I haven’t had anything to say on Fridays last few weeks because I ran out of my queued posts and NANOWRIMO started :)
I’m halfway through the month, a little over halfway through the goal, and I think I’m halfway mark on the story.
Have an excerpt:
He tried to wait patiently.
Daharn put a hand on his knee to make him stop twitching and shaking the tree branch they were hiding in. As Scheerahis had described, the spider-walkers were moving in a circle around the base building. There were about ten Carken playing in the mud. One of them was riding a spider-walker, waving his tentacles and yodeling. If there had been any Hyphokos out listening for signs of Shaxin or Gilon, they wouldn’t have heard a thing.
Writers have an ego problem. This one is kind of a pots and kettles situation. I know I used to be like this, (still am in some ways) and I apologize to those I inflicted my Writer’s Ego upon.
How to take criticism is easy. And hard.
- Don’t take personal offence to your editor doing their job.
- If multiple readers tell you the same thing, fix the problem, don’t be part of the problem.
The human mind is wired to discard positive experiences and dwell on the negative. You need to actively fight against that. Even if all your editor has to say is negative stuff, that doesn’t mean there isn’t positive things in your writing.
We (Writers) spend a lot of time, effort, and tears in creating our stories and we want people to love them as much as we do. We have a tendency to be very self-centered, too, and believe that because we’ve spent all this time on something, obviously it’s got to be perfect. Unfortunately, nothing is perfect.
Just to make sure you got that:
NOTHING. IS. PERFECT.
There’s only “good enough for now.”
The sooner you accept that, the easier it will be to take criticism. It’s sort of a “wu wei” situation in which you do what you can to make sure your story is as good as it can be, but then you have to place it into the hands of someone else.
When you hire an editor, you’ve got to divorce yourself from the idea that this is your precious baby cinnamon roll, perfect and pure. It helps if you have some distance between the time of writing and when you submit it to an editor.
When you hire an editor, you are choosing someone to read your work who has spent time honing their skills to pick out what’s wrong with a story and make suggestions on how to fix it. You have to trust them to let you know if what you thought you conveyed is what you actually put on paper. Situations you thought were harmless are actually a big deal to someone else. Otherwise, why did you hire them? To give you a pat on the back? Your mother can do that for a lot less money and energy.
(Thanks to all the “Mothers” – biological or not – who support their artistic babies with unconditional love and support.)
If you’ve handed your story out to multiple readers, and they’re all saying the same thing, such as: “This sequence of events doesn’t make sense” and you take personal affront to that, you need to step back and breathe. The statement is exactly what they said. “This sequence of events doesn’t make sense.” So your problem is either you didn’t describe the events clearly, or the events leading up to the moment that doesn’t make sense aren’t right. So fix that instead of getting your panties in a twist thinking that your friends hate you personally and think your writing is shite.
If they weren’t interested in you, your thoughts, or writing, they wouldn’t have bothered to read the story and give you feedback in the first place. I’ve had plenty of times where I’ve asked someone to read something of mine and they just never got around to it. This is just something that happens. It isn’t that they don’t love me, or aren’t my friend, they have their reasons for not reading what I sent them and it isn’t meant to be a slight towards me. Same goes for you, Hypothetical Reader/Writer person I’m pretending to talk to.
It is one thing if someone who hasn’t read your stuff says something. It is entirely different when you have ASKED someone to read your work and they give you feedback. Trust them. You’re not a terrible writer just because the story isn’t perfect. Nothing is perfect and while you don’t have to take all their suggestions, you do need to listen to the people you have deliberately solicited an opinion from.
Bottom line is that their criticism of your story is not a reflection upon YOU. So CHILL.
The one thing all writers should strive for is an original Voice; something that sets them apart from all other books.
Think about how when you listen to the radio, a lot of the songs sound very similar, but if a song comes on that you’ve never heard before, you know by the voice of the singer and the way the music was put together that this song is by Dave Matthews or Nickleback. You can just _tell_ the difference.
That’s what voice is in writing as well.
How to get there, though…
My journey towards that wasn’t a plotted, thought-out adventure, but more of an accident that I stumbled into. I think a good first step is to write.
Write. Write! WRITE!
Participate in Nanowrimo, not just for the sake of having something written, but because it lets you cut down the walls of your inner editor and just be _yourself_ on the page. Tell the story how you want to, rather than how you think someone else wants to read it.
