Tag Archives: writing process

First Draft Tuesdays

Tuesdays are always the worst. Mondays are bad, but at least you just had the weekend. Tuesdays, though…the whole week is still ahead of you. It drags and drags and drags like that goddamn Lynyrd Skynyrd song (great song, though–seriously)

Alright, maybe it’s not so bad. Happy Gilmore started out with that song after all, right?

One thing that days like today are good for are writing. Meet Me at the Falls – Part 3 is out and in the world. I feel good about it, but the journey is FAR from over. During the editing process a big chunk of my part was left on the editing room floor. The material needs to be in the story–just not yet. Today, my task has been picking up the pieces and seeing what I can salvage. As with all good writing, most of it will change as I mold the next chapter.

I did find myself re-inspired to find my way to Part 5, though. Through a series of coincidences and merely saying “Yes” to an opportunity at work, I found myself at a bar with a woman from Amazon.com who was from Snoqualmie Falls. She quickly made me realize that our vision of the Falls may be slightly different than reality. I learned of Snoqualmie Pass, which is what happens during the winter up at the campgrounds and the ski-resort on the other side of the mountain…what the terrain is like up there…and that there should probably be some sort of avalance–er ash-a-lanch? What a terrible word. It’s a good thing our characters aren’t QUITE there yet (spoiler alert).

Part 5 is scheduled to be finished by July as of right now. The pressure is on. I should get back into Scrivener and finish my first draft of part 4 now that the Skynyrd song finished playing on YouTube.

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Meet Me at the Falls – Part Two!

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The wait is over! “Meet Me at the Falls – Part 2” is now for sale on Amazon. We have boldly taken the next step in our dystopian adventure together. Each of us wrote our sections separate from each other, Zack in San Francisco, myself in Los Angeles, and Ben … wherever he is around the globe. In that way we are just like the Murphy’s, separated by hundreds of miles yet all striving to reach the Falls.

Part 1 – The End” found the Murphy family separated, lost and struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic America after a global cataclysm. They hoped the other family members were heading toward their old campsite at Snoqualmie Falls near Seattle, but don’t realize everyone has been derailed. The Father, Alan, encountered a cult who tried to use him in some ritual surrounding the supernatural phenomenon in the sky. The Kids, Edwin and Tricia, ran for their lives from “The Roar,” a relentless black swarm—something between monster and machine. The Mother, Charlotte, met a helpless young man who sacrificed himself to save her from the lethal cold. The Son, Wiley, accidentally killed a bear, only to arrive at the Falls with no sign of his family. Either he is just the first to arrive…or the only one to survive.

Now… “Part 2 – Reclamation” finds the world crumbling beneath the Murphy family’s feet as the mystery surrounding what caused the apocalypse deepens. Each member of the family encounters new survivors attempting to recover what they’ve lost—or kill each other trying. As the Murphys continue their trek toward the Falls, everyone and everything stands in their way.

I’m proud to say that ‘Part 2’ is officially a novella, weighing in at 22,320 words (81 pages)! It’s been quite the adventure for we three writers as it has the Murphy family, still struggling to meet up at the Falls. Zack Keller, Ben Tuller and I are very excited for you to see what happens next!

Click here to read “Meet Me At The Falls (Part 2 – Reclamation).”

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The Best Lecture on Story Structure Ever

Probably the best lecture I’ve ever seen on story, Kurt Vonnegut lays out the arc of the Hero’s Journey in it’s most elegant form (see video for the joke). In truth, Vonnegut is a hilarious man who knows the craft so well he’s able to entertain and enlighten the audience by poking fun at how obvious stories are. Good story structure doesn’t need much explanation. Stories are simple.

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A wise man once told me that a story is never complex. No matter how deep and complex something may seem, 99 times out of 100 it’s just a series of simple points you’ve experienced since the start of the tale. The art of the craft is making those points tie together in such a way that your story seems complex. And it is, in a way, but not by making each story beat circuitous.

