July 22, 2014

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 168



Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc.) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.

H Trope: Ghosts

Current Event: “To be a ghost in space, I expect you would have to die in space. There is a rumor that just before the Americans landed on the moon, the Soviets had a manned mission crash on the dark side. The cosmonauts died, and no one collected them or their rocket...”

Uiloq Chokim pursed her lips then said, “You know the advertising slogan for the old pre-D movie about some space mining ship that picks up an alien infestation?”

Lachlan Maposa squatted as much as he could in the surface suit to gather up the aluminized shroud. Flotsam and jetsam from the thirty-something annual Jules Verne Medallion Races dribbled down from the “race course” between the International Space Station Museum & Bed & Breakfast and the luxury orbital resort, Kubrick. He grunted as he stood back up and said, “Of course, ‘In space, no one can hear you freak out’.” He moved off in pursuit of another  piece of shroud, following a silvery fiber wending its way across the surface.

“No, stupid! It goes ‘In space, no one can hear you scream’. It was for the movie ALIEN. Late last century it was all the rage. Grandpa talks about it all the time.” She looked up to see him disappear around a lunar stone. “Are you listening to me?”
There was a long pause. She frowned. Then Lachlan said, “Good. Scream. Grandpa.”
She sighed. She was definitely thinking about breaking up with him. He wasn’t the worst boyfriend she’d ever had, but he sure wasn’t the brightest bulb in the Dome. Besides, she’d started to think that she was never going to make her fortune up here. Mineral rights were tied up by two dozen conglomerates and a handful of nations – the Moon looked like Antarctica had in Early Twen – so there was no way to get a job if you didn’t work for them. Service jobs were plentiful – clerks, programmers, stockers, teachers, and suitjockeys – but you needed licenses for that, too. It was the license that cost as much as a year’s apartment rent. She heard a gag on her headphones and said, “Lachlan?”

“What? Quit bugging me! I’ve got a good lead on a big strike, but I think I see another light over the horizon. It’s reflecting off the Dome Base.” He was panting. She should make them exercise more often. Especially since she was semi-planning to head back to Earth sometime soon. He suddenly spoke up, “Besides, it was a stupid movie. I zipped it once,” she heard the swish of the snoopy cap against the helmet rim. He continued, “Aliens! There aren’t any aliens in the universe, let alone on a backwater like the Moon.”

 “How can you know something like that?” she asked, irritated despite the fact that she agreed with him. “No one can know that!”

“Just like I’m supposed to believe in Lunar ghosts?”

Stung by the mocking tone of his voice, she snapped, “Two cosmonauts died in 1968 – almost a year before Aldrin and Armstrong. Their spirits inhabit the Moon! It’s a well-known fact!” One more nasty word from him, and she would break up with him here and now!

She opened her mouth to tell him just that when he shouted, “What...”

Names: ♀ Greenland, Kazakhstan ; ♂ Tasmania, Botswana

July 20, 2014

WRITING ADVICE: How Many Characters Does It Take To Make A Short Story Sing? Guy Stewart #4



In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote to the left will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

There’s lots of advice on this subject, offered by the famous, the infamous, the unknown, and the anonymous:

“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.” ― Neil Gaiman

“Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.” – Kurt Vonnegut

“...I'm a strong believer in telling stories through a limited but very tight third person point of view.” – George RR Martin

“...no hard and fast rules, but short stories can’t hold too many characters...If characters aren’t absolutely necessary, get rid of them…” – James Plath

“So take a look at your cast of characters and evaluate the purpose of each person in your story. How many of these characters are going play a part in the climax?... some characters serve no useful purpose and should be deleted altogether for the good of the book...the more streamlined your cast, the tighter and more powerful your story is likely to be.” – K.M. Weiland

“In short stories...the fewer the characters, the better...Most short stories thrive on 2 – 4 characters.” – A.J. Humpage

“...a short story doesn’t contain many characters. There is no need, or room, for large Dickensian ensembles. Two or three are usually more than sufficient...use enough characters to properly tell your story—not a single character more or a single character less.” – Scribendi

“Usually a short story focuses on one incident; has a single plot, a single setting, and a small number of characters; and covers a short period of time.” – Wikipedia

Good advice, certainly, but how have I incorporated it into my own writing?

