My Creative Process: Generating Ideas

8 07 2021

A stage magician’s soul is forced into a grub eating his mother’s corpse. An abused housemaid is drawn into a world within a kaleidoscope. A steamship doomed by the ghosts of colonialism and personal trauma.

Many people liked my novel “The Flesh Sutra” for the same reason I enjoyed writing it: it had a few digressive “Monsters of the Week” (or rather “of the Chapter”) which added depth and variety to the world, and frankly were also really cool ideas.

I’m working on a sequel and a re-release of an improved “Flesh Sutra”. The sequel’s plot has been fun so far. But the plot is moving too quickly and I think I and the characters need a breather. So I want a “Monster of the Chapter”.

The plot so far: A woman named Gretchen is possessed by Olivia, a transcended spiritualist. Olivia has had keepsakes taken from her and Gretchen is driving across country in a used car, from San Diego to Hartford, to retrieve an item. Olivia is a Strange Attractor and Gretchen sees into the spirit realm. What happens during the road trip? I didn’t want to play where anyone else had played.

The first thing I did was track that trip with Google Maps. I noted what was on that route every mile of the 3000+ drive. (I had decided to keep their car a safe space so as to not disrupt the actual progress). I came up with this list. Then I highlighted the places where I had personal experience. And noted items that would be seen along the way.

List of things along highways: 

Cemeteries, factories, grain silos, truck stops, suburban developments (if you lived here, you’d be home by now), South of the Border, Tourist traps, airports, bays and inlets, bridges (truck hanging off bridge, suicide attempt), railroad, military bases, prisons, rest stops, corn and wheat fields, dangerous turns, crumbling infrastructure, cities, slums, museums, gas stations, zoos, state parks, police barracks, refineries, overpasses driving over neighborhoods (car drives off overpass and disappears), billboard, fairground, racetrack, campground, reservations, recreational farms, casinos, horseback riding services, hospitals, Hard Rock casino, Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk, Blue Gate Resaturant, university, wildlife area, Lake Erie and Sandusky Bay, sports complex, golf course, Splash Lagoon, little colleges, Veterans Administration, museum of glass, Howe Caverns, a museum for an author I found witty but penurious in outlook 

The yellow signifies places where I have personal experience. I put “billboards” in purple because it is a recurring sight and has some horrific potential. The “museum for an author” is the Mark Twain Museum, which Olivia would have an opinion about.

Then I mined TVTropes.com. This wiki is awesome. Its contributors drill down into all media, define their correlations, and link similarities. You can lose hours of your life just wandering through educational, witty, startling critiques. David Lynch talks about “gathering wood” for inspiration, that is, pulling together inspirations. Here’s what I gathered and may use.

An ad for The BBC had a head made of disembodied heads. People complained. 

This Duracell Ultra commercial accidentally evokes this trope. In some of those shots, those little pink Duracell Bunnies look more like a mass of squirming maggots. 

A public service announcement from the USDA APHIS regarding accidentally bringing in invasive species was spoken by a man made out of various insects wearing gentlemanly clothes. He talks to the camera about his desire to spread himself elsewhere, then lifts up an arm and disperses the insects it’s made of. This was intentionally played for creeps. He’s basically the Affably Evil spokesman for their “Hungry Pests” campaign. 

Downplayed example: Azhi Dahaka, a three-headed dragon associated with the Zoroastrian apocalypse, has scorpions instead of blood. 

The Portuguese Man o’ War looks like a floating jellyfish, but is, in fact, a colony of four organisms known as polyps. Its tentacles can grow to twenty metres in length (ten is the average) with a sting that can be very painful. Definitely not something you want to get tangled up with, especially since Portuguese Men o’ War are most commonly found in large groups. 

The Portuguese Man o’ War is one of a number of creatures in the order Siphonophorae, of which there are three suborders. Counted among them is the gigantic Praya dubia, which can grow to lengths of 130ft/40 metres, making them the second-longest marine organism on the planet. 

Clinic is a short film about a series of bizarre, Medical Horror-themed nightmares had by an elderly patient in a hospital. 