All the rules I’ve ever heard from Vonnegut are pure and simple. Take his eight tips on how to write a good short story:

  1. Use a time of a total stranger in such a way that he/she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character they can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things: reveal character, or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading character is, make awful things happen to them in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense! Readers should have as such complete understand of what is going on, where and why, that they should be able to complete the story themselves should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
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Every Line, a Roller Coaster

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Shrunk and White published a little book that is regarded as the ultimate guide for mastery over the written word. The Elements of Style. Authors around the globe swear by it, and while some of the techniques don’t mesh perfectly with the way modern literature is going, I swear by it too. Certain rules about grammar and construction are more fundamental than passing styles or what is considered “fresh.” Every writer should pick up a copy and study its pages well.

Among the most important is how to structure your sentence.

Basically, put the “new” part of the sentence at the end for greatest impact.* I’ve found this to be true of the sentence as much as even the paragraph itself–and on to the page, chapter and entirety of the book. It goes both ways, too, even stretching down to lines of dialogue. Cross media, cross genre, it’s a universal rule that’s rarely better when broken.

Let’s look at some examples:

When Ellen Ripley confronts the Queen Xenomorph in “Aliens”, she boldly steps in front of her and says,

“You, bitch! Get away from her!” … wait that’s not right. See how when we reverse it, it just loses it’s power? “Bitch” is the MEAT of that line. Save it to the last possible moment for most impact.

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“Get away from her, you BITCH!”

Those writers knew what they were doing. It’s bold and commanding. But, it doesn’t always have to be some exclamation. It works even in description.

“Fifteen years past, when they had ridden forth to win a throne, the Lord of Storm’s End had been clean-shaven, clear-eyed, and muscled like a maiden’s fantasy. Six and a half feet tall, he towered over lesser men, and when he donned the armor and the great antlered helmet of his house, he became a veritable giant.” –George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones.

Maiden’s fantasy” defines the rest of the sentence. Everything builds to that point and puts the line in context. The next sentence does this as well with “veritable giant,” And the two even work together. We get a sense of The Lord of Storm’s End. He’s a veritable giant out of a maiden’s fantasy. Those are the parts that really stick.

This especially works for the mundane.

“Horses were always her favorite of all the animals.”

works much better as…

“Out of all the animals, her favorite was always the horse.”

Careful ordering of words creates a roller-coaster-like experience when reading. Remove what’s being said and focus on the cadence of the sentence. You want the reader to be thinking: “What is this? What are they getting at? I think I might know. Oh, It’s coming. We’re getting closer. Wow, there’s the punch! … Okay, what’s next?”

It doesn’t have to be the subject of the sentence, but it should be the word or words that sell the idea; the part that’s really defining. The part that’s new. Different. The Oomph!

By putting this part last, it gives each line a sense of satisfaction. They’ve accomplished a TINY journey by reading it and want to know more.

Story theory dictates that the plot will rise to a climax, then drop down slightly, rising to an even higher climax at the end, until it fades off to the FADE OUT or last page. The Hero’s Journey.

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I would argue that should we zoom into any one section of that line, we would see lots smaller rises and falls. Each Act would have a climax then fall down again just before the end. So would each scene. And further each section of the scene. Each line delivery. It makes the story dynamic. The ending never drops as far as it started, keeping the plot moving along, but it definitely drops. That last bit of impact changes something and propels the story forward.

*If this really isn’t working in your text, Shrunk and White point out that “the other prominent position in the sentence is the beginning. Any element in the sentence other than the subject becomes emphatic when placed first:

Deceit or treachery she could never forgive.

Yet, even there, the sentence builds to what about deceit and treachery she could never _____.

The most powerful tool a storyteller has in their arsenal is withholding information.

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“Meet Me at the Falls” on Indie Author Land

Screen shot 2013-10-23 at 11.58.15 AMThe good folks over at Indie Author Land have created a dedicated hub for self-published authors, geared toward you: the reader. It’s a great place to find new up and coming talent and honestly just great and daring fiction. The whole site is run by a lovely couple, a journalist covering the arts and a computer programmer; both avid readers with a passion to help spread the word about good fiction. Plain and simple. Their slogan says it all: Great Books. No Middleman.

As they mention, their ‘site is growing, and that’s what they want. The idea is for their growth to be organic and fluid, growing to fill whatever void it may come across.’ Sounds like what it feels to look at a blank page with a pencil in your hand.