Also keep in mind that unless you want your narrator to be a character in the story as well, you need to be nearly invisible. That’s not entirely possible. Your perceptions and opinions will be present in the book regardless of how much you think you stripped out. There is no way to be entirely unbiased, but that’s also part of your voice. The trick is to be a voice that adds to the story, rather than distracts from it.
Your voice cannot overwhelm the character’s voices. The story, in the end, is theirs, even if you’re technically the one telling it.
Also, do your research. Look at what’s been done before. If you want to write a non-fiction book, you’re not just going to make up stuff, right? You’re going to go out and read all the histories and studies previously done on the subject and come to conclusions of your own, based on the information you’ve gathered. How this applies to writing is that you need to read books in the genre you want to write. You need to look at how many other Fairytale Retellings there are and consider how you will make yours stand out. Why would anyone read your version of Beauty and the Beast over someone else’s when essentially they are the same as the original version. Unless you’re going back further than Disney’s version and starting from the source then recasting it in a modern setting.
This applies even if you’re writing about a completely original world. For example, Epic Fantasy. You need to generally know the tradition the genre comes from (Tolkien), what sets it apart from any other fantasy (a lot of walking), and where it has gone since then (from dragons being evil to dragons being talking friendly mounts like in PERN, and Dwarves having no women to Terry Pratchett’s version in which they just don’t go broadcasting their gender on a normal basis so everyone just assumes all Dwarves are men because they’re all hairy).
Then you need to research how to write. You need to know the rules to know how to properly break them. I’m going to be honest and admit that I never really studied how to sentences. My scores in grade school English classes were abysmal, partially because I didn’t care about school and I was bored, but also because the structure of sentences doesn’t interest me. Sentence structure is important, but should be co-pilot when it comes to getting your ideas across.
I can get away with having a word missing from that sentence in the paragraph above because it’s humorous and also adds to my point. Doing things like that all the time, however, is just going to annoy your readers because they have to work too hard to understand you.
Research how others have written certain types of scenes. Like action sequences, or epic descriptions of scenery that aren’t eye-wateringly boring. Find authors you think did it well and study how they did it. Salvatore does amazing fight-scenes. His secret is short sentences with a tight POV focus on one character. Mercedes Lackey does heart-breaking scenes exceptionally well. She does this by drawing readers into the character by making them relatable first, then following with the angst.
So do your research.
Your voice can also add to the story as the narrator, such as Douglass Adams and Terry Pratchett do, but there’s more to it than just being amusing by yourself. You can be funny in the narration by arguing with in-world gods, but again, don’t overpower your characters. Terry Pratchett for example is humorous, but his characters are _angry_. Legit. Low-key fury simmers beneath every word written on every page of his books, because Terry Pratchett is angry. He’s angry at rampant injustice and angry at stupid people who rule the world with their BS and lies. That’s his Voice. That’s the message he wants you, his audience, to hear.
Douglass Adams is angry about bureaucracy and BS that goes on in government. His characters have a rollicking good time roaming the universe, but you still hear him screaming about the system.
Anne McCaffery was determined to smash empathy and understanding of our fellow human beings into our heads with her words.
Mercedes Lackey believes in equality and that it is achievable without magic.
These attitudes are their Voice. Their way of weaving that into the story itself, behind the scenes, is what gives their work a depth and originality you notice as a reader even if it’s not consciously.
To clarify, I’m talking about information that you spent hours and hours on coming up with, researching, and world building, but these things aren’t directly related to the plot. This information isn’t required for the reader to understand the plot of the story, but helps make the world in which its set original.
Explaining this is a tricky situation, though. You don’t want to go too far and rove into Navel Gazing; where the characters sit and stare at the wall, contemplating how society is structured from top down and how they fit in that place. What normal human being honestly does that? Seriously, even introspective types don’t go that far.
Another option is to make use of an audience stand-in. Such as the Village Idiot. Gourry from Slayers is an example, and he’s used for comedy. He gets told things so the audience knows and then called an idiot since he really should have known this to begin with. But he is an idiot, so its ok.
Another common plot device is “From Another World” wherein the stand-in is from another world for real. They are legit confused about the landscape and what’s going on, which gives the author an excuse to explain. But this can easily be abused. Too much detail can kill your story.
That’s the boring way to get information to your readers.
The more fun way to do it is not to!
I get that you did spend hours and hours on world building, but having your characters simply exist in that world and not question the weird things that happen – to me, that’s fascinating. It’s like light switches. Someone from mediaeval times, reading a story set in our era would be mystified by the idea that someone walks into a room and the light comes on, filling the room with brilliance that was not from a candle? That isn’t something we would question because its so normal.