Zdzisław Beksiński 

Francisco de Goya‘s “Black Period”. 

Come and See uneasily swirls together the nightmare reality of war with the surreal weirdness of regularnightmares to very disturbing effect. Several sequences in the movie are implausible and downright surreal, and intentionally so. 

The Third Policeman is a darkly comic novel by Irish author Flann O’Brien, best known for his earlier work At Swim-Two-Birds. Written between 1939 and 1940, it didn’t receive publication until 1967, after the author’s death. 

The story concerns an unnamed narrator and his tenant John Divney, both of whom are in dire need of funds (the narrator wishes to publish a commentary on the writings of a philosopher named de Selby; Divney wishes to get married). Divney proposes killing the local miser, Philip Mathers, and stealing his cash-box. However, while the narrator is in the process of retrieving the cash-box, he encounters the ghost of Mathers. Thus begins a series of surreal, disturbing and hilarious adventures as he attempts to recover the money. 

sudden falling 

K-2 is synthetic marijuana that has been banned from Michigan. The drug seems to slow time like regular marijuana, but it gives an extreme high that lasts a short period. It can react poorly in some people and cause them to be confused and dangerous to themselves and the people around them. People who take it can still move freely (if they don’t faint) and can become easily frightened by the strange sensations they are experiencing. Non-violent people will suddenly assault seven people in half an hour. The experience messes with time perception and memory so badly, it can feel like a person has been trapped in some kind of prison for years. It can also cause a user to have periods of what feels like a panic attack monthsafter use. 

There’s also Salvia divinorum, which takes the horror to even more horrifying degrees than K-2. 

These invoked some dread and nausea. Some seemed related to the terrain being crossed, in that the US is steeped in drugs and war. I avoid social issues in writing, because I don’t do it very well. But the drug description had some potential and the war…well…old battlefields and old hatreds fuel a lot of ghost stories.

My next step is to explore this stuff until I’m bored with it. I set it aside and see what ideas pop up this week, next week, whenever.

If you’re interested, I ‘ll keep you posted on what appears.





I Didn’t Get Published Until…

5 07 2021

…I learned how to love my characters.

I believe I’ve written about this before, but seeing as you seem to like writing advice the most, then “loving your characters” strikes me as the most important advice I can give.

We all know that all characters should have arcs, even the antagonist, even a villain, even incidental side characters, and I’d argue even the setting deserves to show development.

About eight years into writing, I’d made some vague discoveries. Do not write just to express disdain for something. All characters need internal lives, that is, lives and interests implied outside the story. Give the characters values that live beyond the story.

These discoveries became a checklist of disconnected needs to tick off when I finished a first draft. You probably see the problem already, in that having any “checklist” kills spontaneity and serendipity; I’d latch onto the checklist instead of latching onto the darlings I mentioned in my last post.

How do you create living characters who surprise you? How do you accomplish a plot when a character “behaves” but does not “live”?

I wish I could remember where I first read this advice that gave me a leg up. Whatever, what it suggested was casting people I knew as characters in the story.

This helped my writing in a few ways. Casting friends made the writing more pleasant in that it wasn’t work, it was reminiscing about the funny, pleasant, aggravating things done by people I knew. It helped by using the traits of those people to create surprises in the dialogue and behavior. It got me more out of “what I wanted to accomplish” and more into “what was possible”.

As the draft progressed, sure, the plot would tailor my cast. I’d cast my friend Michael as a wizard, obviously he is not, but he would need the faculties associated with wizards. So I gave moments of rumination and calculation that wasn’t quite part of his personality, but still worked with his bookishness. Martin was a salesman, and I cast him as a salesman, but Martin was also widely read and spoke four languages. Martin’s personality allowed me to expand the salesman role and have scenes in ethnic neighborhoods where I wouldn’t have thought to go.

By there end of the first draft, well, the cast still resembled the people, but less so, and they still struck me as refreshing. If they struck me as refreshing, then chances were good they would strike editors as refreshing.

