Some comments I wrote on my relationship with writing were posted by fellow blogger Richie Billing. My blurb is accompanied by that of another writer named Paul Freeman, who I had not heard about before now. Richie is planning a series of posts like this, and I think it's a interesting concept--looking at how writers got started … Continue reading Some Details About Me Posted Elsewhere
Victor has some great thoughts here, presented in parable, which is always a useful technique. I fully agree with his point, though I don’t know if I have enough authority yet to demand others listen to my opinion. All I can say is that I agree that writers need to work up from the bottom, and it’s a rough struggle.
I don’t see myself as a Whitney or Flynn. I was top of my class in college, I know I am a decent writer. But I also know that I am entitled to nothing, that I need to prove myself the same as any other new writer. I’ve encountered people like Victor’s John, people just out of college that think having a degree means then are suddenly a professional entitled to professional work and pay.
My encounter was with a graphic designer. She had just graduated from art school. She never made a book cover in her life. Her online resume was only a dozen pictures, all or most being her school assignments. And yet expected me to pay her professional rates for a product whose quality I couldn’t begin to judge.
In my case, I started out targeting the bottom. I sent my work out to publishers offering little or no compensation, just to prove myself, get feedback, and make a name for myself. I’ve recently hit my twentieth acceptance. I feel like that is a pretty significant milestone. I have been at it for about 8 months, and have yet to get accepted with a professional-level publication. But I know my writing is getting better, and my reputation and fan-base is growing, slow but steady.
I already have a book deal, though is only a novella and with a indie publisher. I also have a job with a serial fiction company. I am making inroads into the fiction business. Sooner or later I will get that first professional credit, which I like to think will come sooner rather than later. I have a few good pieces in the submission cycle that I think can make it. I’ve had a lot of help revising and editing those pieces, which is critical. I also have my finished book, which will find a home eventually. I am not rushing it. I know traditional publication takes time and I am investing that time to ensure maximum success.
I believe that is what makes a successful author. Though, I’m not yet a proper authority on the subject. I’ll get back to you on this once I’m a genuine pro.
As you may know if you read my blog, I went to acting school. I know, how decadent, right? One thing that puzzled me in my time as an acting student was the regularity with which Whitney got acting gigs. I was surrounded by eager and ambitious women who fought tooth and nail for the approximately three good female parts that came available each year (by “good part,” I mean in a respectable production, with costumes and a paying audience, and consisting of more than twenty lines of dialogue). Despite the overwhelming plentitude of women, Whitney always had parts. She flitted between community theatre productions, semi-professional gigs, and school projects like a saturated butterfly of small-time fame.
What Made Whitney Successful?
I knew several talented actors, both male and female, who could not get a part to save their life. Nobody in casting would touch them with a ten-foot pole…
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Thank you, David, for your great reading of my story!
For those of you who don’t know, David Snape is a blogger who has does a regular guest writing spot. Last week he posted my story A Voice in the Water. Yesterday, he chose it for his guest post of the week, and read the story out loud in a video. He did a great job on the reading, too. And I am quite surprised how well the story fit being spoken aloud. Maybe I need to start reading my stories here on this blog.
David Snape kindly shared my flash story “A Voice in the Water” on his blog. Head on over and check it out. And while you’re at it, check out the other authors whose work he has shared.
The stag bent down to take a drink from the crystal stream. Its massive antlers dipped into the water, causing the gentle current to swirl around the many submerged tips. Hemming took aim with his bow and fired.The arrow whistled through the air towards its target. But instead of piercing the animal in the neck as he had expected, it broke apart. The stag looked back at Hemming. The beast rose up on its hind legs, then began to glow with brilliant green light. The shape of it changed from beast to man, a glowing man in flowing silken robes.
“Come here my child. Do not be afraid.”
Hemming glance around and seeing no support or possible route of escape, shuffled forward.
“Do you know who I am, child?”
Hemming shook his head.
“I am Darmin.”
God of nature. God of the hunt! Hemming’s face went wide with fear.
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This is a very nice article on the rising use of present tense in fiction, especially short fiction. I find present tense creeping up more and more in sci-fi and fantasy, and I don’t care for it. I’ve written about the use of present tense a lot, along with first-person and other stylistic choices. For me, the ultimate rule is if you move away from standard convention, it should have a reason. There should be a clear reason why you are writing in present tense, or first-person. If there isn’t, and you’re doing it just for style or to be quirky, it’s going to fall flat. I’ve written a couple S/F pieces in present tense because it was right for the particular piece, but it was a long and hard decision to get there. As it should be.
