A look at the July/Aug Writer’s Digest ~ Celebrate

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This is a post in the Celebrate the Small Things blog hop. If you don’t know what Celebrate is, go here: http://lexacain.blogspot.com/2015/01/celebrate-small-things.html

I subscribe to Writer’s Digest. Why, when it costs money and I have so little? It’s because I see myself as a professional poet and writer, and reading a magazine about my profession is, well, professional.

This month’s issue was exciting for me because it gave the winners of the 2015 WD Poetry Awards. The winning poem, ‘Inheritance,’ was a dreadful villanelle about the author’s mother’s mastectomy bra. But the shock-feminism probably put the poem ahead of those with more literary value. Because being a SJW (social justice warrior aka left-wing fanatic) trumps things like talent.

I thought of entering a poem of mine in this year’s WD poetry contest. Though my poems rarely have mastectomy bras in them so I probably can’t win. Though I have just the poem in mind for the contest, it’s called ‘Christ in the city’ and it’s got a woman in it who can fold tortillas into cranes (the bird kind not the heavy machinery kind.)

More important for me would be to get out another poetry submission to Scifaikuest, which published a haiku of mine in February. And perhaps another to Chiron Review which published one of mine not too long ago. Since I am planning a book on how to write poetry, I think I need more poetry publication credits that are not from the late 1980s.

Celebrate:

I have a number of things to celebrate for this week’s blog hop. Number one, duckings! Arsenic, a lady duck of mine, was found sitting on a nest full of eggs. I needed to move her and ducks stop setting if you move them. So I popped the 10 eggs in the incubator and yesterday they hatched out— all 10! This NEVER happens. I guess mama ducks are better for hatching eggs than incubators are.

Another celebration is that I am back writing poetry again after a couple of months of not doing it. I’m even going to submit some poems to Scifaikuest  later today. I was looking through my files and saw a few that might be just the thing for them. So, everybody, wish me luck on that!

Also celebrating that I’m making a batch of bone broth today— it takes 48 hours in the slow cooker but is well worth it. And it’s inspiring me to do a major cleanup of my cluttered kitchen because I don’t want to be embarrassed in front of the bone broth!

So, what are you celebrating this week?

How to Braaains! Storm your Zombie Novel

GIRL-Z-My-Life-as-a-Teenage-Zombie-zombie-bookWant to write a cool zombie novel? Great— but first you will have to plan a number of things so your novel will be unique and interesting both to zombie fans and to others.

There is a preliminary step before you begin your brainstorming. READ ZOMBIE NOVELS. It doesn’t help if you have watched every zombie novel that has ever been released, or if you watch every ‘The Walking Dead’ episode over and over again. Novels are different. Read those.

If you don’t know of any zombie novels, try some of these:

Girl Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie by C. S. Verstraete
Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator by Karina Fabian
World War Z by Max Brooks (son of Mel Brooks)
INFECtIOUS by Elizabeth Forkey

OK, with your reading done, it is time to get started with the brainstorming. Get out your writing implements, set a timer for an appropriate amount of minutes, and start brainstorming on one or more of the following:

  • The rules of your zombies— how do they function, how do they behave, what are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • Your zombie infectious agent— where did it come from, how does it work, is it a virus, bacterium, prion or other, is it natural, alien, or the result of germ warfare, and what is it called?
  • Your world before the zombie epidemic— like our own or different? In what ways?
  • Your survivors— what are they like? Typically in horror fiction the characters are somewhat traditional people leading somewhat normal lives— think of Rick Grimes and family from The Walking Dead. This makes their struggles more compelling to us than would be the struggles of gay male prostitutes or Colombian drug lords. Though the gay male prostitute and Colombian drug lord might make interesting sidekicks for a Rick Grimes character.
  • Your villains or opposing forces— government, political extremists, or just the zombies?
  • Your survivors’ weapons and survival strategies— think of Daryl Dixon’s crossbow and his hunting skills. (Another ‘The Walking Dead’ reference.)
  • Your survival location (if your characters are not nomadic throughout the novel.)
  • Difference: in what way is your zombie fictional vision different than others you have read or watched? In what ways is it similar?
  • Genre: Zombie fiction is not all horror. ‘Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator’ is a comedy, ‘Girl Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie’ is juvenile fiction (YA), and “INFECtIOUS” combines the zombie apocalypse with the Evangelical End-Times Apocalypse in an original way. What genre or genres is your novel going to be?
  • Why do you what to write a zombie novel? What is it about a zombie novel that really appeals to you? And don’t say that zombies are popular and your novel will sell if it has zombies in it. You have to be inspired by the topic to make a go of it. (For example, I’m quite obsessed with ‘The Walking Dead’, it is one of my ‘Special Interests’, and when the season is running you don’t want to hear all the minute details of each episode that I analyze to death.)

