Category Archives: Craft of Writing

My Writing Projects – Short Story World Building and Revision

For those of you interested in my fiction writing, I thought I would post an update on what I am currently working on.

At the moment I am focusing a bit on short fiction. As you might have seen from a previous post, I have gone back to a story I started a while ago, but didn’t finish – and I’m trying to work out how to best revise that.

I am also working on the background of another short story – a fantasy piece about an old Wizard who has forgotten his spells. For this story, I decided to really invest in doing more world-building and character development than I might normally do for a short story. I am almost treating that side of as if it was a novel – although it won’t have as many characters as a novel and some aspects of the world don’t need to be as fully fleshed out – for instance I am only focusing on one country and two main cultures. A lot of the work so far has been working out the magic system – as that’s the main crux of the story.

That’s meant I have made much slower progress than I might normally when writing a short story – I’m probably spending about an hour a day on it and its taken me a few weeks so far just to get most of the world-building done! But I have enjoyed it and I am interested to see if the work I have done adds richness to the story – will it all have been worth it?

I also have to get on and edit the 3rd part of Stonehearted. Hopefully that should be out for the autumn. Check out  By the Sword’s Edge and By Fire and Sword for the first two installments. If you like medieval action and adventure, I think you’ll really like them.

That’s it from me – I’m also writing a one player D&D adventure for a friend – might post that online at some point too!

(The Picture above is Witchcraft (Allegory of Hercules)  by Dosso Dossi (1490-1542).

Fixing a Broken Story – Helix Intercalculator

I am sure most writers have stories kicking around that they have either not finished or are not happy with publishing. Something about those stories went a bit wrong – the premise was not exciting enough, the characters didn’t engage the writer, and the story just petered out – or if you struggled to the finish, you thought “hmm – this ain’t right – I’ll do something else”.

I have some stories like that. One short story that I was writing set in my fantasy world of Ladmas, had quite a few words written – over 5,000, so in theory should have been pretty much written, but in reality the first draft was far from complete. So I went back recently to take another look at it to see if I could just get it done, edited and then submitted for publication.

The story in question is called “Helix Intercalculator.” The weird title isn’t relevant to this post, nor is the detail of the story so I won’t explain it here – perhaps one day it will be available for publication!
But I thought it might be helpful for other writers for me to explain how I went about trying to fix the story – in fact I’m only in the early stages of that – so I think this will be part one of two or more posts looking at how that process went.

Here’s what I did

1. I read the story again.

Pretty simple! But how you read a story when editing is quite important. It really depends on what kind of editing you need to do. To start with I wanted to remind myself of what the story was about and try to work out what I needed to do to finish it. To start with I didn’t realise that it was a bit broken as it was.
I started making corrections of word-choice and typos as I read, but I decided that I actually wasn’t engaged in the story – there was something wrong with it. So I left the red pen for making other comments instead rather than replacing words.

2. Thought about the story as a reader

Once I got out of detailed editing mode this was a bit easier. I thought about the story from the point of view of a reader. Did the story make sense – what was missing? Did I engage with the characters? Was it boring or exciting? If so which bits of the story fell into those categories.

3. Making decisions on what’s wrong with the story

This is really all about judgment and I think quite important to getting revision right. Some people will say just write and don’t worry about revision. Others will apply lots of different methods to revising and editing a story – I think as a writer and editor you have to pretty decisive about what you feel does and doesn’t work in your story, and then figure out some simple ways to fix that. Sometimes if the solution is too complicated it might be better just to start again with a new story!

What I decided was wrong with my story

I picked up on a number of issues with my story:

• Slow start – the more exciting scenes were later in the story – perhaps I should start with those.
• Too didactic – the story was trying to make a point – which involved two characters talking over an issue – this in itself was a bit tedious – I decided to show not tell a bit more and make the theme more implicit in the story – although the characters would still have strong points of view on the subject.
• Too much background exposition – again use of show not tell, and also I should cut out irrelevant or long-winded background.
• Foreshadowing would help with background and also removing the need for too much boring discussion – hopefully I could weave this into my story.
• The structure was wrong – again the start was dull and there was too much chatting. I looked back at my notes and I hadn’t really outlined. I quite like writing without a plan as it’s fun, but when I do I tend to have problems finishing stories! Looks like a plan is needed with this one!