Of course in later drafts, if I felt the resemblance was still noticeable, I will discuss my casting with the original people. Always, my friends are flattered and give permission. Even the guy who insisted I have him torn apart by vampires. There are two risks, though.

There is the eternal risk of the “Mary Sue”. My temperament makes me hunt out and squash favoritism. Being a horror author, everyone suffers in my stories, at least a little. Part of avoiding “Mary Sue” is not idealizing the character. Remind yourself “how would my friend respond to being confronted by a vampire? I mean, re-e-eally?”

The other risk is casting people who you do not like in the story. I once set my coworkers in a toxic work environment (a faceless corporation that collected Evil, so yeah, real toxic). I liked only a few of my coworkers, but I did pity almost all of them, and that helped me keep their humanity. That story came out a little flat, I think. It certainly was draining to write.

If the plot needs characters not suited to your friends, only then do I suggest using characters from other sources. Once I needed a pair of men who fell together as friends; I used the singers Nick Cave and Tom Waits. Each man has distinctive physicality and helped bring my plot along.

Be careful that you do not cast within tropes. You could cast the maniacal boss with Captain Ahab, but haven’t we seen Captain Ahab bosses before? You could cast against type and cast the boss with Bob Newhart, but make allowances that Boss Bob is going to take your dialogue and maybe your plot in unexpected directions.

Frankly, Boss Maniac Bob is kind of like Lundberg from “Office Space” (“uh yeah…gonna chase him around Perdition’s flames this weekend. Need your help there. Yeah.”)

Keep all options open. Love your characters and give them permission to surprise you. This may be the best writing advice I have at this moment.





I Didn’t Get Published Until I…

16 06 2021

…was honest.

I started submitting stories in August 1989. It took nine years for me to get a story in published in any market. What made the difference? What did I learn?

I stopped looking for the idea that impressed me and went with the feeling that challenged me.

Before, I wrote and rewrote ideas that had striking images. Ones that come to mind: a group of high school friends ditch the body of a police detective investigating their gun cult; a Luftwaffe pilot is washed ashore in his fighter; Romantic Love manifests as a kaiju to destroy civilization; and oh so many more.

Each idea presented a premise, but I did not realize that a premise is not a story. It’s the kernel of a story, sure, but the problem, I had was that I was in love with the inspiring image. Many times, the inspiration of a story does not make it to the final draft. A lot of times, the inspiring image stalls the plot.

The high school students had ditched the policeman on the way to shoot up their school. I had intended to make this scene the Rubicon for these friends, and also the climax of the story. But all they did “on screen” was ditch a body and encounter the ghost of their suicidal friend. I think we all see the story potential is in having the friends disagree about what they had done, up to and including the actual mass shooting. That would require character interaction which would have eclipsed the striking image I had loved.

The Luftwaffe story was the final image of the story. I thought out, well, what would have led to this? I imagined a pilot in 1941 about to crash in the Channel. Suddenly, he finds himself flying around in a fairyland. He panics and flies away with the fairies in chase. He crests through a shimmering light and ends up on the beach, decaying in his cockpit. As George Scithers put it, “both he and the story fall apart.” I did not give the pilot any agency, obviously. I knew something needed to happen in that fairyland, but all the ideas I had would have brought the short story to novella length and probably eclipsed the neat final image.

The Love Kaiju story was a mess. I wanted to write something that really stuck it to the idea of Romance, because hey I was bitter. I wanted to bring home that Romance Destroyed Us and have it happen in our world to bring home that Deep People’s Poet Point I wanted to make. So the Kaiju was in an alternate Earth and the protagonist escapes to our world, only to find the Kaiju was Society. Great Monstrous Image of a rose red kaiju with an immense heart shaped skull, smashing all in its path. But the protagonist had nothing to do but survive and activate whatever to get to our universe.

I had lots of ideas.

What I needed to do, and learned to do, was place a “me” in a real situation and let the situation spool out, and for “me” to react to. So my first story was “me” looking for an introverted friend last seen in a dance club. The club was home to a new craze that included Spooky Health Drinks. I described the puzzlement of finding the friend dancing with abandon. The concern that all in the club looked emaciated and diseased. The alarm that all of the dancers seemed to be one pulsing organism. The terror of discovering that yes, they were one pulsing organism.