Surveying my pro or semi-pro published science fiction, I find the following:

In stories of less than 2000 words, I find that three of them had two characters, the others each had one main character.

In stories with more than 2000 words, I find that ten of them had two characters, and three of them had two characters with either a significant minor character or changing minor characters.

Consensus appears to be that short stories (as defined by SFWA, a story of between 1000 and 7499 words) should have one, two, or three characters. I would add that only one of those characters should be fully developed; a second might be partially developed. Anything past that should be either a walk-on part or referred to as “the Captain” or “the other alien”.

What do you think?

PS: If you are a writer, you have to watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVo2ZRUWSdY

July 16, 2014

SERIOUS WRITERS WRITING AND ME READING AND COMMENTING!




WORKING WITH SERIOUS WRITERS WORKSHOP -- READING 10,000 WORDS A NIGHT AND COMMENTING AS MUCH AS I CAN! SO MY TIME FOR WRITING IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN THIS WEEK! SORRY!

July 13, 2014

A Slice of PIE: “If you want to write, write; otherwise shut up!”


http://static4.quoteswave.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/We-are-all-apprentices.jpg

At the speculative fiction convention I attended, a lot of people say a lot of things, some of which I attributed…some of which I did not.

I have no idea who said it.

On the other hand, if you Google the phrase, “Shut up and write”, over 55 million results appear. So the saying isn’t unique. It’s not even original. Perhaps the phrase has entered the realm of the dreaded cliché. I’m not sure.

I’m also not sure that this is good advice.

As one of the slush pile-reading-crew for the online magazine STUPEFYING STORIES, I take up position between the executive editor and the mountain of unsolicited manuscripts coming his way. This mountain is living proof that lots of people have followed the advice above. It’s just that out of the 250 manuscripts I’ve screened and ranked since starting to help, I’ve given out roughly twenty scores high enough to get more than a cursory read from the exec. If I ran a few paragraphs past you, you’d see how literally some people take the advice above, without a thought or care in the world.

That’s the problem. It seems to me that lots of people want to write, so they write. They just don’t think.

They don’t think about their idea. Worse still, they don’t google the idea to see if someone’s done it before. Let’s say I have this great idea for a story where it turns out that Adam and Eve were actually aliens or genetically engineered by aliens (the second idea is experiencing a renaissance at this time a la David Brin’s UPLIFT books). I want to write it, therefore, following the aphorism above to the letter; I do and I send it out to the wide world, confident that I’ll be taking the spec fic world by storm. If I had only paused to check however, I’d have found that 1.1 million websites mention this idea or expound on it. Unless the writer is incredibly skilled (or David Brin, himself), the story will not see the light of day – at least not on a site or in a magazine that has an editor.

Frustrated, the writer works their way down the list of magazines, submitting right and left, then without selling it, finally self-publishes on Amazon.com or with Smashwords or whatever. Maybe their story will take the spec fic world by storm. Odds are against it, however.

I propose to add a corollary to the aphorism. In mathematics, a corollary is “is a statement that follows readily from a previous statement...[and]if [it] can readily be deduced from A or is self-evident…The importance of the corollary is...secondary to that of the initial theorem…Sometimes a corollary has a proof that explains the derivation; sometimes the derivation is considered self-evident.”

The aphorism with my corollary then: “If you want to write, write; otherwise shut up. Corollary 1: Before you write, think.”

I believe that I would not have been subjected to many of the stories that came my way if the writer had paused to think about what they were writing. Once they started to think, they might have googled the idea to see if it had been done half a million times. While googling it, they may have gone on a tangent and had their idea intersect an entirely unrelated thought.

