so mired in our novels that we paint ourselves into a corner. Short stories are a great way to keep writing although you have stepped away from your manuscript. I used them as a snack break.

Use them as a way to explore other genres – Curious as to how well you might write a romance or a thriller…write a short story first. Twenty pages should tell you if you were meant to, as a writer of course, kill people or love them. It’s a get tool for exploring.

These are just a few of the ways that using short stories can help within your overall writing experience. Don’t short change them. Because the long and short of it is that they can help. Besides in the short run they may be a lot of fun and you don’t want to get the short end of the stick when it comes to fun…..ok, I’ll stop now…..

 

© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2012 in Inspiration, Writing

 

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Begin Again Writing Rituals…Whatever it Takes


One of the hardest things for me to do is start another book after having finished one. It usually takes me approximately eight months; start to finish, to complete a book. Why so long? Because I like to try and force my way into every part of the process when it comes to my work. (I’m pushy like that) I work closely with the editor and the publisher until the book is in its Sunday best before going out to the public. Early in my writing career I learned the hard way that if you aren’t involved, your book can hit the shelves less than perfect. Those galley copies are important folks.

But back to my original thought…starting the next book… I get it; you have spent so much of your time on the last book that it is tough to begin again with a whole new story. This is why so many writers enjoy writing a series, same characters, same tone, different adventure….half the work, half the time. While this is great, sooner or later (unless you are following the alphabet for your titles) you have to step away from the characters you know and love and create a different world altogether. Over the years there has been a lot of advice out there on how to do this. Here I have gathered just a few of those suggestions for you.

Cleanse – After having spent 6 months to a year with the characters in a book you have to cleanse. You have to be able to let it go and doing this could mean a ritual of some type. I read once about a writer who literally burned a copy of his manuscript as a way of letting go, sort of Native American style. I kind of like this idea. Whatever you do…burn it outside though or that book could be your last.

Lock it Away – Another writer gathers up all of his material, research and all, and locks it away in a steamer trunk. I admit it, I do this. One, because I never know when I might need some of the research and two, well…let’s admit it…steamer trunks are really cool.

Wipe it Clean – Many writers take the time to wipe a manuscript from their computer. I would suggest backing up the files on a personal hard dive but I do understand getting it out of sight. Kind of a clean slate thing.

Whatever you decide your ritual is, the point is to be able to begin again. This is a personal thing and kudos to those of you who have figured it out. I do know one writer who waits to begin his next book when he can no longer stand not writing….I don’t recommend this but it works for him. Personally I don’t have that kind of time. I want to issue a challenge to you all…take a moment and share with the rest of us on this blog what your begin-again ritual is. I’ll bet they are as different as the people who have joined us here. What works for you might just work for someone else so please share and let’s see what other people are doing.

 

© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2012 in Inspiration, Writing, Writing Tools

 

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Tell em to Go Pound Sand and Write it Anyway


Writing is tough but it is even tougher when your life is filled with people who continually tell you that it is impossible. I have those people and I have been writing for over 28 years now. It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how much I write, no matter how many books I publish, no matter how many bills I pay with the money I earn from writing…there are still people in my life who think I am not a “serious” writer. It’s frustrating.

Most people don’t consider you a “serious” writer until they see your name in lights. I’m willing to bet that Stephen King and Dean Koontz don’t have people questioning whether or not they are a “serious” writer but we have all read the stories about how the critics still call them hacks because they are popular writers. The bottom line is, as writers, we just can’t win in the arena of public approval. There will always be someone somewhere who will take dings at your craft. Most people will tell you it’s because they are jealous. I’m going with, because they are a (insert word that my mother would still ground me for). I like my explanation better.

When you decide that you have to follow the pen in your life you also have to develop a thick skin. You have to be able to forgo admiration for what you do…it’s not forthcoming. The darn garbage guy will get more kudos than you will on most days. Being a writer used to be a great pickup line too but that seems to be waning as well. (You do what? Oh no, I don’t read…but I play games on my iPad and it has Kindle, does that count?…cue sad music) If you write, write for you, write because you have no choice, write because it is your passion BUT don’t write for other people’s attention…you will simply get your feelings hurt.

It is also very important that you step out there and find other writers to hang out with. You can do it in person or on the internet, I don’t care, just find some. Being able to talk with other creative will help you not feel the desolate feelings of one ignored because of a “hobby”. (That’s what my mother-in-law calls my writing…a hobby…) Like-minded people understand the scorn of those less creative and they will help in seeding your existence with just the right amount of “wow that’s greats” in order to help you to keep on keeping on. It isn’t fair that regular folks don’t understand the work we put into our craft but they aren’t going to change any time soon so you might as well take your sanity into your own hands. Your homework…find some writing friends, a writing group or even a homeless guy who is interested in books and let them admire you for a moment or two each day and then admire them right back. We have to stick together guys…so be proud of your writing and tell em to pound sand (whatever that actually means); at least you are doing what makes you happy.

 

© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2012 in Inspiration, Structure, Writing

 

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Dialogue – Not Tripping Over Your Tongue


Who likes to write dialogue – raise your hand? Now…keep it raised so that we can find you and kick the crap out of you. If we are all honest, no one really enjoys writing dialogue. It always sounds stale and it never sounds on paper, like it sounded in our heads. Dialogue is really tough.