I allowed my character to live their lives and I went along to document their feelings. The characters cared about each other. They experienced a range of emotions. The “pulsing organism” image that had inspired the story was still there, but I allowed the story to grow past it.

This became my first publication.

My point is that inspiration is just that: inspiration. The inspiration should not be the end-all of whatever story your characters reveal. “Reveal” is the important word, because it is active. They should work to get to the mind-blowing image, but also work to reveal something about their world and about themselves.





Good Movies Made By People At Home

8 05 2021

These movies have different comedy to horror ratios. If you can handle “X-Files” episodes, you’ll like these movies.

Murder Death Koreatown: This movie leans hard into its Found Footage premise in that there are no production credits at the end, nor any credits in its IMDB page. What looks like a True Crime story turns to Weird Horror.

The protagonist has been laid off from his job and is producing little video projects on his phone instead of looking for work. The townhouse he shares with his sullen girlfriend has an access street behind. One night there are gunshots. A neighbor shot her husband and instead of running for help, he staggers to die near a set of garages. Our protagonist is puzzled and records his investigation. The investigation does a neat trick in riding the edge between the protag’s dissolution and a realization of a Weird Horror. The filmmaker used elements of his neighborhood: bodegas, graffiti, anonymous storefront businesses, street corner preachers, to hint at otherworldly connections.

On Amazon Prime

Leaving DC: Why don’t White people leave their haunted house? “Leaving DC” comes up with an off-beat, elegant answer.

The protagonist is a tech engineer moving from Washington DC to a rather nice house in the West Virginia mountains. Ghostly stuff happens, etc. The man’s money is tied up in the house, but that reason to stay always came up short in other movies. Why doesn’t he leave? *Because he is chronically compulsive*. We first meet him in DC with his OCD Therapy group. We watch him move into his spotless house devoid of personal affects. We watch him crater his relations with a visitor, who then leaves because his house creeps her out. Does he leave? No, he will not be bullied. He will understand what is happening by buying cameras and microphones and scrutinizing the late night flute playing, the apparitions, and the Mysterious Signs In The Woods. Then he will formulate a detailed action plan. The end is inevitable, but like I said, elegant.

On Amazon Prime.

Creep: Movies with tiny casts work if the cast is compelling. This movie’s co-writer and lead Mark Duplass radiates charm.

When his character hires a videographer to come to his remote house and record sentimental messages, you pay attention. Mark’s character reveals traumas, only to admit he lied. He takes menacing objects and gives them absurd histories. The videographer is pulled between getting paid, politeness, and fleeing Mark’s increasing menace.

On Netflix along with its sequel Creep 2.

I guess I like these stories because they are efficient. As writers we are taught to write characters who are flawed with a recent tragedy highlighting those flaws. (Note that Duplass subverts this expectation by implying then denying any tragic backstory, which frustrates and adds to the unease). Writers are told to keep the motivations simple and relatable. Last, stories are to be economic in word and action.

A common criticism in the Amazon comments is that these movies lack strong endings. That makes sense, because none of the characters are given resources for a satisfying character transformation. “Murder Death Koreatown” and “Leaving DC” remains committed to their goals to their unfortunate endings. The time constraints keep the writer from introducing a secondary plot to give impetus to transformation. Changing their minds and fleeing would also bump up their budgets. That said, the videographer in “Creep” does flee and his arc is the more satisfying for it.

Or maybe I’m wrong. The movie “The VVitch” was shot with a cabin, a farm, and a bonfire. The parents each had a heartbreaking transformation. Certainly that movie was great and had few resources, but then it comes back around to character portrayals.

Strong character voice and motive. I’d been fixated on compelling images, but I need to work on characters more.

PS: Happy Birthday, Me!