THAT may have produced a truly new idea they could use in a story that really would have taken the spec fic world by storm!

I’ll take a vote on appending the corollary. Any “nays”?

July 11, 2014

Missed Thursday Post


I am staying at Mom and Dad's place as Mom is getting a hip replacement.
They have dial up.
Need I say more?
Back to regular posts on Saturday/Sunday!

July 9, 2014

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 167


Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.

Fantasy Trope: Omniscient evil

Current Event: Evil Overlord List (http://www.eviloverlord.com/lists/overlord.html)

Chiyun Musyoka stood, staring at the castle in the distance.

Virgilijus Wirajuda looked at Chiy and said, “Really? How are we supposed to get in there?”

Chiy handed Virgi her tablet computer and tapped it. PETER’S EVIL OVERLORD LIST glowed to light again. He pressed his lips tightly together. They’d only gotten this far into the castle-owner’s lands by pretending to be brother and sister, though they’d been boyfriend and girlfriend since they were twelve. They were supposed to be visiting their elderly grandmother and had gotten lost in the woods. Virgi didn’t think they’d fooled Dread Master Buttercup, nor had he been able to figure out why the Dread had chosen such an absurd name. It made him want to laugh. The conspiracy group thought it meant he was cracked in the head. Virgi wasn’t so sure. The Dread seemed to be able to sense every move they made and counter it. The fact that the two of them had made it this far made him nervous. “Why are we here.”

“To destroy the Dread,” Chiy began.

“I know that part!” Virgi whispered. “Why are we trying to destroy him?”

Chiy smacked him on the side of the head. “Because he took the throne from the Royal family, stupid!”

“You can say that again,” Virgi muttered.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she shouted over the rumbling thunder. Lightning limned the Dread’s castle.

In the ringing silence, he said softly, “Armed robbery on the highways is down 48%; birth rates are up not that the Dread has started those local Midwife and Practical Sorcery Clinics and classes; and I heard that the farms using the Dread’s hybrid wheat and rye grass are headed for bumper crops. The land planted with sugarcane after the Dread ordered the destruction of the tobacco plantations is looking at nothing short of an agricultural revolution.

She slapped the back of his head, saying, “Dread kidnapped our parents and he’s left nothing but salt earth behind us as we got closer and closer to his malevolent castle!”

There was a flash of lightning as Chiy and Virgil’s bodies...

Image: http://unbconnect.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/lightening.jpg

July 6, 2014

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Four Tips To Drive Your Readers Wild…ly Into Your Story



I am currently reading a science fiction novel written by a multi-genre, multi-award-winning author. This author also writes fantasy, romance, media-tie-ins, collaborations, and mainstream novels.

This author also writes mysteries.

Her work is the absolute best there is (according to Locus Magazine: 2 Hugos, 1 World Fantasy Award, 2 Locus Awards, 1 Endeavour, 1 UPC, 1 Sidewise, Campbell New Writer Award, 1 AnLab Poll, 6 Asimov's Reader Polls, 2 HOMers, 1 Science Fiction Age Poll) – it is also a spectacular example of four tips or ideas I heard at DiversiCon 21, a convention that celebrates speculative fiction of all kinds.

The first idea was that all critical action has to happen on stage. I occasionally read mysteries and it’s always been clear to me that the clues that would allow the solution, are clearly laid out even though they may be veiled or easily misread. Mystery readers are trained from a young age to expect this. In a writing class I teach, we talk about writing fiction. I point out that most of the genre fiction sold is romance. But second on the list are mysteries. In magazines written for kids, you can almost guarantee that there will be a mystery in every issue – CRICKET, HIGHLIGHTS, HOPSCOTCH, BOY’S QUEST – all of them use mysteries to not only entertain, but to teach. Certain mysteries have a clear set-up and dénouement. Every ENCYCLOPEDIA BROWN mystery has the same structure. It’s almost boring, yet the books sell today, and were first published half a century ago! Donald J. Sobol’s last book was published in 2012. 50 million books have been sold – and there are still 7.5 million in print. My first sale to CRICKET was called, “Mystery On Space Station Courage”.

