On Consistency

Okay, so I'm in that stage of writing where things have to be consistent. Not only plot items, but character relationships, reactions, world-building items, the full monty. And it's not just in a single book, but through an entire series, with one book which is completely unchangeable.

Let's define. Consistency: agreement, harmony, or compatibility, especially correspondence or uniformity among the parts of a complex thing.

I know, you're running scared. You should be. Because novels are COMPLEX THINGS. I think consistency is the hardest part of an author's job. We need our characters to act a certain way in a certain situation, but then we need them to do the opposite later on. That can't really happen, unless the arc the character has gone through is pretty big.

And in my novels, that's not the case. I'm a self-proclaimed "discovery writer" so I often have major consistency issues in my drafts. As I'm editing, I've devised a system to help me organize the chaos and achieve consistency.

The highlighter tool. It may seem lame, but I like all those pretty colors. I pick a color for language of a specific character and I highlight it. It's super-easy to check for overuse and consistency; simply make the zoom 20% and you can see 20 pages at a time to see if the color appears too much or not enough.

I repeat this highlighting process for relationships. Do they start and end the same way? If not, why not? Is the arc sufficient to support the change? If so--and that was the goal--yay!

I use the highlighter for many different aspects, but mainly to alert myself to things that need to stay consistent.

How do you stay consistent?

Documentary Inspirations

Some people are inspired by art, others by music. Me, I’m a documentary junkie. And one of my favorite ways to get into the writing frame of mind is to watch a good one or three. (I’ve been known to binge.) The best ones not only tell a good story but they challenge the way you think about things—and may even piss you off.  (Or make you marvel, depending on the subject matter.)

Here’s a couple recent faves:

Waste Land (2010)
Waste Land follows renowned artist Vik Muniz as he journeys from his home base in Brooklyn to his native Brazil and the world's largest garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. There he photographs an eclectic band of "catadores" -- or self-designated pickers of recyclable materials.  Not only are the setting and people are fascinating (and heartbreaking), but the artist realizes (about half way through the process) that what he’s doing irrevocably changes his subjects.

WASTE LAND Official Trailer from Almega Projects on Vimeo.

Parking Lot Movie (2010)
Over the course of three years, the filmmaker chronicles the lives of the attendants working at a parking lot near the campus of the University of Virginia.  These disaffected asphalt philosophers wrestle with their place in the world in a very well-to-do college town.

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
This is the story of how an eccentric French shop keeper and amateur film maker attempted to locate and befriend Banksy, only to have the artist turn the camera back on its owner with spectacular results.

And here’s a few old stand-bys that always get my creative ire flowing:

The Corporation (2003)
The documentary examines the modern-day corporation, considering its legal status as a class of person and evaluating its behavior towards society and the world at large as a psychiatrist might evaluate an ordinary person.

Four Little Girls (1997)
Spike Lee’s masterful documentary about the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963.  The genius part of this documentary is that Lee tells the story of the civil rights movement through the lives of the four young girls killed in the bombing.

The Up Series (7 up through 49 up)
In 1963, director Michael Apted made a deceptively simple documentary, 7 Up, for Britain’s Grenada Television. He interviewed a handful of seven-year-olds from a cross section of British classes.  The film's hook was the old Jesuit saying, "Show me the child until seven, and I will show you the man."  Then every seven years Apted returned to interview the same kids (and then adults). The series concluded with 49 Up in 2007.

Any favorite documentaries? What are your inspirations?

Very Superstitious

So I got to thinking about my writing process the other day. You know, the whole pantser vs. plotter thing.

With my last two books I started writing as soon as I had two things: a general idea of where I was heading and a strong opening image. That's it. Well, I'm just now starting my 3rd book and for various reasons that wasn't going to fly this time around. This time I needed to do a good bit of planning on the story, including writing a full synopsis, before I wrote the first actual word of the manuscript. Needless to say this caused me a bit of anxiety. It doesn't take too much to get those writerly hobgoblins going. You know the ones, the conniving voices in the back of your head that are always trying to convince you you can't really write.