Please give us feedback in a comment— do you have any other ideas for brainstorming a zombie novel? Is brainstorming a technique that works for you? And, who do you think that Negan killed on The Walking Dead?

One Simple Step to help you Write and Market your Novel

WritingFictionforDummies

There is one thing you can do that will give you help in the process of writing your novel, helping you keep on track and not meander off into tangents. This same thing will also provide you with the best book marketing tool you could hope for— one that will help you and your readers get others interested in your book. And it will take you about an hour of your time.

This magic writer’s tool is a simple thing called a storyline— a one-sentence summary of your novel. Like this one: “A girl telepath in 1869 Texas must fight like a man to protect the survivors of a crashed alien spaceship.” This is the storyline of my current WIP, Sky Machine over Texas.  (Yes, it’s a Western with aliens and a spaceship in it.)

This storyline is meant to arouse the curiosity of potential readers, and warn people that hate Westerns and science fiction and girl heroes and telepaths that this is not for them.

Here’s another storyline. “A rogue physicist travels back in time to kill the Apostle Paul.” This storyline is from the novel Transgression, written by Randy Ingermanson, who also wrote the storyline.

Writing a storyline is step one in the Snowflake method of novel writing. You can read about the Snowflake method here: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/  or you can buy the book above, Writing Fiction for Dummies, which provides information on the method.

How does a storyline help you? As you write, the storyline will help you decide which potential scenes are a part of the story, and which are not. (The second Snowflake step, the 3-Act Structure of your novel, also can keep you from wandering off and writing scenes that don’t help your story and will have to be removed in revision.) Having a storyline helps, because writing it will help you understand what the story is about.

The storyline is also your most essential marketing tool. You have to learn to rattle it off along with your book title. (“Sky Machine over Texas? It’s about a girl telepath in 1869 Texas who has to fight like a man to protect the survivors of a crashed alien spaceship.”) It’s the answer to the question “What is your book about?” Don’t mention your book without it.

Most authors don’t write storylines. If they are traditionally published authors, maybe someone from the publisher will write a good storyline for them. Most likely, they will write a bad or misleading storyline, or each person working for the publisher will make up a bad storyline of their own. If the author provides his own good storyline, all of these people will use that, instead.

Indie and small press authors have even more reason to write their own storyline. It’s great to use it in your back cover blurb, because then your most enthusiastic fans will use your storyline when they tell all their friends what a great book it is and why they must buy it and read it at once.

Some of the rules of the storyline— it’s best to be shorter and simpler. You usually only need mention one or two characters. The part of the plot that you reveal should be an important or central one. Don’t mention characters by name (unless they are the Apostle Paul, who’s kind of famous), use a description— ‘a rogue physicist’, ‘a girl telepath.’

If you are a writer, have you written a storyline for any of your books? Please share it in a comment, and include a link to where one can buy the book in question. (No more than one link per comment, besides the link-back to your blog, but include all the storylines you want, it will help other blog readers learn how to write storylines.)

 

“Knitting patterns” for creating fiction #writing #AtoZChallenge

KWhen I was a child, a kind neighbor, Mrs. Young, taught me to knit. Later, when I was a bit older, I bought some how-to-knit booklets from Kmart’s yard department (they had one back then.)

That’s how I learned to follow knitting patterns— sets of instructions on how to knit a certain garment in a certain size. If you followed the instructions to the letter, even an inexperienced knitter could do good work. And the more experienced could adapt the pattern and be creative.