Admittedly, their site is also a selfish means to find their next favorite book. Their latest favorite pick comes from the self-publishing trio at Pen, Pint & Pyre: “Meet Me at the Falls“, the Sci-Fi Thriller by authors Ben Tuller, Zack Keller and myself.

Check out the interview with the authors, and the rest of their site here: http://www.indieauthorland.com/archives/5903

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Writing Process (9 of 9)

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Letting Go…

… continued from part 8: DEADLINE

This is probably the hardest part. I’ve looked at the book for so long I don’t even know what to think of it anymore. I love it and I hate it. I’m also indifferent about it. Overall, I’m just way too close to it. I could noodle with this or that forever, but I’ve hit my deadline and now it’s time to let it go.

This is where, if you’re self-publishing, you really have to be hard on yourself. You are never going to get it perfect. There is no such thing as perfection. Every author, every director, every artist has to at some point just let it go. Pass it off to your editor to send to the press, upload that file to Amazon and start worrying about how much to charge.

Glaring corrections can be fixed in subsequent editions. I’ve found copies of Fitzgerald that have some pretty bad typos. Who knows how long they were in there. But the important thing to realize is that you’re done. A work of art will never truly be finished in the eyes of the creator. But therein lies the beauty of it. It’s not supposed to be. I don’t write books for myself–I might come up with an idea I like but ultimately, I write it to be read by others. It’s the reader who finishes my books. And they finish it a thousand times over with endless variation. What wonders I would see if I could crawl inside their mind as they flip through the pages, deriving meaning from the unintended and totally missing meaning I tried to put in. But that’s the beauty of it all. Some people will love it, some people will hate it. Never in the history of the world has there been one piece of art that everyone came to love equally.

So that’s it. You’re done. Get it out there and let the readers have at it. I try to learn from my mistakes and improve on my next creative endeavor. And as an artist, I know damn well that I’ll be on my death bed, still with the desire to grow.

I’ve currently finished a short story, Meet Me at the Falls, with fellow authors Zack Keller and Ben Tuller… and for as much as I think I have it all figured out for this book, I know my next book may be an entirely different journey where I abandon these methods deeming them useless and naïve. I’d like to think that I won’t, but for me the point of writing… and for that matter, reading what people write… is to gain a glimpse into the soul and see the wonder and magic in the expression of the human condition.

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New Sci-Fi Serial: Meet Me at the Falls

Meet Me at the Falls

Post Apocalyptic, Sci-Fi and Horror fans alike, I’m pleased to announce the release of Pen, Pint & Pyre‘s fourth publication, Meet Me at the Falls — the first chapter in a five-part short series by authors Zack Keller, Ben Tuller and myself.

We wanted to take an idea, each write part of it, focusing on one characters and then tie the stories together in one cohesive narrative. The result was something more exciting and richer than any one of us could have imagined alone.

The story follows the Murphy family as they fight their way through hell and back again after the world has fallen apart. Planning for the impossible, they had decided that if anything like this ever happened, they all agreed to do one thing: Meet Me at the Falls

Available Now on Amazon.com for just $0.99

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Writing Process (8 of 9)

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DEADLINE

… continued from part 7: Final Revisions

One might think my last step would be that final polished pass (and obviously it is, to a certain degree) but more important than that is giving yourself a real deadline.

Working under a deadline allows me to be more creative than I’d be if allowed to noodle with something ad infinitum. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that limitations and deadlines spawn creativity. Mulling over something too long destroys that fresh, new feeling; that spark of life. Creating those rules and regulations allows me to fight against something trying to control what I do. I rebel and enter areas of my mind I never dreamed of stepping foot into before.

The pressure of finishing on time after procrastinating and hitting road blocks forces me to flex my creative muscles. If I allow myself to work on something too long, I’ll ruin it. I promise you.

And on that note, I have a story to finish!

To Be Concluded.

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Writing Process (7 of 9)

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Final Revisions

(or How I Learned to Trust Readers, Eat Sushi and Believe in Dinosaurs)

… continued from part 6: That Dreaded Second Draft

When Michael Crichton sent his first draft of Jurassic Park to his usual test-readers, they hated it. All of them. They got angry, asking him why he would even write a book like that. But when he asked what they didn’t like, they didn’t exactly know. “They just hated it, every bit of it,” Crichton said.