"This isn't the way you do things," they say. "You need the process of discovery. If you abandon the process that got you here you're screwed."

But the more I thought about it the more it seemed like sometimes the things we tell ourselves about what we need to do in order to write a book--I must write 1st drafts longhand while drinking this brand of coffee out of this mug. I can only write in the mornings. I need to plan every detail. If I plan anything I'm sunk!--aren't all that different from going out of your way to avoid walking under ladders and staying out of the black cat's path. Common superstitions. 

Now, I'll cop to being a pretty superstitious guy so I know that the thing about superstitions is that they can be incredibly comforting. They help us convince ourselves that there's order to the universe, that we maybe even have some kind of control over uncontrollable things. If I do this, the universe reacts this way.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with being comforted and maybe in some way believing in the reality of these things can be helpful. If you really believe you need that coffee mug then maybe having it calms something in you that helps you write. That's all well and good, but the thing is one day the cat is going to knock that mug off the table and it's going to break and you're still going to need to get up and write the next day. Just like one day an avowed pantser is going to be in a situation when they just have to plan it out first. The show must go on!

I guess I'm trying to remind myself that my habits and rituals and usual ways of working can be good and helpful but I have to beware of becoming dependent on them, of defining my process into a corner I can't get out of

How about you all? Any good writing superstitions to share?

Drafting in the fast lane...

With copy edits completed on TRUTH (the sequel to XVI), and another book with my editor (fingers crossed!), I'm back in drafting mode. Drafting mode, at least for me, is quite similar to NaNoWriMo. Or perhaps I should say it was, until I discovered Scrivener.

I love my Scrivener! I do! But, it has suddenly organized me in a way with which I am not familiar. Okay... maybe it's just organized me & I am not familiar with organization! (Yeep! Little truths leak out!)

Now, instead of scribbled post-its stuck to my computer, the wall, the dog, the cats, tea cups, and water bottles -- I have an actual area within my main document where I can put notes, names (so I don't forget who I called what), research, and other pertinent data. This kind of organization is shocking to me! Instead of three composition books (and I can never remember which has what notes in it) full of backstory, motivation, and description... well, it's all just a mouse click away - while I'm actually writing on the draft!

Right now my Scrivener document looks like this...

Main Document
Prologue 1
New Chap 1
New Chap 2
New Chap 3


Unbelievable! I can be writing away and forget what so-and-so's family name is. I click on Characters - and - Ta Da! There's the name!

This is like going from a manual to an automatic transmission! (Altho' I love me my little 5-speed!) My goal is 2500 words a day until this 1st draft is finished. And - I think I'm gonna make it!

How do you get through those first drafts? Any tricks or methods that you find work really well for you? Or is each book different? I'd love to know! I'm ready to take notes!

Doctor Who Trailer!

I....am going to cop-out today. It's been a rough weekend! But one thing I *would* like to show you all is the new Doctor Who trailer! If you've not been watching the show....you should. There's no two ways about it; it's the best show on television right now. And if you *have* been watching the show, yay! Also: I'm planning, I think, a whole Who week on my blog soon, once I get my act together...

Writing Tips: Knowing When To Fold 'Em

Today, I'm going to start with a quote: "It's not wise to violate rules until you know how to observe them."
~T. S. Eliot

I think that any writer who spends any amount of time trying to improve themselves as a writer has heard/read some rules. You have, right?

You've been in classes, attended conferences, bought books on character and craft, maybe even read a few thousand industry blogs. The "rules" for good writing and good storytelling could fill the ocean.

For me, it's knowing when to hold 'em, and when to fold 'em.

I like this quote by T.S. Eliot because it reminds me that I do need to know the rules before I go about breaking them. Do I observe proper grammar? Hold--most of the time. Do I avoid all flashbacks? Fold--heck to the no.

As an author, we need to have adequate practice time. I have entire novels that were purely for practice. A regimen to learn the rules, so to speak. Now, when I write (and it's not for practice, because I still do that), I have to decide when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. I have to rely on my previous experience, and I have to know what kind of writer I am.