So how does a writer deal with dialogue without tripping over their own tongue? There are a lot of advice pieces out there on how to do it correctly. Me…I employ the common sense method, as many of you know. Here are a few of my thoughts:

  • Listen to how people talk – Wait, listen to other people? Say I don’t really have to Jai! Well, you do. And don’t just listen to dialect. Listen to how folks communicate. Sometimes talking and communicating are two totally different things.
  • Don’t write dialogue exactly like real speech – Let’s be honest, dialogue isn’t totally like real speech. Regular talking doesn’t always include the proper punctuation. (Just have a conversation with my neighbor – you’d swear he was drunk but it’s just the way he talks) Try and strike a balance between actual speech and ensuring that it makes sense.
  • Don’t rattle on – This is one of my favorites. A lot of writers begin dialogue and they feel that they need to have the character describe everything. Information overload. If you have a friend who speaks like this, “I’m walking to the table now, to pick up this gun here and I am then going to point it at you and sneeze, shooting you in the foot and making you mad…” make them stop it! And please don’t let your characters do that…it’s just silly.
  • Dialogue Tags, Just Say No – Dialogue tags are the quicksand in the mire of the writing world. Every piece of dialogue does not need a label. By the time you get through a conversation with he said, she said, they asked, she inquired, he explained…your reader is either asleep or somewhat confused. Assume your reader is at least smart enough to follow a regular conversation. Introduce the characters the first time they speak in a given conversation and then let them do the talking.

These are just a few of the rules to follow when writing dialogue. Trust me, there are plenty more out there but the more you write, the more you’ll get the hang of it. Remember that no writer truly enjoys writing dialogue. It makes you think too much and no matter how hard you try, you will still walk away from a written dialogue wondering what else you could have done to make it right. That’s ok…practice makes…well…for more practice.

© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 
 

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First Lines in a Novel – The Writer’s Pickup Line


“She dropped dead right there, in front of the Piggly Wiggly and I remember thinking, was it because she was fat and if so; how ironic.” (first line of “Death and the Middle Class” by little ol me. A work in progress.)

I recently read a book (which shall remain nameless) that began with the line, “She said no but she knew it was pointless”. At first I was curious so I read on and then I got really, really, really, really (you get the idea) annoyed. It took the better part of three pages before I got to see what “she” said “no” to. Three pages! As first lines go, it could have been great but it wasn’t, because the writer dropped the ball…and it continued to roll away from him/her.

Every writer knows that the first line of a book is important. You have to catch a reader’s attention. You have that first line to suck them in. There have been some great first lines over the years. Such as:

  • “A screaming comes across the sky.” – Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon
  • “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” – One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
  • “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” – 1984, George Orwell

All of these first lines are followed by an explanation as to why that line makes sense to the story. You don’t have to wait eons in order to discover why there was a screaming coming across the sky or why the Colonel was reminded of his father taking him out onto the ice. Let’s face it; common sense would dictate that you follow that first line with an explanation of some type. That doesn’t mean that you have to sum up the entire story within the next three pages but for the love of Pete…at least tell us why you started there.

A really good first line in a story sets the tone for the entire novel. I prefer to begin a novel within an action because an action has to be followed by a reaction…it’s the law! Some writers enjoy starting a novel with a description and that’s okay too, just make sure that what you are describing will draw the reader into wanting to know more. And if you choose to begin your novel with one word, make sure that it is a doozy and then make sure that what follows is building on the ladder that you are providing for your readers to climb into the heart of your story.

I have picked up many a book and then put them back down after reading a first line. It’s like watching a movie for me…if you don’t have me hooked in the first five minutes I am in the kitchen looking for a snack. Perhaps the most important advice I could offer here is to think about what would catch your attention. I personally love to be shocked (hence the action preference) but I also enjoy being drawn in as well. Give me a first line like, “We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall,” (Tracks, Louise Erdrich) and I am curious almost to a fault.

 

© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2012 in Inspiration, Structure, Writing

 

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Reset Sunday – Let Your Artist Out to Play


It is important as an artist to play. If you don’t play once in a while writer’s block will step in and you will find your writing stifled. As a writer much of your work will depend on how open your mind and soul are. You simply cannot work if you have not balanced in some play time. This doesn’t mean that you can’t write while you play. You could take your artist self out for coffee at the local coffee shop and do some personal writing. You could hit the beach and bury your toes in the sand and do some reading…whatever you decide to do on your date make it fun and refreshing.

For me, I take Sunday’s off because if I don’t, I wake up on Monday morning and feel like doing nothing at all. I love going to the movies and Sunday is my movie day. Believe it or not, I can actually justify going to see a movie as writing by telling myself that it’s research so…it’s all good anyway. But I really don’t need to justify it because Sunday is my play date day. You could…

  • Go for a long drive – Expose yourself to some different scenery. (Note: I didn’t mean “expose yourself”, please don’t get arrested by misreading that one)
  • Spend the day on the couch watching movies with the family. Family time…check, downtime….check, snacks and soda…check…recharging batteries…check. It’s couch potato time!
  • Do that yard work you were putting off. Most writers spend a lot of time indoors so use you play date to get outside. By the way, that big yellow thing in the sky is called a s..u..n……
  • Go Shopping! Yes I just gave you permission to go spend money because it is good for your writing. (Ladies and gentlemen…use this with your spouse…it works!)
  • OR…you could do NOTHING at all. What a concept! A whole day where you are responsible for nothing. Doesn’t that sound cool! Play homeless guy (no vacuuming, dishes or cleaning of any kind), unemployed guy (no work responsibility) and football guy (hang out, eat chips and burp a lot) but do nothing else.

Whatever you decide to do, remember to make it fun; the whole point of a play date is to play. As a writer we are knee deep in the lives of others more than the average doctor, psychologist, dentist or even your nosiest neighbor. It’s for this reason that we need some time to just relax and do something else. So ignore the voices in your head for just one day each week and reset because it’s Sunday and you deserve it.

 

© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2012 in Inspiration, Reset Sundays, Writing

 

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