Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz April 27-May 3, 2014

Tipsday

As I compile this, I’m listening to “Hall of Heads” by They Might be Giants. Just to let you know where I’m at tonight 😉

Last week was a treasure trove of writerly goodies!

Publishing dish of the week: HarperCollins to buy Harlequin, from Publisher’s Weekly.

George R.R. Martin’s Rolling Stone interview.

Brent Weeks: New writing advice. This is really about process, and you know how much I lurve that stuff! Plus, he has a standing desk with a treadmill.

Mel’s note: I’ve finally placed my order for a standing desk (goodbye tax refund). I won’t have a treadmill, but it could be a future consideration. Good to know I’m in such distinguished company. Jane Friedman uses a standing desk and treadmill, too.

Elizabeth Gilbert on Success, failure, and the drive to keep creating.

 

K.M. Weiland’s back with part 11 of her creating stunning character arcs series: The second half of the second act. As with all instalments of her series, you can read the post, or listen to the podcast.

Are your plot points too weak? Also from Katie.

And here’s another, just for good measure: Why you should bully your protagonist.

Roz Morris on the long and the short of writing novels.

 

And … she shares her experiences creating My Memories of a Future Life audio books with ACX.

Then, Laura Pepper Wu interviewed Roz for The Write Life.

The root of prolific by Julianna Baggott on Writer Unboxed.

What are you doing to improve? All about continuous learning from Liz Michalski, also on Writer Unboxed.

One of my Australian writer friends, Gemma Hawdon, did a guest post for The Write Practice blog on emotional conflict.

Marcy Kennedy’s entry in the writing process blog hop.

Dialog tags of doom on Query Quagmire.

Chuck Wendig ‘splains why he speaks up about diveristy, direct from heteronormative white dude mountain.

Jim C. Hines, also on diversity and cultural appropriation. They were part of the same panel at Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference. Go figure 😉

Then Sword & Laser interviewed Mr. Hines. I met him at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference last year. Such a genuine, sweet man.

 

Kristen Lamb’s series on Flashbacks: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Felicia Day’s Vaginal Fantasy Hangout on Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest. Not only was this irresistible because DotF is one of my favourite books, but the discussion about rape scenes in fiction was also fierce. Very worthwhile.

 

Then Felicia got a tweet. This video was her response:

 

She just posted today that she watched her own video for inspiration 😉

Carly Watters offers her top 8 writing craft books. I’m proud to say I own and have read several of them 🙂

19 jokes only grammar nerds will get.

Gravitas. For the word nerd from Daily Writing Tips.

Enjoy!

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Ad Astra Day 2: When an editor is not an editor

Panel: Anne Groell; Max Turner; Michael Matheson; Karen Dales

AG: I’m executive editor at Penguin Random House (A.K.A. Random Penguin) working with high profile clients such as George R.R. Martin and Connie Willis.

MT: Author and freelance editor.

MM: I’m editor for ChiZine’s book imprint and I do some freelance work on the side.

KD: I’m an author, creative writing teacher, and more recently, a freelance editor. What’s the biggest misconception writers have about editors?

AG: People don’t think editors edit anymore. I have to love a book if I take it on. I may read it as many as fifteen times in the editing process. I really have to love it.

MT: Stephen King says in his On Writing that he edits once, and the book is ready. This is not what usually happens for most writers. When I submitted my manuscript, I assumed it would come back heavily marked up with specific direction. This did not happen either. I had submitted a 160k word draft and was told there was an 80k word story hidden in it. I was asked to cut 60k words. The book is the intellectual property of the author. Editors won’t muck around in it. Their aim is to help the author turn the novel into the best book it can be. It’s a very hands off process.

MM: Good editing is completely invisible. There are different types of editing: the substantive, which is global and concerned with structural issues. Does the book work? Then, there’s line editing. This is a closer look at consistencies and story logic. Finally, there is copyediting. At this stage, when large chunks of the text will not be disappearing, errors are covered, line by line.

KD: You have to be careful with self-publishing. With ebooks, unqualified editors make for a poor product. A good freelance editor will ask for a sample of your writing first. They have to like it. You have to be able to trust them with your work.

AG: I’ve sent out 20-35 page editing letters in the past. That’s love.

MT: Are established authors edited as thoroughly as newer authors?

AG: They are if their editor is good.

KD: I know of a New York Times Best Selling Author who’s next book in a series was not picked up by the publisher. She decided to self-publish and did not opt for a qualified editor. The book she self-published was not comparable to the others in the series. (Mel’s note: I think the word actually used was crap.)

AG: If you’re my client, you may not like my solutions, but you have to concede that this particular aspect of your novel isn’t working. We can talk about other solutions, but what isn’t working has to change. Bottom line.