When I do that, then I know which writing rules I should keep and which ones I should release.

What about you? Are you still holding tightly to all the rules? Or have you been folding a few hands recently?

Writings Tips: Neil Gaiman's 8 Good Writing Practices

As I may have said before, I suck at writing tips. So, this time I'm sharing Neil Gaiman's "8 Good Writing Practices."

  1. Write.
  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  3. Finish what you're writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
  4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
  5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
  6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
  7. Laugh at your own jokes.
  8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.
Number 5 is my favorite.  Pay attention when something doesn't work for someone, but you have to find your own way to fix it.

In general, I like Neil Gaiman's tips because they're so straightforward. He saying they're no real secrets to writing. None that matter, that is. 

Check out other writers' tips in this Guardian article.  Let us know if you have any other favorites!

Writing Tips: Seeing the Moon for the First Time

“Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov

For some reason ever since I read this quote it keeps coming back to me in that head-slapping "Of course!" sort of way. There's the obvious encouragement to show not tell in there, but it also seems like there's a bit more bundled up into that sentence.

I think one of the things that writers struggle against is the fact that it's all been said before. A thousand writers have described a thousand moons.  We've described it--and many other things--so much that the descriptions have little meaning anymore. We skip over them thinking, "Right. Moon in the sky. Got it."  It's like a word you repeat so many times that it loses it's meaning. 

What's the purpose of description anyway? Certainly, description for description's sake is meaningless, isn't it? Who cares if there is or isn't a moon in the sky when a scene happens? The literal presence of the moon doesn't matter, what matters is how your description of the moon enhances a scene's mood or action, or metaphorical weight. So if the way we write about the moon causes readers to skip over it  without considering it or feeling it, then the moon means nothing, its just there.

To get around that we need to surprise the reader. We need to make them see the moon in a different way, from a different angle, so that it will mean something to them again, so it won't just be background. In a way, we have to trick readers into really seeing the moon again.

This reminds me of a story I read not long ago (I'd cite it, if only I could remember who said it) about the usefulness of that strange lamppost the Pevensie children encounter sitting out in the middle of the woods in the Narnia books. This writer said that one of the functions of that lamppost was that the strangeness of its presence shocks us out of our familiarity with a forest scene and makes us see it fresh. Again, an unexpected detail, like the moon reflected in broken glass, can make us see familiar things like they're new again.

To dip into my theatre nerd background for a second, this is something like what playwright Bertolt Brecht called the "alienation effect" or the "defamiliarization effect." Brecht wrote that this involved "stripping an event of its self-evident, familiar, obvious quality and creating a sense of astonishment and curiosity about it".

Isn't that what we all want to do? Create "a sense of astonishment and curiosity" that will shake people out of their routine and make them see and consider familiar things in new ways?  

Writing Tips - Day 2 - Drawered Manuscripts

Funny how terms don't always change as fast as the times - and, at other times change at lightning speed! Used to be that writers had a drawer (or drawers!) full of uncompleted, unedited, and/or in other ways unpublishable manuscripts. Now I think those mostly reside on hard drives, thumb drives, and other electronic storage devices. Today's writing tip is about what to do with all those languishing tomes.

First of all - some deserve to languish. Admit it & move on. Those are baby steps on the way to learning to walk. Good to remember, but now you've more or less 'got' the idea of how to motor along.

Then again, there are those whose ideas just won't let you go. They nag you, tug at your thoughts when you least expect it. It might be the setting, the plot, or one or more of the characters - but, something in the story won't let you go.

My tips is to allow yourself some time to noodle whatever portion of said manuscript keeps coming to you. At some point, maybe in a journaling session, maybe while driving in your car, cooking dinner, taking a shower... or maybe while you're daydreaming -- it will come to you exactly where and how to make it work.

You may end up changing POV, setting, going from YA to MG or vice versa - but you might resurrect the bones of that manuscript into a beautiful, living story. Or, perhaps it won't be the story itself - but a character, a plot point, the location, interactions, motivation - something will prove to be invaluable in a completely different story. And, you'll be grateful you didn't trash the whole thing and forget about it completely.