There’s some sort of magic that happens the moment you set a draft in stone. Printed out, handed to a reader, or even just looking at a PDF on the same screen you were editing in, suddenly all the mistakes and ideas for re-writes spring up like rabbits. Fiery demon-rabbits from Hell. Some of my fellow writers and I are working on a term for this phenomenon. More on that here.

Letting someone else read my work, I wonder how I could have missed things so glaringly obvious, or I’m immediately embarrassed of certain sections. But this is good. It isn’t the final draft, so I can put out those fires right away, and embarrassment often means I’ve unlocked some truth — something personal and deep. It will resonate with readers who are just as vulnerable as I am. So much of writing is willingly putting your heart on the chopping block. And they’ll love you for it.

Addressing reader’s notes is more about trusting the reader than getting twenty of your friends to voice their opinion. I have three people look at my book. My two writing partners and my editor. I might show it to more people, just to illicit a reaction, but I take their advice with a grain of salt, and often don’t change much. Too many cooks in the kitchen.

Obviously if everyone starts pointing out the same problem or something lacking in the story, I’ll put those grains of rice in the cooker and make something of it. Rice … for sushi, maybe.

Obligatory photo of sushi, for good measure. You deserve some great sushi right about now — for following my silly blog if nothing else. And if you’re in the L.A. area, I highly recommend ‘Sushi Ike’ on Hollywood & Gower. Don’t be deceived by its humble facade. It’s one of L.A.’s hidden gems, as is their head sushi chef, Rick.

But I’m wary of this too … trusting test readers, not the sushi. The sushi is clutch. No, sometimes the problem isn’t the part of the story people don’t understand, but a failed set-up or pay-off somewhere else in the book. Adding in a single line ten chapters earlier may solve something in the climax. It’s important to really analyze the source of the problem and even test your new solution on your most trusted critics.

Crichton ended up writing two more drafts of Jurassic Park, but the response was the same. Just pure hate for the story. One of the initial problems he faced when coming up with the book was the excuse to bring dinosaurs back. He couldn’t see who would realistically pay for that scientific endeavor and the only thing he could come up with was for entertainment purposes. That was the only reason it took place in a theme park. Naturally, he wrote the story from a child’s point of view.

Finally, one of the test readers said they found it annoying that it was told from the child’s point of view. They told him, “I want this to be a story for me.” Crichton did a complete rewrite from an adult point of view, and that’s really all it took to save the novel. Without that simple adjustment, we would never have had the Jurassic Park we know and love.

“Writing is rewriting,” as the great Michael Crichton said.

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Continued in Part 8: DEADLINE

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Writing Process (6 of 9)

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That Dreaded Second Draft

…continued from Part 5: Critique

Aside from fixing all the grammar and polishing sentences, a good thing to focus on during a second pass are themes, character traits and general style and language. Here I really look at the story from a bird’s-eye view. How do certain characters talk? Is that consistent? Are their motivations clear and consistent? How do we see them change? Do I have convincing arguments on both sides of an issue? Is the audience feeling what I want them to feel at any given point?  How can this sentence be phrased better? How can I combine these two paragraphs into one well-spoken and concise sentence?

This pass may be the hardest of them all, and the hardest to keep track of. Use of character worksheets, location worksheets and anything else that might help keep track of things are highly encouraged.

Running through my story the second time, I keep a rather large one-sheet of notes for the polish phase … writing rules and snippets I’ve adapted over the years about things I like in good writing; little reminders for myself. Each story is unique, too, and I’ll add many notes specific to the story I’m working on in the one-sheet. It’s a cheat sheet and one should have no shame in referring to such an item.

Here are some helpful tips from some of our favorite authors:

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Seven_tips_from_F. Scott_Fitzgerald

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Writing Rules from other Authors

Author Zack Keller just recently put up a great post about Editing your book like a reader. Some really good stuff in there that I wholeheartedly agree with. I may even find myself cutting out entire chapters, as I read my story more like a reader. Certain things are just extraneous and don’t need to be there. I might absolutely love them. But deep down I know they shouldn’t be there and you just have to kill your babies for the greater good.

I polish, polish and polish the story until I am satisfied with every aspect and feel I have explored every corner of the world without going off on unnecessary tangents. This can take several passes. Patience is a virtue.

Continued in Part 7: Final Notes

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