More and more and more and more over the past several years I see novels written in the present tense. Though this isn’t necessarily some new invention, going well back in time to Dickens at least, past tense more or less overwhelmed all other choices for decades in there, and though there are three, only two are practical. Go ahead. Try to write a novel in the future tense.
I honestly don’t know how I feel about this whole present tense thing, having never really written fiction in present tense. My first instinct is that this is purely authorial choice. A good story, well-told in present tense is a good story, well told, which is all I ask for as either an editor or reader—and is all I’m going for as an author.
But still, this present tense thing just seems to be an outlier, a weird trend that…
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This is a very good article on failure, and the artistic process in general. I think the biggest take-away for me is the passage: “Think of it like this: If you have three finished short stories and the first doesn’t sell you still have two more in circulation. If you write one short story and wait for it to sell before writing the next one you may never be published ever—you may not even ever get to write that second story.”–This is right on.
I, of course, take this advice to a perhaps ridiculous level. I have about forty stories now on my tracker. I have 31 pending submissions. So far, I have received 15 acceptances, and 81 rejections! But just as this article says, having so many stories circling around, I feel less invested in each individual piece. The more I write and submit, the easier each rejection becomes. It feels like moving to a point of perfect Zen harmony, where I am satisfied with any response, acceptance or rejection. This helped significantly with my book submissions.
I have recently received the first response from an agent, and it was a rejection. But it didn’t even cause me to stutter. I sent out queries to two more agents this week, and if those don’t pan out, I have a bunch more tagged in my Writer’s Market book. At this point, I have enough success to know I am doing something right, so all I can do is keep driving on.
Failure is a reality of life. But it is a truth that today’s youth are not being taught. I recently started negotiations with a graphic designer to maybe do a cover for my book. The discussion was dead on arrival. The designer was fresh out of college, had no experience, a completely blank resume. Yet she expected to get near professional rates for her work. Of course, I wasn’t going to pay that for work I could not gauge the value of. Plus, as an artist myself, I know how it is to get started in the business.
Half a year in and most of my publications are still with free or token-pay publishers. You have to make a name for yourself, build a resume, before you can start demanding professional rates and respect. Hand-in-hand with that comes failure. Lots of failure. You have to get through the failure and prove your worth, then you can call yourself a professional.
It can be discouraging, but if you look at the most successful writers, people like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, they struggled for their success. They worked other jobs while the wrote. They got rejected, time and again. But they kept at it, and in the end it all proved worth it.
If you really want to be a professional writer, you just got to grin and bear it, embrace the struggle and let it make you stronger. If you do, you’ll make it someday.
On February 1st of 2011 I wrote about the various definitions of “successful” and with six years passed, and two things appearing in front of me at more or less the same time, I thought it time to look at that subject again with the more negative connotation: failure.
First, I read Rivka Galchen’s article “Mo Willem’s Funny Failures” in the New Yorker, in which she told this story:
Willems’s books reveal a preoccupation with failure, even an alliance with it. In “Elephants Cannot Dance!,” they can’t; in “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!,” Pigeon, despite all his pleading and cajoling, never does. Willems told me, “At ‘Sesame Street,’ they would give us these workshops about the importance of failure, but then in our skits all the characters had to be great at what they did, everything had to work out. That drove me…
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Story writing gets harder the shorter your story gets. Regardless of its size, a piece requires several things in order to be a complete story: characterization, crisis, and resolution. You could call it the CCR rule of short story writing (as in, if you don’t heed the rule then who’ll stop the rain?) This proves … Continue reading The Rules of Good Microfiction, REBLOG: TLT – Wildfire in lavender
Victor has some good points here about building suspense. Particularly in fantasy and action, suspense is vital to keeping the reader engaged. Readers do not want to given everything easily, suspense is emotion and emotion is why people read.
As Victor suggests, foreshadowing is a good tool for building suspense. Letting the reader know something is coming. But you don’t want to reveal too much. There’s a delicate balance between making it visible enough for the reader, but not letting on about the meaning to early.
I would add that slowing your prose is a good method for building tension. Once you have a danger present, you can add a few extra lines to stretch out the resolution. It leaves the reader wondering what will happen, leaves them begging for the result. I often do this by focusing on the character’s breathing or feeling, getting a bit stuck in the drama and fear, before letting the situation resolve. It doesn’t take much, just two or three sentences, but the impact can be significant.
On building emotionally fulfilling suspense.
Suspense is mostly about seeing something coming before the character is aware of it, and getting excited on behalf of the character.