So next I am going to go back and look at the structure and try to rewrite the story – I think mostly it will be a radical rewrite, with perhaps some of the description of more exciting scenes left in. Hopefully that will work. I’ll aim to report back in a few weeks time on how I get on.

Using Elvish Languages in Fantasy Fiction

Elves as portrayed in the 1977 Rankin-Bass ver...
Elves as portrayed in the 1977 Rankin-Bass version of The Hobbit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So if you want to include Elves in a work of Fantasy fiction that should be pretty simple right? I mean everyone knows how Elves speak – what kind of names they have etc – Elrond, Legolas, Galadriel – they all sound suitably, well, Elvish.

That’s the position I was in recently when contemplating writing a fantasy work including Elves, Dwarfs etc – the standard fantasy tropes – but with a twist of course. So wanting to be fairly thorough about my world building I decided I would need a naming system for people and places – a constructed language effectively. And therefore following on from that I naturally thought I should take a look at Quenya – the main Elvish language created by Tolkien – surely I could just use that as a basis and make up some cool and realistic sounding Elvish names.

But having read part of an online Quenya course (which is very good by the way and fascinating in itself), I realised that it wasn’t so simple. The author of the course includes a lengthy section on copyright, the main aim of which is to defend the right of people to publish courses such as his and also their own works in Quenya – not for profit even seems to be a bit controversial. The author of the course made the point that any commercial fictional work that used Quenya to create a naming system and language would effectively be in breach of Tolkien’s copyright.

That stopped me in my tracks – I hadn’t even considered that. So I looked into it a bit more – did other fantasy works with Elves really have their own unique languages. The main works are actually games – D&D and Warhammer – they both have their own languages – Elven and Eltharin respectively – although I suspect both are fairly superficial in nature. I looked a bit further and found that fictional works also had their own languages – for instance the Elvish language of Gael Baudino‘s Strands series is based on the Romance languages, and the Elvish languages of Andrzej Sapkowski‘s The Witcher saga, are apparently based on Welsh, Irish, French and English.

So it seems other authors and creators of Elvish cultures have also endeavoured to steer clear of using Quenya – a shame in a way as Tolkien created such a rich language – no one could do something more comprehensive I suspect for a race that doesn’t exist, but also you could also say it would be great to write fiction in Tolkien’s world, which also would be derivative and remain in the sphere of fan fiction.

So where does that leave my Elvish setting? Looking at creating a new language I suppose – and probably digging out a Conglang book such as the Language Construction Kit. However, I’m still planning on learning more about Quenya for the inspiration and also to make anything I create myself a bit richer.

What to do when your writing gets stuck

Writing
Writing (Photo credit: pedrosimoes7)

It happens to all writers, I am sure, but for a beginning writer like me it’s probably the main problem I face. I get into a project, start off with enthusiasm, but then at some stage I hit a wall. It tends not to be a “Writer’s Block”, whatever that means, but more a waning of enthusiasm, or a feeling that I would rather be writing about something else. Perhaps I should ditch what I am currently writing and start on another project that might be more interesting?

I think the problem here is just being able to stick at something for the long haul and not give up. Even if you feel like what you are writing is not the best thing ever, it is probably going to help you more as a writer to actually finish the damn thing rather than to stop a third or half of the way through. After all you can always go back and revise your first draft.

So how can you keep motivated and kick start your writing project again. Here’s a few ideas:

  1. Remember Heinlein’s Rules – #2 of which is to Finish What You Start. A professional writer finishes stuff and then makes it better afterwards.
  2. Revise your outline for the rest of the book – if you’re an outliner. Perhaps the reason that you are losing enthusiasm is that what you have to write doesn’t excite you any more. Freshen up the plot and get back your enthusiasm.
  3. If you’re a pantser then consider getting an outline to see you through to the end. This is my problem when writing without an outline – the initial part of the book goes well but then I have no idea where it is going and I despair. A brief outline can provide motivation by giving you a possible ending. You can always change it as you write and come up with better ideas – in true pantsing style!
  4. Read what you have already written. You might find that its not half bad and it will also give you a reminder of why you started writing it in the first place.
  5. Keep putting words down and don’t switch your focus to something else. Your new baby will suddenly take all your attention and you’ll end up where you started from.