KD: Fact-checking is critical. I edited a SF time-travel novel set in renaissance London. One of the main settings used was the Tower of London. Not all of the building existed at the time. I asked the author to do more thorough research. Then the manuscript was submitted indicating that there were balconies on the White Tower. This was again, not the case. I sent it back a second time. This may be an extreme example, but even he improved and now he’s one of my favourite people to work with.

MM: Do not depend on Wikipedia for your research.

MT: You have to be willing to do as much work on the research as you are willing to work on revisions and rewrites.

MM: Editors are not inviolable. Stick to the heart of your story. Defend it if you need to.

KD: With another book I was working on, the author wanted to send the manuscript to her uncle, who turned out to be Jack Whyte. Jack edited extensively, but he edited to the way he wrote. He threatened the author’s voice. I had to step in and defend her work.

AG: We are champions for our authors.

Q: What is the value of beta readers?

AG: It can be helpful. You have to trust them, though. They have to be objective and they should have some expertise in what you’re writing.

KD: “I like that” is not constructive. The best beta readers are not going to be your family or friends.

MT: Asking your friend to beta-read for you isn’t fair. They feel obliged to like your work.

(Mel’s note: Margaret and Kim, sorry if you feel this way. I do not expect you to feed my vanity. I do trust you and will take direction.)

MM: If you hire an independent editor, never ask them to edit multiple versions of you manuscript. You’ll never earn back what you pay them.

Q: What should an author look for when hiring and independent editor and how much should you expect to pay?

KD: Look for education, a degree in a related field, experience, and ask for references. Most editors will ask for $1.50 to $2 per word or a maximum number of pages.

MM: Some also charge a flat rate.

MT: Get the recommendation of a writer you trust. Every writer has a shelf of “learning novels.” If you read early Bradbury, you can see the difference between that work and his more mature novels.

KD: Trunk novels can be rewritten, though.

Q: As an editor, how do you improve?

AG: Learn to cut. The two Connie Willis novels Black Out and All Clear originally came to my desk as a 300k word draft.

MM: Work as a slush reader or apprentice at a publisher.

KD: Work as an assistant editor.

MM: You learn to establish a collaborative relationship with your authors.

MT: What happens when you establish that relationship and they then hand in crap?

AG: It’s horrible.

And that’s it for the session.

There are only three more sessions for me to transcribe and then I’ll write a wee wrap up piece.

Overall, Ad Astra was well worth the trip. It will probably be one of my staple conventions from here on out.

Brian Henry workshop, Sudbury, March 22, 2014

Brian HenryThis afternoon, I attended my fifth Brian Henry workshop.

This one, the third held in Sudbury and hosted by the Sudbury Writers’ Guild, was on “How to make your stories dramatic.”

These workshops are Brian’s bread and butter, so without giving too much of the content away, here are my notes:

  • The scene is the basic building block of your story.
  • There are two kinds: the dialogue-based scene, and the action-based scene.
  • Every scene must have a plot-related point. It must answer the question, “so what?”
  • Push and pull. The push is the point of view (POV) character’s need. The pull is what the pursuit of the need leads to (promise, twist, decision, new threat, etc.).
  • Your characters must be interesting. They should be unique, have their own interests, passions, a quirk, backstory (dole it out gradually). If two characters are similar, shoot one.
  • Readers, sadly, do not remember names.
  • Your protagonist should be a good “tour guide.”
  • Every character has her or his own agenda (the scene’s push). It’s better if they are at odds with one another.
  • Pick your scenes carefully. Show the important stuff. Tell the rest.
  • Don’t get to the point too quickly.
  • Scene = hook, hook, and hook.
  • Ford Madox Ford, “No speech of a character should reply directly to another character.”
  • Dialogue shouldn’t be smooth.
  • An action scene consists of set up, action, and wind down.
  • Set up = setting, background, tone, suspense.
  • Action = plot, character, relationships.
  • Wind down = the result, new information, what is gained or lost.
  • Dialogue is important, even in action scenes.
  • Make sure it feels exotic (most people don’t spend a lot of time fighting, in chase scenes, etc.)
  • Use internal monologue to your scene’s best advantage. No long-winded explanations.
  • You need to have some kind of surprise.
  • Have more than one thing going on at any one time.

We went through a few examples of dramatic scenes, one from Lawrence Block, one from George R. R. Martin, and one from Bernard Cornwell to look at the variations and interplay of action and dialogue. We also completed a writing exercise, for which I chose a scene (to that point unwritten) from Gerod and the Lions.

Since I’m always trying to learn and improve upon my craft, the workshop brought up a number of bits and pieces that I’ve learned over the years.

Emily Dickenson wrote, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.”

Last fall at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, I attended a Diana Gabaldon session where she shared her technique of driving a scene forward by raising questions in the reader, but delaying the answers for as long as possible.