There are innumerable ways to show the reader ominous happenings are on their way.
Effective Suspense (Good Writing):
The clouds about LuEllen swept apart in strange patterns, as if beaten by conflicting surges of wind. A roar that rumbled like thunder made the ground under her horse tremble. LuEllen’s chestnut mare threw her head up; her forefeet lifted off the ground.
LuEllen leaned into her mare’s neck, and made soothing chucks with her lips; she stroked the shining red neck. Her mare’s eyes were rolling, showing white, and the mare’s hooves rose and fell with anxious thumps into the grass.
A strange, other-worldly rumble, like the keening song of a whale, echoed through the clouds above the shadowed valley; LuEllen looked up, and…
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Victor makes a very good point here, though I’m not sure what stuff he’s reading that starts like a slug…maybe that old-timey “Classic” lit. What you read certainly does have an effect on how you write and it is very good advice to make sure you stay aware of what current readers expect and demand. Twain is great in its original form, but it would be very different if the man was writing today. Market context is key.
Today’s readers (and perhaps to a more significant extent, publishers and editors) expect you to grab them with your first paragraphs, if not sentences. The shorter the piece is, the faster it needs to get rolling. With flash, your first sentences not only need to be active, they also need to setup the story in a significant way.
I will admit that I, too, don’t give stories much of a chance if they don’t hook me right away. There’s just so much content out there these days that there is no reason for a reader no to be picky. It’s not like a hundred years ago when you had to walk five miles in two feet of snow to get to a library that only had a dozen books. By the time you arrived, you were committed to reading “something.” By contrast, I get about a dozen stories in my email inbox everyday from a collection of sources including blogs I follow and daily flash subscriptions. So you had had better make your story meaningful and unique in the first few sentences, or I’m moving on to the next one. It is an absolutely vital skill for any modern writer.
Victor’s “fast” example is even a bit to slow for me. I want to know what the story is, what the crisis or the character is, right away. I’m assuming this story is not about a caravan, but perhaps the master? I would start it with the caravan master (or other protagonist) watching the caravan and doing something, being active, even if that is just thinking. That way we know who this story is about and we have them placed in the world. But that is just me.
Here’s how I’d write it, seeing as it would likely be a character-centered short story for me:
Rezza watched the sand fly up from the hooves of the horses, the asses grunting in the clouds of white dust. The heavy bundles strapped over the animals creaked and rustled in the morning sun. Rezza hoped they would be strong enough to make it through the brutal heat of the Yellow Valley; everything rested on his getting to the other side.
On a lack of action in your story.
I have had two people read “The Slave from the East,” and the general consensus is a mushy sort of “I want to read more, NOW, but I’m filled with incoherent rage, and I’m irritated at you, Victor.”
After some thought, my first beta reader informed me that it’s frustrating because, in his words, “nothing happens for a long time.”
Culture-Blindness: when a writer has been so saturated in classical literature that they have become desensitized to the average reader’s desire for action.
Yeah, I just realized the other day that I should think about making sure things happen in my books.
Culturally-induced Blind Writing (Bad Writing):
The caravan stretched down the road like a brilliantly colored snake. The horses and asses were burdened heavily with bags and bundles of goods, and the slaves that walked beside them were…
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I have to agree with Victor here, though I would lean more towards the idea of being realistic with your writing and expectations, rather than idealism v. normalcy. You should always consider how realistic your characters actions are; this, of course, includes the way they talk and interact. There is a bit a leeway in fantasy since it is a different world than our own–no one doubts Legolas can shoot as fast or as accurately as he does because the world suggests it to be true. I am currently exploring the idea of exceptional skill and its implications in my book. In addition to asking yourself what are the realistic limits for this character and world, it is also interesting to ask: what are the implications of failure?
Utilize the ugly normal to revitalize your fantasy narrative.
Science fiction and fantasy need to be thrilling, adventurous, and invigorating. Too often, in our efforts to write super-exciting genre fiction, we elevate our characters and the action onto stilts of heroic perfection.
Though laudable, these efforts can backfire. Readers need a bridge, a measure of safe relatability to help them cross over and fully inhabit the worlds that we write.
Hornby drew, in one swift motion, his shining broadsword, and beat away the advancing hordes of screaming elves.
“You will never take our city!” Hornby bellowed. He hacked away limbs, and lopped off the heads of his seemingly-endless opponents.
“Keep them back while I conjure the great death!” Moriven cried. The wizard’s two slave girls propped him up on a high chair of bamboo, and Moriven’s beard spun like ice down his knees as he conjured a spinning…
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