I am going to try all of the above right now!

 

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5 Ways to Make Sure You Write Every Day

every day is a struggle and i want to give in,

I think that writing every day is one of the best ways to stay motivated if you are a writer. But that’s a hard thing to do and the demand to write every day could weigh you down.

Here’s five tips that I find useful for making sure you do write every day:

  1. Have a regular writing time. In the morning is great because then you know you have definitely done some writing during the day. You can always do a bit more writing later if you have time. If you just can’t write in the morning then choose another time when you won’t have too many distractions.
  2. Remember that you write because you enjoy it. Dean Wesley Smith has an excellent post about this – we write because we enjoy don’t we? So try not to forget that and have fun with it. Don’t think of it as a chore – although some days it may feel like it!
  3. Don’t worry about what you actually write. Neil Gaiman says that he thinks of everything he writes as a really rough draft so he just gets on and puts the words down without worrying too much about them. If you’re not stressed about quality the words will

    come easier and you’ll end up being able to start writing and write more.

  4. Don’t take time off for the holidays! Just because its the weekend, you’re travelling etc doesn’t mean you can’t spend twenty minutes or more doing a little writing. Learn to write in a notebook, tablet or even a smartphone. Don’t break the habit. Once you do you may lose track of the story you’re telling or forget how much you enjoy writing.
  5. Don’t despair you miss a day! It happens. You get ill or there’s a crisis. Just try to write again as soon as you can, even if it’s just a few words so that you get back into the habit.

Hope these tips help someone – I’m always trying to remember them myself!

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How to Stay Motivated as a Writer

Keep calm and write it down!

I write fiction. I am not a bestselling author. My work is mostly self-published at the moment and the work I have available sells modest amounts. I write because I love writing, but also because I would like my work to be read by others and I would like to be successful. So I am probably like many other writers starting out on a career in writing. I have had some good feedback and reviews, which is nice, but I also feel that I could reach more people with my work.

How do you stay motivated when success and fulfillment as a writer seems a long way off?

I am not going to offer a secret bullet, a magic cure, but there are some strategies that you can employ to keep yourself going – which I need to keep myself going. Here’s some ideas that are working for me at the moment:

Write Every Day

This really is important, I think. Like anything – exercise, brushing your teeth etc – if you do something on a daily basis it becomes habit forming. If writing becomes something you do every day then you will keep doing no matter how you feel your career is going. You could choose a certain time of day, but it could just be squeezed in during the day in an odd moment in the same way you might check out Twitter for ten minutes!

Keep Going With Projects

What I mean here is don’t give up on stuff just because you’re having a few bad days with writing it and you think its no good. Sometimes you can be writing good stuff and its still a real struggle. You can always take the attitude (used by Neil Gaiman no less) that whatever you write is just a really rough first draft and therefore doesn’t matter – you can always go back and fix it. If there seems to be something fundamentally flawed in what you’re writing then yes maybe stop, but if you can think of a way to rewrite it so that it is what you want to write.

Multitask Writing Projects

This is something that works for me, but may not work for others and I know goes against some other writing advice out there. I know from experience that I get pretty distracted if I’m writing a novel or other long piece of writing. I am also keen to write short stories and develop that part of my career, so instead of trying to fit those in between novel-length projects, I actually write novels and short stories concurrently. I always prioritize the novel-length work, but if I have a second writing session available in a day then I will use that to do some short story writing. I find that it keeps me fresh and also gives me the satisfaction of finishing a piece of fiction every week or two, which I can then send out to editors.

Don’t Worry About Sales and Promotion or Rejection

This is the one that is really difficult to come to terms with as a newbie writer – and after nine years trying to write I still class myself as a newbie! It can feel like you put a lot of effort into writing with very little gain either financially or from praise of readers or editors. The best way to handle that I think is to remember that you are just learning still. I haven’t written a million words of fiction, but I will do one day if I keep writing every day. And I know that I will get better and that the small number of readers who like my work will start to grow and then hopefully my career will begin to grow too.