Borderlands Bootcamp and My Vacation Encounter With Kink

15 04 2021

I am slowly bringing my hopes back up regarding writing, and my first step on this new path is to go on a writers retreat. Throughout the years, I had been told I should attend Odyssey Writers Workshop, One Of The Clarion Workshops, or Taos Toolbox. The cost is prohibitive, sure ($4K, $6K, and who knows respectively), but the reason I did not go to these events is my Depression/Anxiety got in the way. These events are obvious advantages for networking and learning on a professional level.

The Borderlands Bootcamp is run by horror publisher Borderlands Books, managed by longtime horror author Tom Monteleone. He wrote a column for Cemetery Dance magazine a while back and I’ve seen anthologies he edited. The Bootcamp always had pretty big genre names teaching this weekend long session. The session is a series of lectures with breakout sessions where a pro critiques your submission along with others in your breakout group.

The price was right and my ego had been stripped of pretense this past year, so now was the time.

I’m critiquing my fellow breakout group member submissions. Reading strangers’ work is frustrating and also humbling, in that the problems with the work are obvious but also I remember having similar problems when I first started writing. The more experienced writers had problems I could identify with, say a stylish structure that works in theory, but lacks reason using the innovation.

Here are some of the critiques I noted (serial numbers filed off and edited to remove dissembling) which may prove useful to you:

  • The writer is creating a dream. Reminding the reader it is a dream jolts the reader from the dream. Reading attributions like “said” or “asked” jolts the reader. Attach dialogue to physicality for attribution.
  • Invent everything. Create your whole world and immerse us in it. Do not use Real Life names mixed in with invented names. Do not use gods from Real Life religions who are still being worshipped.
  • If you are using flashbacks, give the flashbacks a purpose. Shorten those scenes the reader already has seen, introduce new information in each flashback. Unify the flashback with the plot by giving the flashback a reason to have been prompted (seeing a memento, hearing someone telling a lie, etc.).
  • The story begins when someone does something to being the plot. Remove all world building or reminiscence or prologue.
  • All characters must want something. They must work toward that something. It is best to have the character state what they want. I heard that NK Jemison said there is no shame in making that statement blunt and obvious.
  • A Point Of View is sensation and emotion. What does it feel like to wear the beautiful dress? How does your character feel when wearing it?
  • Every event in a story must have an emotional reaction. Either characters react to it or the POV narrator selects the words to create tone.

I’ll you know how things go at this Bootcamp.

Here’s a little story from my only overseas vacation, Ireland in the mid-’90s. Ireland is a lovely country but overall it is Kentucky with a sexier accent. It is where I had an accidental encounter with someone’s kink.

I was taking a mid-afternoon tour of the Guinness Brewery in Dublin. I followed the tour guide through the brewery, through the tunnels used to port the barrels to the trucks. In the museum, the sundry middle-aged crowd and I looked at the clay pipes used to carry the beer, and the nails driven into the pipes so that porters could drink from the pipes when they passed under. Posters of the Guinness toucan saying “My Goodness! My Guinness!” and such. We eagerly went to the gift shop, as getting Guinness gear was Goal Number One for any Irish vacation.

Once we were looking through the shirts and hats and such, a young woman hissed.

“Why are we here? I’m bored!”

The crowd seemed to part to reveal a couple. A tall man looked down at a young woman saying “Look at this stuff. This stuff is tacky!”

She was maybe five foot two and in her early twenties. Long black hair and dark eyes. She wore a teal velvet catsuit that would have been gauche on a casino floor. My brain seized up when I looked at her attire. How had I not noticed her? I mean she was hawt and fit and just this side of trashy. She stood out even in a crowd of American tourists.

“Who has even heard of this place?”

Silence fell on the crowd.

The guy was Long Island, New York personified. Maybe six foot tall wearing khakis, expensive sneakers, a Ralph Lauren sweater, all in earth tones, with wire rim glasses and a well-groomed receding hairline. He would have fit in at a dentist convention.

He looked at her with a blank helplessness.

I exchanged looks with a black guy wearing a Jameson’s sweatshirt. No one ever hearing about the Guinness brewery? She had to be kidding, right?

She continued berating him. He just looked down at her and took it. Everyone fidgeted in anticipation or confused disgust. I mean, what the hell dude?