No matter how many times I read these or other mysteries, the author has to consider this idea, even if they break it on purpose. (In that case, the story is called “literarary” and it gets shelved somewhere else.) Everything of importance needs to happen “on stage”. Not only in mysteries, but in any genre fiction, and (for the most part), in literary fiction as well. Agree? Disagree? Why?

The second idea seems fundamental to all writing as well: make the reader wait. The entire world waited with bated breath and cash in hand to find out if Harry Potter ultimately defeated Voldemort. JK Rowling forced every single one of us to wait patiently as she built up the story line. The fact that the Harry Potter books were, at heart, mystery novels should make this advice self-explanatory. Outside of genre certainly, there are literary novels and experimental novels where the ending is revealed immediately. First person novels in which the main character “tells” the story are an exception to this rule, the main reason being that as soon as they say something like, “I only barely survived the sinking of the Titanic…”, you know the ending. They survived. Also, stories that begin with the hackneyed “Had I but known...” are a deliberate violation of this idea – though people still do it. Do you mind these kinds of books?

Third idea, the evidence should always be there is a reflection of both of the ideas above and involves respecting your reader. For example, most websites that offer writing advice will tell you not to end your story with, “and I woke up from the dream”. Information that you need to create an image in your mind as you read is withheld from the first page of the story and not revealed until the last – and you have no hint whatever that what is happening didn’t happen at all. Your mental image of what’s happening does NOT include the main character snoring in his or her sleep-messed bed. While I read fiction as an “escape” from the humdrum of daily life, I also expect that it will reflect daily life. I especially don’t like to be tricked when I read. Real life has enough surprises without adding a writer who deliberately keeps stuff from me. OTOH, some people like to be tricked. You?

Last of all, give the reader a PAYOFF at the end. It doesn’t have to be spectacular, but it has to be satisfying. HIDDEN IN SIGHT is a novel by Julie Czerneda that I finished a few days ago. The last book in a trilogy, it concluded by tying together several events from the previous books as well as concluding the novel itself. It also reconciled characters to each other and allowed for the fulfillment of a secondary character’s long-held dream. For me it was perfect. Another example, this time from a scriptwriter of the popular TV series, “Bones” called “The Proof In The Pudding”, involves the Jeffersonian team and an assignment to find the cause of death of – but not the identity of – a set of bones. When it becomes clear that they are the remains of John F. Kennedy and there appears to be evidence that he was murdered by not one but two killers and that Booth is facing a crisis of faith in the US government, Brennan misleads everyone but Cam into believing that the remains are not JFK’s. It’s not what I expected, but the payoff was extremely satisfying for me because it preserved a relationship as well as left the issue open ended. What kind of payoff do you expect in a story?

Because these ideas match my expectations as a READER, I use them as a writer. How about you?

July 3, 2014

LOVE IN A TIME OF ALIEN INVASION #18


http://www.blogcdn.com/slideshows/images/slides/127/397/5/S1273975/slug/l/filmscape-120626-showandtell-0250-nomatt-rs-1.jpg

The Cold War between the Kiiote and the Yown’Hoo has become a shooting war.  On Earth, there are three Triads one each in Minneapolis, Estados United; Pune, India; and Harbin, China. Protected by the Triad Corporation, they intend to integrate not only the three peoples and stop the war that threatens to break loose and slaughter Humans and devastate their world.; but to stop the war that consumes Kiiote economy and Yown’Hoo moral fiber. The Yown’Hoo know about the extra-Universe Braider, aliens whose own “civil war” mirrors the Cold War. The Braiders accidentally created a resonance wave that will destroy the Milky Way and the only way to stop it is to physically construct a sort of membrane that will produce a canceling wave – generated from the rim of the Galaxy inward. The Braiders don’t DO physical stuff on that scale – the Yown’Hoo-Kiiote-Human Triads may be their only chance of creating a solution. The merger of Human-Kiiote-Yown’Hoo into a van der Walls Society may produce a stability capable of launching incredible expansion, creativity, longevity and wealth – and building the Membrane to stop the wave.