Got any "drawered manuscripts" that are still calling your name?

Writing Week: My Best Tips

There's a lot of advice out there. I think I've read it all at some point or another, and I've found that my mind filters out most of it--it tends to either be too simple (well, obviously, I would read over my manuscript before submitting it) or something that may work for someone, but not for me (it really doesn't help me to read my manuscript aloud, but I know a lot of people like it).

But while I read a lot of writing advice and shake my head, thinking it just won't work, there one thing that I've heard about from others that somehow really stuck with me.

The first came from a sci fi writer. I want to say that it was an article about someone who wrote for Star Trek, but honestly, I can't remember where it came from. When I first read it, I remember thinking, Huh, that's not bad, but not thinking that it was very useful advice. But since that time, it's a bit of advice that I constantly use while writing, something very invaluable and influential on my own writing.

In the article, the writer said: Don't say the door opened. Say the door zipped open.

The point was, the writer was trying to show that the setting was science fiction. You don't need pages of description of everything little thing the characters see. If you make the small things into something that naturally shows the setting, the world will seem more believable from the start.

This is such an innocuous piece of advice that I didn't even note where I first read it--but now, whenever I'm working on a manuscript and start working on setting, I think to myself: "make the door zip open." I try to incorporate the setting in tiny, natural ways rather than just a paragraph of info dump.

There's a lot of advice out there--and you, quite simply, can't use it all. But sometimes you don't know what piece of advice will really effect you! I certainly dismissed this when I first read it....and now I don't write without it!

What's a piece of advice that you didn't think was helpful but ended up being very significant?

We Are Going To Steal ... The Moon!

Okay, so I've always been fascinated with the moon. The other heavenly bodies in our solar system. Outer space. I enjoy thinking about it, about going there, maybe walking on the moon.

But I don't read a lot of science fiction that involves the moon. Sure, I've seen Jupiter and some outer planet moons or whatnot. But I'm hungry for a good story about the moon.

I can watch Apollo 13 over and over; I think a lot of us can. I think the moon holds a mystery over us because it is so dangerous to go there, because it's somewhere we've never been, and somewhere we can't really fully imagine. I want a book that will take me there.

And I liked FEED, but it's not *really* about the moon. (It is however, a superb book.) So yeah. Is there a book out there that is really about the moon?

What kind of science fiction are you hungry for right now?

Is it YA or MG?

Before the 4th, we were discussing differences between MG and YA rites of passage, which led me to ponder the differences between the two age groups in general.  (In case you’re wondering, I’m torn between making my current WIP MG or YA.)  So I Googled and came across many posts enumerating the differences.  Here are two of the main ones:

(1)  Age of target audience and/or protagonist—but not always.

Middle grade usually includes ages 8-12-ish; young adult includes 13 and up.  However, some publishers may target tweens (10-12).  And as a rule, kids like to read up. That is, the reader likes to read about older protagonists.

However, the division is more complicated than that. Just because the protag is a certain age (let’s say 11), doesn’t mean it’s MG—and not all middle grade (or young adult) fiction features a hero of the same age as the reader.

(2)   Focus.

Eleven-year-olds and seventeen-year-olds have very different concerns.  Middle graders are more focused on outward things—friends, family, belonging to a group, etc. Young adult heroes are more inwardly focused on issues like identity.

Other lists talk about differences in word counts, darkness, and subject matter complexity.  However, most of these—in my opinion—seem like generalizations (for lack of a better word) rather than actual differences. There are many fantastic middle grade exceptions to all of  these. The Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is 870 pages long. Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book is about a boy with a murdered family living among the dead.  Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is a complex middle grade fantasy that’s ultimately about the nature of God and the universe. 

What do you guys think? What are the main differences between YA and MG as you see it? 