She made it clear that she was not enjoying this vacation. That he needed to do something interesting this afternoon.

“She must be good in bed,” I muttered. The black guy raised his eyebrows and shook his head. The group moved on onto the street and went on with their lives.

I don’t remember when I realized this, but now I recognize that the woman was a domme. This guy had paid his domme to come on his vacation so he could be kink-shamed in public.

Looking back, I am annoyed that this dweeb pulled an unsuspecting tour group into his humiliation fantasy. Not cool at all. Let this learn ye! Keep your kinks thoroughly consensual.





This Writing Book Is Helping Apple Pie Preserves Save My Life

11 03 2021

“Woo-woo”. “Twee”. “Arty-farty”. I had a litany of dismissive syllables for Anne Lamott. Deep down, I knew she had some emotional truth. From my earliest memories as a frantically joking five year old, I did not want emotional truth. I wanted manuals on how to conquer the world.

Fifty years later, my latest endeavor, after decades of abandoned endeavors, was to become a self-publisher. Working a full-time job and writing every day, I now told myself “time to learn about Amazon marketing!” And my body said “Nope!” The next morning I woke up to my first panic attack since high school. And every morning after that.

Now I’m beyond dealing with the tumult of crappy jobs and mortality. Now I had to face that I was a collection of traits that kept people away and defeated my goals. I knew that I wanted to “do” and did not care about wanting to “be”. I knew perfection was my enemy, sure, but somehow it kept defeating me. After two decades of councilors who helped me with immediate turmoil, I had nothing left but to confront The Grand Unification Theory of My Crappy Traits.

They seem insurmountable. I’d hit the 3/4 point of my lifespan and I believed in being realistic: I was never really going to be successful at comedy or writing, or have a relationship, or even like myself much. If I could understand WHY I had these traits, I could at least die content.

Thanks to a new counsellor, I have been discovering how to be “happier” which turns out to be an emotional synonym for “being”. My definition for happiness had been very terse. The only time I ever felt truly self-accepting was during the thirty seconds I watched myself on national TV. “NOW life makes sense. This is RIGHT. Everything is IN PLACE.” I knew this was sick, but I did not care.

I rediscovered that I liked the feel of fleece. I liked being warm. I used to like drawing, but I still couldn’t hold a pencil even to doodle. I took days off to drive around, anywhere, just to be and find whatever. One day at a farmers market I found McCutcheons Apple Pie Preserves. I discovered I like them for sandwiches, cooking glaze, and as a spice. I order it by the box.

It is literally like they gutted apple pies and put the delicious entrails in jars.

I allowed myself to take days off, then weeks off, because I was sick, had been sick, and I needed to get well. I learned to talk with my emotions, not ignore them and use their starved revenants to power the treadmill.

Then at the end of a session, my counsellor handed me a sheet with the Personality Traits of Adult Children of Alcoholics. I stood, about to leave, and scanned it. Every muscle locked. Irritability. Impatience. Risk Avoidance. Problems with Emotional Intimacy. Lots more. Every thing about myself that I regretted, every mistake I made, every thing I did to make my life harder, all of it filtered through this list. Here was my Grand Unification Theory. I had a new problem now.

What is the difference between my personality and my pathology? I was irritable, I was impatient, I was hard on myself. I was funny when drunk and overly polite and ingratiating. Now I knew: no, that wasn’t me. The acquired traits made me this way. Moving around the country with only two troubled people as consistent, reliable support made me this way.

It wasn’t “who can I be?” It was “what am I?” Successful people did what I yearned to do, and they did it not out of spite, but because they love it regardless of results, just like the people who were less successful.

Some people never learn these things. Over the years, I almost died a few times not knowing.

My response was, and still is, “Damn the world. Damn me for not knowing. Damn my parents for not getting their own counseling. Damn their generations before for screwing them up.”

So there was this book, this Anne Lamott woo-woo book, which my counsellor recommended.

I’m only half way through and I’ve found it affirming and comforting.