Cherish the Positive Feedback

When you’re feeling bad go back and read the good reviews or comments you have – don’t use them as an excuse to ignore criticism, but do remind yourself that you have skills and talent as a writer that you can develop and that readers enjoy. Build on that. Spread the love!

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My One Year Writing Plan

Full speed ahead for the fourth and final year...
Full speed ahead for the fourth and final year of the Five Year Plan! (Photo credit: IISG)

I was inspired to write a one year plan of writing goals after skimming through Jeff Vandermeer‘s Booklife. Booklife is a guide to for authors keeping your sanity in today’s world! It gives you tips on how to cope with social media, blogging and generally building your public persona as an author, as well as how to build strategies for developing your career, finding time to write etc. I haven’t read the whole thing, just glanced at it in the library so far, but it looks like it has some good tips for any author.

The section on goals caught my eye as I realized that I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do in the future, but no concrete lists or targets to measure success against. Like any business, an author’s career I think could benefit from having targets – not sales targets in the case of an author, but targets on what you produce or where you are published. Jeff recommends having a shorter-term one year plan and a longer term five year plan. Here’s my one year plan (I’m keeping my five year plan private for now):

  • Have 40+ short stories finished and available for purchase (eBooks or printed collections) – in various pen-names. I currently have 11 available, so that means publishing another 29 in the next twelve months.
  • Finish editing the two novels I have completed in draft format: Hell has its Demons and Return of the Free. Approach agents/publishers about these novels.
  • Complete one non-fiction title and self-publish it.
  • Gain one sale at a fiction magazine with professional rates (over 5 cents  a word and recognized as a professional market by SFWA).

For me I think these goals are challenging, but achievable at a stretch. I’ll keep readers of this blog updated on how I get on.

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The Joy of Writing

Cover of "The Joy of Writing : A Guide fo...
Cover via Amazon

Sometimes you have to start hitting the keys to remember how fun writing can be. For some reason just getting to that point can be hellish and involves a ton of prevarication, but when you start putting one word after another you suddenly remember that it is not a chore and that creation is inspiring and joyful.

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Fantasy Fiction would be good if it wasn’t for the silly names?

Harry Potter
Harry Potter (Photo credit: Pixelsior)

I have been discussing the aversion of a friend to fantasy fiction and tv/film and it’s interesting to note that their main problem with the genre – citing in particular Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, were the silly names – Mordor, Frodo, Targaryen etc. Why should they care about characters who were so obviously silly and made up to have names that they could hardly pronounce? They are not adverse to a bit of costume drama – having loved the Borgias for instance. Even though Game of Thrones uses names that aren’t that far away from historical ones didn’t make it any better apparently.

I did point out that Game of Thrones was immensely popular – but I have to say it probably isn’t as popular as Harry Potter, a fantasy series that really has crossed over into the mainstream. But what more mainstream name can you have than Harry Potter, Hermione etc. It’s only the bad guys who have silly names in Potter!

So where does that leave fantasy fiction looking for a mainstream audience? Ditch the silly names for your epic fantasy fiction novel – name your main characters Freddie and Ella? That doesn’t sound right somehow either. I think to a certain extent Paul Hoffman in his Left Hand of God series tried it – by using familiar historical and geographical names – and perhaps that worked in a way – or perhaps that just confuses the reader, or appears to turn fantasy fiction into just a post-modern game?

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Alt Hist, alternative history and historical fiction magazine launched

Alt Hist Image
Alt Hist Image

In a previous post I mentioned Alt Hist before in a previous post. My plan was to start a Facebook page (and associated Twitter feed) to provide a news and discussion forum for anyone interested in historical fiction, whether it be “realistic” or alternate history. At the time I saw this as possibly growing into a regular magazine for publishing historical fiction and alternate history as well.

Well guess what! I went and started up the magazine! Hooray! Quite scary, but amazing fun as well. Alt Hist got listed on Duotrope a few days ago and already we’ve had a few submissions come in. I really hope that if you’re interested in historical fiction at all you will find Alt Hist write up your via (bad puns intended).

The site is located at http://althistfiction.com/ and I welcome any contributions and suggestions.

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