(btw, I still haven't decided about the WIP. Guess I'll know when I get farther into it! )

Writers' Groups

Been thinking about writers' groups lately. See, I don't really come from a fiction background. Pretty much all my schooling in writing is connected to theater so consequently pretty much all the writers I know personally are in theater. I love my playwright friends, and all my fiction friends on the web, of course but I do think it would be nice to create a strong group of fiction writers.

So I got to thinking about just what I would want out of this theoretical group. Here are my thoughts so far:

It should involve a diverse group of writers: I mean this in all ways possible, gender, race, age, etc, but also I'd hope to have a group of people writing very different kinds of books. If you're a literary writer I don't know if it makes sense to spend your time talking only to other literary writers of a sci-fi writer talking to only other sci-fi writers. The only caveat I would make is that it probably makes sense that everyone in the group is more or less in the same place career wise. I think people at the beginning of their careers are likely have very different needs than people who are more established. 

What happens in the group stays in the group: One of the biggest benefits to a writing group, I think,  would be building up a base of trusting relationships with other writers. People you can talk frankly with about the industry, career, your book, other people's books, all of that, and know it stays in the group.

It should be relatively small: 10 people? Less? That sound right? I've always been a "small circle of close friends" kind of guy rather than a "wide circle of acquaintances" kind of guy. I just think you can go into more depth with a small group.

I should be the least talented person involved: To me this is the scariest but maybe most important qualifier. I was at ALA recently and was surrounded at the Scholastic events by writers who are much farther along in their careers and better writers than me by far. It was incredibly humbling but an invaluable experience. You want to surround yourself by people you can aspire to, who will push you at he same time they're supporting you.

It should involve wine. Or cookies. Or both: I doubt this needs any explanation.

So those are my thoughts so far. What about you all? Are you in writer's groups? What do you think is key to a good one? What do you do in yours?

Running late...

Whew! Just got back from a whirlwind vacay in Port Townsend, WA. I am completely discombobulated - coming from beautiful 60+ degree, humidity-free weather to 90+ degrees & 110% humidity weather. *dripping, wilting, gasping*

All I have for you today is what I think is one of the best taglines to an article that I've ever seen...

Now, there's a plan! What do you think?


So, I recently jumped on the latest social networking bandwagon (big surprise there) and joined Google+. If you've not heard of it, don't worry: it really is brand new, and it's still in beta testing now. You're not behind the times.

Basically, Google+ is Facebook, but not Facebook. It's definitely more integrated than other social networks, though: it picks up on contacts through GMail, and it encourages you to have a deeper interaction with select friends (in "Circles").

It's more streamlined, and has greater privacy controls than Facebook, which I like. But I've been thinking about the Google corporation lately and...

It's getting to be a bit huge, no?

Don't get me wrong. I love my Google Overlords. GMail is amazing, I adore Blogger, and Google is an active verb in my life. Right now I look at all Google offers and think it makes my life simpler and more organized and better managed.

But all this makes me wonder...when is too much, too much? At what point does social networking become an invasion of privacy? Of course there are a lot of different ways to measure this, and maybe I've been reading too much dystopia lately, but I keep thinking of how easy it is to let a little more of ourselves slip online.

All of this reminds me of the famous TS Eliot quote: "This is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper."

That said, Google, G+ is pretty cool and I hope the Google Overlords don't attack me.

Happy Fourth of July!

We here at the League are going to take the week of the fourth off to celebrate America's Independence Day!

Hope you all have a fantastic week!

New Technology

This announcement was made this week: For the first time, scientists at IBM Research have demonstrated that a relatively new memory technology, known as phase-change memory (PCM), can reliably store multiple data bits per cell over extended periods of time.

This significant improvement advances the development of low-cost, faster and more durable memory applications for consumer devices, including mobile phones and cloud storage, as well as high-performance applications, such as enterprise data storage.

With a combination of speed, endurance, non-volatility and density, PCM can enable a paradigm shift for enterprise IT and storage systems within the next five years.
(Full story here.)

Which led me to thinking: What new technologies will we see over the next five years? Ten years?

Also, which technological gadget would you like to see now?
As for me, I'd love to get my hands on the technology to teleport. Think how much time you could save in commuting!