It’s “Bird By Bird”. Lamott describes her writers life as not driven by ambitions, but by the grace of self-expression.

The book goes beyond saying “ignore your first draft” and “its okay to make mistakes”. For me, it reminded me of what is the most fun about writing: sharing with the community of smart, nice people I have met through writing.

I have been in Noble Fusion Eastern Court for almost 30 years. There are five of us and they are among my closest friends. None of us are going to achieve a literary immortality. Reading this book reminded me that success is always receding to the horizon, but the people with you on the journey are the reward.

Mistakes are made. Sometimes goals are misguided. I’m learning forgiveness and I’m hoping to make kindness a priority.





Hey I’ve Done Artsy Things! Here’s Some Advice…

2 03 2021
I had Chili with Pancakes. This has placed me in an expansive mood. It could have been A Mistake.

As stated in my bio, I’ve been published professionally and have had a novel be received to some critical acclaim. I’ve produced two movies available on Netflix (DVD only) with a clip appearing on “Americas Funniest Home Videos”. Performed sketch and improv comedy on stage. Lived a life and had some struggles. The struggles include clinical depression and anxiety, which I think I’ll write about more as I become comfortable with sharing.

So! Advice about Art! Heed me!

Go Where No One Else Goes. Try music no one else listens to. Read things no one else is reading. Try an unusual movie. It’s not just being into something “before it was cool”. It means finding ideas, plotting, descriptions, moods, to expand your expression. Conversely, if you’ve seen it before, set it aside or find a personal analog. “Why play in someone else’s sandbox?” says Darryl Schweitzer. You could write a werewolf story, or you can sift and find what scares you about werewolves, then come up with your own creation. Use what is unique to you in your work. I watched way too much TV as a child then became a video producer. Readers say that I sequence action, block characters within space, and do dialogue really well. I owe that to my education outside of writing. What do you do well?

You Are Not The Idea. You are not learning to write to turn this one idea into a story. This idea may be a bad idea. You are learning to write storiesssss. You are on a journey of continual frustration which will never end.

The Best Symbolism Is Accidental. “Go deep for the big fish” says David Lynch. I take that to mean that you can tap into deeper emotion if you work with something personal, even idiosyncratic. Every story an editor ever liked was based on my personal experience. When I tried inventing a story from whole-cloth, the plot had no tension. When I tried forcing a moral onto a story, the characters would be flat. Just write a story.

Embarrass Your Mother. I don’t know who first said “write something that would embarrass your mother” but yes, allow yourself to express something unorthodox. Three things will happen: you will discover many others already expressing that same thing; you will clarify a belief you held; or you will make an ass of yourself. You will discover your vulnerabilities and prejudices and you will survive the embarrassment. Which brings me to…

Love Your Accidents. An accident can take you in unexplored directions. If a person looks at our writing and says “I love how you did this obscure thing”, do not say “what the hell are you talking about?”. Your proper response is “yes, I particularly love that obscure thing and you are ingeniously perceptive for having noticed.” This obscure thing has a whole universe of potential behind it. Explore its possibilities. It is a surprise to you, so it will be a surprise to your audience if you maybe explored the accident further.

Keep Your Editors Close, But Keep Your Beta Readers Closer. We write for ourselves, yes, because otherwise we write mush. But when we send the stories out, choose your publications well. Cultivate a relationship with your favorite publishers. Send to them as frequently as possible. Greet the editors at conventions, remind them that you met, tell them what you liked about their recent editions. Be sincere! Editors deal with liars every day and can sense meaningless flattery. As for beta readers…they are your greatest asset and your greatest vulnerability. I have been working with my writers group for almost 30 years. They may know more about me than my family or my counselor. They have allowed me to be base, dumb, disgusting, hostile, and have coached me into writing stories people enjoy. Be gracious to beta readers! Help them as they help you! Forgetting to mention them in an Acknowledgments may turn into a flame war on File 770.com.

Remember: we are always talking to the phantoms of our expectations.





Cat Rambo’s Secret To A First Draft

18 11 2020

Some writing advice from this writer on his writing blog!