The young experimental Triads are made up of the smallest primate tribe of Humans –two; the smallest canine pack of Kiiote – six; and the smallest camelid herd of Yown’Hoo – a prime eleven. On nursery farms and ranches away from the TC cities, Humans have tended young Yown’Hoo and Kiiote in secret for decades, allowing the two warring people to reproduce and grow far from their home worlds. Grendl, Manitoba is one such place. No one but the Triad Company has ever heard of it and the physical plant goes by the unobtrusive name of Organic Prairie Dairy.

The city Triads never hear of anything they aren’t spoon fed in their luxury worlds and have heard only rumors of the farms and ranches. Surrounded by a Humanity that has degenerated into a “duck-and-cover” society as the Big Boys fight their war, the Triads don’t care about anything but their own lives. Oblivious, cocooned, manipulated, they have no idea that their privileges are about to be violently curtailed and all of their biology ransacked for the correct Membrane pattern. (update: 5/2/2014)

Lieutenant Commander Patrick Bakhsh (ret) burst out laughing and jumped out of the truck.

“What’s so funny?” I cried after him, then scrambled to follow.

A moment later something rolled out of the darkness. I had no idea what it was, but Commander Bakhsh ran up to it and pounded on the door. “The man is insane,” I said.

The rumbling dropped off a bit and I finally got a good look at the thing. At the back was a cylinder with a wide pipe sticking out of its top. Steam floated from it, hissing like it was water on a hot pan – I’m the group chef, so I’ve cooked since I was a little kid – and it rode on a flat bed, barely clearing the ceiling of the parking garage. It rode on six tires, rubber, but with spoked wheels. The forward part of the thing was split between a pilot’s seat that could be covered with some sort of top, and a box behind it that looked to be a little lower the one everyone was riding in. By ‘pilot seat’, I mean it was a contraption that looked like it could be bent and folded to accommodate a Human, Kiiote, or Yown’Hoo driver. From the box a ramp suddenly stuck out like a tongue and a Herd mother and a Kiiote with so much gray fur it looked white loped and clattered down.

Painted on the side, under the silhouette of a white barn on a dark green field, were the words, ORGANIC PRAIRIE FARMS.

Commander Bakhsh went from the Human pilot to the other two and greed them, sniffing the Kiiote’s backside and letting it do the same to him; and butting heads with the Herd mother. He looked back at me and said, “Let everyone out.”

“What?”

He laughed, the Kiiote yipped, and the Herd mother rolled her head back then spat on the floor. They all must have thought I was the Commander’s court jester. Blushing furiously, I ran to the back of the truck and opened the doors, grabbing the handle that would pull the ramp out. Instead, I found myself staring up at a mad Human girl, a couple of snarling Kiiote pack leaders, and an irritated Herd mother and a salivating, horny Herd father. I held up both hands, cleared my throat, and shook my booty to calm them down. I said, “I didn’t have anything to do with this!”

Kashayla jumped down and grabbed the ramp handle from me, glaring as she extended it and almost dropped it on my feet. “You’ve been stupid before, Oscar, but this time? I think you get a new prize.”

“What did I do?” I tried to say. I hate it when I whine.