Fiction writing has its own ‘knitting patterns.’ One from the past is the Lester Dent Master Formula, which pulp author Lester Dent used to write short stories which sold. Another is the more modern Snowflake method, which is usually used to plot novels.

A fiction pattern is ‘borrowed structure’ for a novel or short story. All fiction needs structure. ‘Plotter’ authors do it by writing an outline, ‘pantsers’ do it all in their head. The formula simplifies the process for creating a story with structure for either type of writers.

“But won’t using a formula make my story formulaic?” No. “Formulaic” stories are dull, tired, predictable stories made by would-be authors who just grab at trite, done-to-death plot elements when they don’t know what to do. Such fiction can come into being with or without the use of a formula, an outline, or the three-act structure.

Using a pattern thoughtfully can help you to create a more original story. The secret is to not take any part of the pattern as Gospel.

For example, working on my ‘space western’ novel, the Snowflake method, Step 3, would have me write in the three-act structure. But I’m not sure I know the ending for sure yet. Or even the middle. I’m more of a ‘pantser’ than an outliner. So I just put SOMETHING sketchy down, and worry about the middle and ending when I get to it.

As a writer with Asperger Syndrome, I suffer from something similar to ADHD, and thus I find it difficult to write anything longer than a poem without the aid of a ‘knitting pattern’ for writing. It’s a way of working smarter, not harder.

I am experimenting with using the Lester Dent formula to write a 6000 word short story. I will be sharing more about that project here as I go through the steps.

Lester Dent Fiction Formula: http://www.paper-dragon.com/1939/dent.html
Snowflake Method: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/

This is a post in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Yes, I’m behind and I’m doing the wrong letter today. But I’m still doing it. Go figure.

Blogging from A to Z Challenge: http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com

C is for (the secret of killing) Characters

Zombie-Sophia-the-walking-dead-sophia-30391439-480-480The issue of the killing of fictional characters has been on  my mind lately. Perhaps it was in anticipation of last night’s Walking Dead episode, which was…. unsettling.

Fiction with a high character body count is a thing right now, in books, television and movies. But there is a trick to it. And I will reveal it to you.

Think of The Walking Dead. Any TWD fan can tell you of all the tragic character deaths they have endured. Laurie. Tyreese. Lizzie. Mika. You might guess that the first episode of TWD was just LOADED with important characters that were there so they could be killed off later. But the first part of that episode was just Rick, waking up in a hospital full of zombies.

You see, many of the major characters who suffer tragic deaths in today’s fiction didn’t start out as major characters. Or even as minor ones. Most of them began as peripheral characters— more part of the scenery than people. Kind of like those redshirt security men that kept getting killed on the original Star Trek.

When you kill off a peripheral character, it’s not a big deal. It’s almost like punctuation. Big-Bad just killed a redshirt, I guess that means he’s serious. Even children can handle a peripheral character death. Those characters haven’t had time to become PEOPLE to us.

But the trick of high-body-count fiction is that before a character dies, his status is increased. He gets more screen time, he interacts with major and important minor characters, we learn a bit of his story. If he dies then, it’s not a minor death. It feels like a major beloved character has been wantonly killed. Even though a few short chapters/episodes ago that character was anything but major or beloved.

But doesn’t it give away the author’s intent when a peripheral character is built up like that? No. Peripheral characters are built up like that all the time, with no intent of then gruesomely killing the character to torture the reader. The characters may be built up because they have an important role to fill down the road, or to be a replacement for another character who is going to die or move out of the story.

In a television or novel series of the high-body-count type, new peripheral characters must constantly be introduced. The characters must go on being killed, but the character group can’t be seen to be shrinking down to nothing. The series must continue to have a base of characters to root for, love, and, possibly, mourn.

But I have one concern about high-body-count fiction. What is the author really trying to say with all the deaths. For some, it could mean that every life is precious and every person deserves mourning when the go. For others, it could mean that they believe life is meaningless, we all die anyway, so who cares if someone dies, gruesomely, right now. For some unskilled writers, random character butchery is just a way for the writer to get some attention. But writers should be concerned about what message their work is leaving in this essential area of respect for life, lest they find their ‘Number One Fan’ perpetrating a real-life massacre in their honor.