I am working on a novel (horror and its veering toward science fantasy) and making good progress on word count. I do a little less than 1000 words per two hour session, which is pretty good for a guy who hasn’t written in a couple of years.

WHAT DID I DO?

A friend told me about Cat Rambo’s advice for a first draft:

Write the first draft in Comic Sans.

I was skeptical. But after my first session, I found myself a lot more relaxed about the drafting process.

I mean, how can you be intimidated by Comic Sans?

The font takes me out of the perfectionist frame of mind and into a more spontaneous, casual attitude.

Try it. Might work.





Writers: How To Arrange Your Scenes and Structure Your Novel

20 11 2018

Do you attend writers’ conferences? I did recently…

Not a conference in my location, mind you. This was held by the Oak Park library of Johnson County, Kansas USA, a rather well-funded facility hosting a well-run symposium. There were only two lecture tracks, but one author had done panels at the 2019 SFWA Conference in Pittsburgh. Cora Carmack flew in from Austin to talk writing.

She recommends Jack Bickam’s Scene and Structure. For her, many years of figuring things out on her own clicked together after having read this book.

Here are my notes from her lecture with added explanations.

A) Story Goal

1) What will a character do to restore their self-worth (“Get things right”, “Get back to Hobbiton safe in time for elevenses”). a) Self-worth is based on self-perception. i) The character goal is to restore their perceived original values and regain control of their environment.

2) A story raises a Question  a) every event is filtered through accomplishing the Goal.

B) Cause and Effect  1) Every specified element in a story must have later purpose  2) Every effect or event must have a cause tied to an earlier element.

C) Stimulus and Response  1) Stimulus MUST BE EXTERNAL  a) action or dialogue   2) Response MUST BE IMMEDIATE   a) if the response is illogical, that illogic must be explained internally (have the character reflect that maybe it’s not the right choice, but it’s the right choice FOR THEM because [add rationalization here]).

A plot is structured STIMULUS > INTERNALIZATION > RESPONSE

D) Scenes = Building Blocks  1) State the goal of the scene (“the 3 oclock meeting was to summarize the events for the boss”), 2) Introduce conflict/opposition (“Jimmy and Helen did not agree on the ramifications”)   3) FAIL TO REACH GOAL (“Meeting left us more confused and doubtful”)  a) The scene’s goal could be met, but the Story Goal must be made more difficult

E) SCENE STRUCTURE IS DIFFERENT FROM STORY STRUCTURE

F) SCENE Goals  1) Always from POV character  2) IMMEDIATE  a) Clear goal that both      i) relates to long-term goals   ii) raises the Scene Goal

G) Conflict Development  1) IS the scene   2) MUST be about the scene goal  3) Details the Conflict

H) HOW-TOs  1) Dialogue  2) Action  3) MUST BE VISIBLE  a) Non-POV characters can only respond to sensory data (even if telepathic or magical, still counts as sensory).

I) The Scene Ends In Disaster   1) MUst be a) a Straight Denial of the Goal or  b) YES, BUT (adding a complication) or c) NO, AND FURTHERMORE YOU LOSE THIS TOO.

THE CHARACTER MUST LEAVE EVERY SCENE IN WORSE SHAPE

Before writing a scene: Set goals, arrange escalating loss, and figure how it moves the story forward.

EMOTION >> THOUGHT >> DECISION >> NEW GOAL

Introduce these elements in this order:

Setting + Protagonist + Problem + Antagonist + Conflict + Goal

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Reading this again, it clarified a lot of things needed for my first draft in NaNoWriMo. I’m at 10K words, and while I have two POV characters (slight burden), one has a goal he is concealing from non-POV characters (more difficult), whilehaving to delineate a magic system and backstory from a previous novel (eek).

I’ve laid out the novel elements well, I think. The problem is maintaining the POVs cause-and-effect while giving each character an arc.

Oh and I’m pantsing, which means I’ll be freaking out in another 10K words as the elements have to be amended.





Writers: 20 Tips To Improve Productivity

5 11 2018

From Daily Writing Tips.

He even quotes Zelazny.








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