Qap and Xurf had both rearranged their form to quadruped and said, “You are by far the stupidest Human we have ever met. We will never get that wretched stench out of our nostrils!” Xurf raised a leg to mark me, but I dodged. A moment later, they both stretched up into their bipedal forms. It’s creepy to watch, but I can never help myself as they crouched as one, shoulders down, tails in the air. Pushing up from the ground, they stood and I could see bones moving under fur and muscle. Each one straightened its neck with a snap, shrugging the shoulders back at the same time stretching the arms out straight at me, wriggling four skinny fingers. Two others unfolded from farther up the forearm. Long-clawed, they were opposable and matched with two fingers each. Chest muscles stretched tighter and the neck appeared more rigidly held than a Human one, tilting the head and neck forward where it swung side-to-side, nostrils on the muzzle twitching. The facial skin pulled tighter, stretching the lips back to reveal a carnivore’s teeth and more of the orbis of the eye.
In the rear legs, end toes splayed widely forward, ankle and lower leg straightened to lock into a tibia-fibula arrangement. The upper leg and pelvis flared, but the upper leg remained forward bent rather than Human vertical, giving both of them the impression of coiled springs.
There were no external genitalia I could see, but I knew that made babies like Humans do. But all of them suddenly started snorffling in excitement.

Dao-hi was dignified as usual, but I felt more snubbed by her than by any of the rest of them. Especially after she kicked Nah-hi in the face when he started pawing her – it’s what Herd males do when they get nervous. They want to have sex. The opposite of me, though I’m pretty sure I’ll have to be a Catholic celibate the rest of my natural life. At least the way things are going right now. Dao-hi though, abruptly lifted her head and instead of spitting, sniffed the air and let her eyes go terror-wide.
Me and Shay had to scramble out of the way while the Herd and Pack stampeded through us. By the time we reached them at the foot of the car-thing, Qap and Xurf’s Pack were laying on the floor, bellies up in front of the white-haired Kiiote. Dao-hi and her Herd were kneeling at the feet and leaning on the legs of the almost black Herd matron.

Shay looked at me then at Commander Bakhsh and said, “So, should we be bowing down to you, too?”

He snorted then said, “No need to bow, a simple nod of the head will do.” She opened her mouth to reply and he held up a finger, “And not questioning me ever again.”

Her eyes bugged and she said, “Never?”

He pursed his lips then said, “You can question me as long as you never question Admiral Mnar Ile-ijsin.” The truck driver pulled back her hood and bowed slightly.

I was speechless, but Shay fell to her knees. She had every right to, I guess, because we were talking with a ghost of a Human woman who had both commanded the All Earth Defense Fleet and died spectacularly and very publicly when the Kiiote and Yown’Hoo had blown a hole through the same Fleet as they’d invaded Earth.

July 1, 2014

IDEAS ON TUESDAYS 166


http://fc07.deviantart.net/fs70/i/2012/160/f/4/tom_riddle_transforms_by_richard67915-d52uzus.png

Each Tuesday, rather than a POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY, I'd like to both challenge you and lend a helping hand. I generate more speculative and teen story ideas than I can ever use. My family rolls its collective eyes when I say, "Hang on a second! I just have to write down this idea..." Here, I'll include the initial inspiration (quote, website, podcast, etc) and then a thought or two that came to mind. These will simply be seeds -- plant, nurture, fertilize, chemically treat, irradiate, test or stress them as you see fit. I only ask if you let me know if anything comes of them.

Fantasy Trope: dark lord


Maximiliano Mamami glared at the tombstone and said, “This isn’t it.”

Jade Grimsdôttir stood with her arms crossed over her chest and said, “What did you expect.” She reached to one of the notes, tugging it free of a crevice. She’d seen only one word: “idiots”. Unfolding it, she read a rude, crass, sneering note to idiots. Idiots just like her best friend, Max. “Maybe we should go...”

Instead, he was kneeling, reaching out to place both hands on the headstone. “Shhh…”

“Max, magic is just a fiction…”

“I’m not here for magic – except the psychological kind.”

Jade frowned and said, “What do you mean?”

He leaned farther until his forehead pressed against the stone. Roughened to near gravel, sharp, and deadly, Jade gasped when he jerked to one side, gouging his forehead. Blood smeared the tombstone and he groaned as he leaned back on his heels. From the head cuts, the blood dripped down, into his eyes until it ran to his cheeks and down his neck.