I just finished reading Victoria A. Mixon’s The Art and Craft of Story, in which she describes “holographic structure.” This takes the basic three act structure of hook, development, and climax and breaks it down.

The hook consists of the hook and the first conflict, the development includes (at least) two more conflicts, and the climax consists of the faux resolution and climax.

In fact, breaking it down even further, each of these six elements contains its own six elements.

Thus, the hook part of the hook section contains its own hook, (at least) three conflicts, faux resolution, and climax, as does each of the remaining parts.

If this seems confusing, please read Victoria’s book. She explains it at much more length and much more clearly than I do.

Suffice it to say that the ultimate breakdown is at the scene level, and each scene, in keeping with its overall purpose within the story, has its own hook, three conflicts, faux resolution, and climax.

That’s all the insightful I have for you today, my writerly peeps.

Until next time.

Series Disappointments

As a writer, I look to many different sources for inspiration and for learning about my craft.  Most professional writers will tell you that screen writing informs fiction writing, whether it’s episodic television to short stories or chapters, or full length movies to novellas and novels.

I love television.  I know that there are some writers out there that vilify the medium as a time-waster and brain killer, but I try to look at the quality of the story, the plausibility of scientific elements in sci-fi, the depiction and development of character, and so forth.

I’ve told you how I read as a writer in the past.  I’ve also reviewed a few movies on here and the lessons I’ve taken away from them, well, now I’m going to talk about television series.

Phil and I are fairly critical in our television watching.  If something doesn’t make sense, one of us will be the first to lambaste it 😛

This year, we’ve unsubscribed from the movie network cable package.  It was the one that allowed us to watch Game of Thrones and True Blood.  But now, we’re just not interested in what’s on offer.

The past

Phil holds up Babylon 5 as his favourite series.  I agree that J. Michael Straczynski is a masterful storyteller and B5 is one of the best series I’ve seen, but I’m also a little more critical about B5 than Phil is.

I know that JMS planned the entire 5 year arc of the show before he started working on it, but it’s fairly obvious where real life events required accommodation and revision.  Still, until the rights struggle, of which I shall not speak, started to affect things, the show was fabulous.

The fifth season was less than stellar, though, because of the afore-mentioned struggle, I think, Excalibur, the series that was intended to fill in some of the detail pre-B5 only lasted one season, and the hoped for Tales of the Rangers never got off the ground.

In the end, I was disappointed, but not because of JMS—he’s brilliant—but because of the creative differences that prevented the world he created from being explored further.

One of my favourite series of all time is Buffy the Vampire SlayerJoss Whedon took a slightly different tack, creating seasonal arcs, because of the fickle nature of network television.  Buffy changed networks, mid-run, but managed to revive.

The title character’s death at the end of season 5 was to have been the end of the story, but somehow, two more seasons were wrangled.

There are inconsistencies in Buffy.  I’ve watched the series enough to know, but they make the overall story no less enjoyable.  The way in which details from earlier seasons eventually led to lovely pay-offs in later seasons spoke to how well Whedon understood his creation.

When Angel got his spin-off after the third season of Buffy, I also watched it.  Phil is a little fonder of Angel than of Buffy, but both series were made of similar stuff.  Whedon is a very different kind of storyteller than JMS, but no less compelling.

Again, Whedon seems to have had poor luck with the networks after Buffy and Angel.  Firefly did not even have a full season aired (except on Space and Syfy) and Dollhouse was dropped after a second season.

A more long-standing love for both of us is Doctor Who.  We’ve both been fans for years and although Phil has, on principle, a problem with time-travel stories, the writing behind Doctor Who allows him to suspend even his hefty disbelief and enjoy the story.

Other than those few series, many of the shows Phil and I hopefully latched onto over the years seem to have lost their storytelling ways.

Phil and I loved the first season of Heroes.  We were avid fans and shared our DVD’s with everyone we could think of.

Then the second season aired with plot holes big enough to consume the entire cast.  Even George Takei couldn’t save the show.

We were sceptical about the remake of Battlestar Galactica, but once we started watching the series, we were taken in.

Which is why we were also severely disappointed by the last 2 seasons and though we watched Caprica, we couldn’t regret its demise either.  The “ending” answered fewer questions than BSG’s.

Lost lost me as a viewer before the second season ended.  I could see the ridiculous factor increasing, and the writers withheld information when they should have revealed it, and revealed information that had no importance to the plot in the long term.

Phil never watched Lost at all.

Supernatural turned out to be mostly monster-of-the-week and Sam and Dean never really evolved as characters.

There was the short-lived Dresden Files series, which we both loved, but then it went out of production.

I was enjoying the adaptation of Tanya Huff’s Blood Books, Blood Ties, but it, too, was dropped.

The present

I’ve continued to follow the adventures of Buffy and Angel through Joss Whedon’s graphic

Trade paperback cover of Buffy: Season Eight V...

