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?

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