C

This is a post in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/

Ideas: beginnings, middles, ends

My hens eating the good stuff.

My hens eating the good stuff.

Somehow recently I managed to subscribe by email to a blog by best-selling author Jerry B. Jenkins. He had a great post called Secrets to Writing a Captivating Ending, which you can read here: http://www.jerryjenkins.com/secrets-writing-captivating-ending/

It really started me to thinking. Recently I got some praise from my therapist on all the original and interesting story ideas I have. I knew that was nothing to get excited about because none has ever lead to a finished novel as they were meant to.

Really, ideas are nothing. Everybody has them. Some people have only commonplace ideas— but then, many great works of literature have simple, common ideas like ‘boy meets girl’ at their core. Or sometimes, ‘boy meets vampire’.

It’s the follow-through that matters. And for that you need more than just a story idea— a beginning, a starting situation, a conflicted character— you need something that leads to an ending.

How do you handle a story idea? I usually toss it around in my head a bit and then mostly I write down the story idea. Sometimes I write a beginning for the story instead.

This is how my story idea-writing-down might look:

There are these aliens, see, and they come to Earth right at the start of World War 2. Yeah, I know, Harry Turtledove did that. But Turtledove’s aliens were conservative aliens. My aliens are worse. They are LIBERALS (progressives) and they really, really like the concept of eugenics.

They are going to get along with Hitler, right? Only which Hitler? Because, you see, in my story Hitler has multiple personality disorder. His alters are Angry Hitler, Affable Hitler, and Little Lost Boy Hitler. Angry Hitler makes an alliance with the aliens— but then the aliens inadvertently weaken Angry Hitler and put Little Lost Boy Hitler in a position of power.

As you can see, my story writing ideas mostly touch on things that happen at the beginning. I need to figure out what happens at the end. Even if it turns out to be a trilogy, I need to know what somewhat conclusive things happen at the end of Book One.

So, when I write down my various story ideas in my little blank book with Spiderman on the cover, I’m not just going to write down beginning ideas, but ideas for the ending. Because Jerry B. Jenkins says so. And he’s a good writer, even if he is a heretic.

Learning to introduce characters in a novel.

When you are beginning to write a novel, there are two ways to introduce each character: give too much information about the character, or too little. It’s hard to learn to do it just right.

One thing that helped me was to take out a novel with a similar amount of characters to introduce that was in the same genre (science fiction) and written by a traditionally published author.

I took out my writing notebook an analyzed the first few scenes. I wrote down on what page each character was introduced, and what information was given about each character. I noted who was the viewpoint character in each scene. When I was done I wrote a short summary of the scene.

This helped me a lot. I noted that in the novel at hand, three characters were introduced in the first scene and two different characters in the second. All were important characters in the whole novel.

Earlier in the morning I had started a first scene for my ‘Starship Destine’ novel. After doing the analysis on the professionally written novel, I came to the conclusion that in the rewrite I have to introduce smaller groups of important characters at a time. I also noticed that my model novel mentioned more specifics about the futuristic starship technology in these early scenes.

I think the method I tried today is something I ought to continue with— using a real, professionally published novel as a model to be studied. When reading, I tend to skim in search of excitement. But if I am reading specifically to learn and I take notes, I see things I wouldn’t see otherwise.

It also helped to see what things were mentioned about the characters in each scene. The viewpoint characters in the two scenes— who were the two most significant characters in the novel— had more information given about them. The other characters remained more of a mystery, though I did learn whether each was human or alien. Slight mention of the past history of the two major characters was even given.

For my writing tomorrow, I’ve decided to do a new scene with a different character, starting a little earlier in the story. I’m going to keep the other characters at a minimum, and introduce the initial crisis— an attack on the Terran Fleet Academy’s home world by unknown forces.

Of course that means I’m going to start a whole new scene 1. I’ve done two others. But I think in my case that’s just part of the way I get started. A couple of false starts clarifies things for me.

So, fellow writers: what have you learned through your writing today? And if you were to use a model novel to help you study an aspect of writing, what novel might you pick and why?