Trade paperback cover of Buffy: Season Eight Volume One, written by Joss Whedon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

novel continuations of both stories.

Phil and I are both happy enough with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and hope that it breaks the television curse for Whedon.  We’d like to see more of his wit and style on television.

Phil and I continue to watch and enjoy Doctor Who.

True Blood was okay to begin with, but after the first season again, we found the story wandering and not necessarily in a good direction.  Unlike some other books turned into series, TB departs fairly distinctly from the Sookie Stackhouse novels on which it is based.

We have, so far, come back for the next season and each season seems to begin well enough, but then certain events are just drawn out for far too long only to end precipitously and in many cases, in a dissatisfying manner.

Consistency isn’t the best, either.

We knew, when Russell Edgington was encased in cement rather than shown the true death, that he’d be back, but we couldn’t stand it when he did.

The ending of this season left us completely cold.  Sookie’s waffling and bemoaning of her fate got old very quickly.  And Eric sunbathing instead of trying to stop the distribution of the Hep-V tainted True Blood?  It made so little sense.  If he did burn, he deserved to.

Mind you, not having seen the ashes, I’ll assume that he and Pam will be back, if not next season, then at some point thereafter.

Being Human.  My advice: watch the British version.  It was always better.

We are quite happy with Game of Thrones.  Now this is a different bit of storytelling, because the novels have already been written by George R. R. Martin.  The artistry of GoT is that the show runners have to pick and choose what bits to show and how to show them in a way that is truthful to GRRM.

And he’s consulting to keep them as much on script as possible 😉

Phil was enjoying The Walking Dead, but found that it too, was getting a little lack-lustre in its plot by the end of the last season.  He’ll be happy to watch it in reruns when we re-subscribe to the movie package in the spring.

We watched the Netflix series Hemlock Grove and were impressed, though admittedly, the denouement  seemed a little rushed.  We are hopeful that future seasons will be at least as good.

Once Upon a Time.  Not Phil’s bag, but I like retellings of fairy tales.  So far, so good for me, but they are in danger of losing me if they get to far off track.

Grimm.  More fairy tale-related shenanigans.  I like the German take, but was so not impressed with how long it took Julia to deal with her recovered memories last season.  Seriously?  Plus, I wanted to see more of Nick’s mom.  She kicked ass.

Lost Girl.  Again, this is something that Phil doesn’t go in for, but I’ve been enjoying.  I’m glad that it continues to be in production.

Arrow was another surprise for me.  Though I enjoyed Smallville, I watched most of the episodes in rerun.  Plus, Smallville started to draw out the origin story of Superman far too long.  I was irritated with that.

Arrow is not taking the Green Arrow from Smallville, but focusing on the character independent of Superman.  It’s a bit grittier and darker.  I like it.

Orphan Black.  This one was a surprise for me, but I definitely like it.  Don’t have any other clone/genetic engineering conspiracy stories out there at the moment.  Phil wasn’t so impressed, but I’m willing to give it a go again next year.

Defiance was a show that Phil got hold of by virtue of his interests in gaming.  The concept was unique: a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG, or MMO) and a television series developed concurrently in the same world.

The game would start up earlier, feed into the hype, but when the series started, the developers promised weekly game upgrades based on story developments in the series.  It sounded interesting, so we both tuned in.

Phil quickly tired of the game, in which the promised content was not made available.  He gave up some time in the summer when none of the series-based content had yet been added.

The depiction of the alien people were different between the game and the series as well.

The Irathients were analogous to indigenous peoples in terms of spirituality in the series, but good warriors and tactical thinkers in the game.  Not that they couldn’t be both, but both were not clearly options in the game and the series.

The Indogenes in the game were similar to Vulcans, dominantly logical and emotionally repressed, while in the series, they turned out to be political schemers and shape-shifters.

The last straw for Phil was that for two episodes in a row, they played the “s/he’s an Indogene” card.  He cited it as derivative of the equally irritating “s/he’s a cylon” ploy in BSG.

Story-wise, it’s about as satisfying as “it was all a dream,” or an ending where the big bad, after waging war, and having the subjects of his rage in his sights, commits suicide instead (another BSG disappointment).

Sleepy Hollow.  I’m liking the angle the writers have chosen and tying it all in with the four horsemen of the apocalypse and the end of days.  We’ll see if it lasts more than a season.

The future

Right now, the only thing we’re both looking forward to is JMS’s Sense8, his Netflix series.

I’m going to check out Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, just ‘cause, but I’ve learned not to pin too many hopes on new network series.

I’m also going to check out the Tomorrow People and Almost Human.  We’ll see if either of those series live up to my expectations.

What series have you loved?  Which have you hated?  What are you looking forward to?  And what shows have you learned from as a writer?

Continuous learning 🙂  That’s what it’s all about.