So let a lot of your weird stuff be unexplained. You know the reasons for it to be that way, and as long as its consistent in how it gets treated throughout the story, then your readers will pick up on it from context clues.
For me, I write aliens and their cultures and biology, by definition, are not Human. I can’t take 3 pages to have Vathion explain what Scent Bonding and Widow Syndrome are since he doesn’t have reason to explain that kind of thing to himself. I would need someone from outside the culture to ask questions about it. However, that’s still not a subject that would come up in casual conversation. The only way to get across the information that Widow Syndrome is a death sentence, fraught with dementia, is to just show it happening.
Writing a book is like constructing an iceberg. Only the tip – the story that ends up in the book – is visible, with all this other stuff lurking under the surface that supports it.
There are different methods of doing it others have discussed at great length; from the 3-Act, to character-driven, or events-driven. If you want more info on the nuances of each, I’d suggest listening to the Writing Excuses Podcast.
My plots don’t really confine themselves to definitive and easy labels. The most I can say about my plots are that they’re character-driven for the most part? I have elements where horrible things happen and they aren’t any one person’s fault, but all everyone else can do is just watch the dumpster fire roll down a steep hill and into a petting zoo.
Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) splits people into Plotters or Pantsers. I’ve discovered I’m more of a Pantser. As in, writing by the seat of them. If my plots fit into any kind of structure, it’s mostly a happy accident at the end.
When I begin a new project, I start by asking “What If?” This is Phase 1, as mentioned in my Phases of Writing Post.
I have another post where I talked about Creativity, so I won’t go into that at length here. I usually pick several and smash them together. For example:
- What if there was a world where wishes came true?
- What if a girl ended up switched into a guy’s body?
- What if no one can tell the difference?
As it is now, the above example doesn’t have a clear ending other than maybe she gets her body back, but what then? Is that worthy of being the end of the book?
- What if the guy whose body she is in Wished to end the world?
There we go. Now she has to remain engaged in the story past getting her body back. This addition will usually get me another 80,000 words, at which point, I’ll have to begin doing my rereading process to remove anything that no longer fits from when I first began the story.
I also look for places where I skipped scenes and begin writing those. By this point, I’ve got an ending in mind, which I will begin bending the plot towards. As I said before, I’m a Pantser, so I let my characters have some free reign to avoid the plot if they want, although doing so doesn’t always end well for them. Interesting diversions will stay in the book, whereas things that don’t serve any real purpose except for being neat will eventually be cut. (Refer to Cutting Darlings, which I’ll probably write about later.)
Once I’ve got 3/4ths of a story together is when I begin savagely destroying scenes that don’t fit the direction I want to go. This also ties into the Separating Scenes topic… which I’ll also write eventually.
In the end, I aim for Murphy’s Law. If things can go poorly, I’ll make sure that they do. You can have a plot without conflict. Coffee Shop AU’s are still popular. However, they’re hardly satisfying if there was no original trauma for the character to escape from.
And traumatizing my characters gives me life.
Recently, I bashed out the chapter by chapter plot for Shaxia. I did that by beginning with the ending. I know where I want the ending. Then decided that I needed more tension at the beginning.
I then focused on the pieces in the middle that I knew I wanted to happen and asked myself if they were Darlings that needed killing. Some of them got killed, others got promoted and fleshed out.
I connected the dots with some broad strokes and BOOM. Outline done.
Now its a matter of writing the scenes, but they’re loose enough that I can still find surprises for my Pantsing self.
I’ve signed up for Patreon!
I’d mentioned before how my writing process is a lot of ‘write a lot’ followed by ‘cut a bunch’. Sometimes I really like the pieces I’m cutting. That’s what the phrase ‘cutting darlings’ means.
This isn’t the same as killing off a character.
A notable example of an idea that didn’t make it into the final cut was the NPRP: Natan Personality Replacement Program. He was awesome. Unfortunately, I couldn’t fit him in satisfactorily. I tried to revive him for Phoenix Emperor as the personality of Natan’s clone body, but still, that didn’t work, and he got cut entirely.
In the following deleted chapters, there are elements that I kept, such as Vathion playing with his new ship and his conversation with Bibbole. However, everything else in this excerpt was ultimately deleted because it didn’t work. As such, if there are spelling and grammatical errors, that would be why.
Here’s the best scene NPRP was in. And a drawing I did for it.