“What’s that supposed to do?” Jade shouted. Standing, she swung her backpack to the ground, kneeling and opening it. She pulled out her first aid kit and opened it. “Come here.”

“No!”

Jade frowned, “What are you trying to…”

He slapped the tombstone. “You think me an idiot?” Jade flushed and tossed the note behind her, shaking her head. “I know there’s no ‘dark lord’ here. There’s no Tom Riddle – leastwise not one from the movies – but this is the tombstone of the man who inspired the Rowling to use the name in her books. This is his origin and you can’t deny that there are a billion people who believe that Voldemort is real – if not physically, then in spirit. I am going to give my blood to the idea. I’m going to pour as much of my blood on to this tombstone as I can and hope that it’s enough!” He turned and rammed his face into the tombstone again, this time embracing it as if it were his girlfriend, dragging his arms over the rough surface, lacerating his skin until his living blood began to run down its sides.

“Enough for what?” Jade cried.

Heat lightning flashed overhead. Enough to reveal Max standing up, pulling his T-shirt over his head and leaning back against the stone, rubbing against it. He staggered to her, falling at her feet, grabbing hold of her leg with a hand slippery with blood. He looked up and said, “To become the first real, psychic incarnation of the Dark Lord, Voldemort.”

Names: ♀France, Iceland; Chile, Niger
Image:

June 29, 2014

WRITING ADVICE: Have a Plan – Guy Stewart #3





In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote to the left will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

In the writing class I teach to gifted young people during the summer, we had an interesting discussion.

Keeping in mind that young people – in particular many highly motivated (you can read that “obsessive”!) gifted kids – live life FAST. They’re intrigued by the ideas they’re exposed to and then barrel ahead, gung-ho! to achieve success.

I introduced my class to twitter fiction and four or five of them took off. They produced “stories” of 140 characters and after I introduced them to the market, Nanoism (http://nanoism.net/) and fired them off. One of them got a rejection three hours later...

Not one of them thought that plotting a story – even a story as short as 140 characters – was something they had to consider. I also “forced” the class to write poetry the very first day and the same thing happened. No plan. No drafts. Just bang out a piece and bring it up to me for perusal.

Part of the problem is that I hadn’t really considered plotting my twitter fiction until recently. Not being a poet, I never ONCE thought that a writer had to plan, plot, and draft a poem. I knew that it was a matter of word choice. I knew it was a matter of expression.

I just never applied the “P” word to those two genres.

I should have known because writing stories for kids at magazines like HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN, LADYBUG, and SPIDER is an exercise in writing flash fiction – and I’ve stories in the upper aged magazines of the CRICKET family. My first professional publication in ANALOG was a 400 word flight of fancy called “Absolute Limits” for a department they call “Probability Zero”. My most recent semi-pro sale was to PERIHELION SCIENCE FICTION – and was a mere 1300 words (set to appear in the July 12, 2014 update of the magazine – you can read it by following the link above once it’s up!)

While I didn’t spend hours, days, and weeks plotting the short fiction – which I did when I wrote the two novels I have waiting at MUSE IT UP PUBLISHING (https://museituppublishing.com/) – I did draw out what I call a circle plot. Keeping the story on one page has become a standard exercise for me now.

Starting with the opening incident on the top left of a sheet of paper, I describe what happens in ten words or less. This leads to the next incident, then the next. In writing a novel, I do the same thing for each chapter AFTER I have the overall plot of the entire novel. Doing this has allowed me to write at least four novels: VICTORY OF FISTS, HEIRES OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES, CARNIVORE’S DEBT, and the very first drafts of two others.

However – that doesn’t mean I’m not open to a new methodology. I have started to sketch out my next science fiction novel, tentatively called GROWING EXOTICS. That probably needs to change, but we’ll see.

So – what are you? A plotter or someone who simply lets the story grow in whatever direction it needs to?