Category Archives: Networking

Watch This Space

 Attention: Our attempt to go live Monday failed due to  a delay in the transfer of domain name to our new host.  Meet the new host, same as the old host…  In any event, we’re doing all we can to speed our comeback.  Please keep trying.  I have been “assured” that the worst possible case will be Saturday the 23rd.
Since popping into existence on or about the 25th of January, 2010
, Uphill Writing has gone through several changes.  Now—fasten your seatbelts—we’re about to go through a total remake, remodel.  None of what you come to UhW for now will be lost, and we will continue writing about writing, issuing challenges, and saying things designed to provoke, but we’ll be adding so much more.

Image: fiama.eu

Look for UhW to be a clearing house for writing resources, opportunities, news, reviews, and all things writing.  Look for the latest on contests, how to enter, and what it takes to win. 

This will be more than just a facelift, it is our intention to give you as much support as possible, because we believe there is no need for you to be Writing without a net.

NOTE: WE WILL NOT BE CLOSING DOWN, BUT WE DO NOT EXPECT TO BE PUBLISHING NEW POSTS FOR AS MUCH AS A WEEK.  WATCH FOR US TO BE BACK SOON!

How to Name Your Characters and Avoid Readers

Have you ever gotten stuck when it came time to name a character?

I have.  I’ve resulted to thumbing through the phone book, looking through newspapers, watching TV and just wool-gathering.  Sometimes that works.

I have to admit I’ve been taken to task for some of my character’s names.  Sometimes I’ve backed down and changed them, sometimes a name seemed just too good to pass up.  The main character from my novel FIVE, Ray Kurtz, for example, took some heat from “Heart of Darkness” fans, but I stand by it anyway. 

Are there rules for names in novels?  Well, yes, but nothing really hard and fast.  For example, having the names of all of your characters start with “J” is not a great idea.  Why?  Despite the time, effort and love we pour into our work, not all of our readers will have the patience to figure out that Jamie, Jan, Joe, Jon,  and John are different characters.  They’ll get lost.

You can make up names for your characters, but consider this, how many friends to you have with truly unique names?  …and, how often do they all get together in the same room for tea and scones?

Cute names can be a problem, too.  Robert “Rob” Banks, for instance.  Or one of my old favorite, Helen Fire…  clever yes, good for a serious character?  Not on your tintype.

And this, of course, brings us to SPACE ALIENS.   OK, I got it.  Aliens from another planet are not likely to have names like “John Jones” (with apologies to DCs Martian Manhunter).  But come on, names like K’Lktz’P’B’Frum-mptlla cannot be pronounced by your readers—unless they too are space aliens, and perhaps related to K’Lktz’P’B’Frum-mptlla. 

Image: forums.superherohype.com

But wait, Doctor Scott, you say, if I can’t use cute and clever names like those, and I can’t use all names starting with the same letter, and I can’t be truly alien, what’s a writer to do?

One thing you could do is to use any of the following excellent name generators:

These are just four of the many sites that offer this help.  I like the first one, The Seventh Sanctum best, because it is massive and massively useful.

Then, again, you could just say, “What th’ heck?” and go with K’Lktz’P’B’Frum-mptlla

Rewriting or revisioning?

Often in the morning, sitting at my computer, watching the clock, and frantically looking for a topic for the first post, I relent and grab a book from my pile of novels and writing texts.  Sometimes that even helps.

It helped today.

One of my all-time favorite novels is “The Magus” by John Fowles.  It is a wonderful book filled with complex characters and subplots.  It has been called ‘A major work of mounting tensions in which the human mind is the guinea-pig’

One of the features of this book is how long it took Fowles to write, and what he did with the novel after it was finished.

He began writing “The Magus” in the 1950s, originally calling the manuscript “The God Game“.  If you’ve read the book you will know that this title also fits well.  “The Magus” was his first “completed” novel, but his second to see publication. 

It took him 12 years to write and rewrite the novel.  I read it the year it was released, and as said above, loved the book.  But, here is where it gets really interesting.  While the book was published, was both commercially and critically a success, he did not feel it was finished.

Fowles continued to work on the novel and finally republished it in 1977.  I was startled by this, but hurried to purchase it nonetheless.  Once again I was enthralled by the story.  So seamless was Fowles rewrite that I was hard put to find the differences between the versions.  (Of course many years had passed between reading the first and revised versions.)

How does this touch you and me?  Even though the chances that one of my novels will reach the same level of recognition as Fowles’, what he did gives me hope about quality.  One of the fears I have—and it is one that has held me back—is that the work isn’t quite ready to see light of day… that just another run-through will clean up the red herrings, the dead herrings,  the last few typos or logical flaws.  Then I think that no amount of editing and re-reading will ever find all the mistakes in a basically flawed work, I put the manuscript away and work on a new project.

Does this sound familiar?  Surely not all of you will have fallen prey to this, but perhaps some of you?

What Fowles teaches us by the way he handled his wildly successful book is this, just because it’s been published, it doesn’t mean you can’t make it better.

Stephen King re-released his epic novel, “The Stand” (another novel very high on my list of greats).  Not being sure of the quality of our work is a good thing.  Paranoia about completion can serve you, but just so far.

The trick, I think, is to do the best you can, and let it go.  There may always be time for a fresher version.

Your thoughts?

Are You Ready for November?

It’s in the air.  Can you smell it?  November is rushing toward us, it’s cheeks puffed out, panting and with a wild gleam in its eyes.

And why?  Because on the first day of November a remarkable annual occurence begins.   Yep.  NaNoWriMo, AKA National Novel Writing Month.

It began in 1999 with just 21 people pledging to write (at least) the requisite 1667 words per day to complete a 175-page, 50,000 word novel.

I didn’t hear about this until 2002 when a friend from work suggested I also join this amazing thing she’d just heard of.  She talked me into it, and I jumped in with both feet.  Speaking of feet, my friend’s got cold, and she quit about two days in.  

Image: nanowrimo.org

Well that made me feel good in an ugly, off-hand way.  I was stronger than she was.  I pushed on.   Ah, but here the story turns south.  See, despite the best of intentions, after a solid week of good productivity, I missed a day.  Man, talk about bummed out.  I hadn’t kept my word (even if it was only to myself).  I got so depressed about missing one day (which could have been easily made up, mind you) that I missed another.  And that was that.  I did not make it to the end of the month, and I (clearly) did not make the 50k word goal.  Sigh.

Then 2003 came along and I thought, “what the what?  I’ll give it a try.”

And that, boys and girls, is the rest of the story.  Yes, I completed the challenge in ‘o3, and I’ve completed it every year since, and sometimes by as much as 110k words (there is no penalty for going over the goal).

This year will be my 8th time to take part, and I’m looking forward to it eagerly.  I’ve got my new novel, “Wizard’s Blood” very briefly outlined, and I’m anxious for the scheduled excuse to put some things aside in order to devote a minimum of 1667 words a day to a new project.

So, why am I telling you this?  Because I want YOU to come and join me on this journey.

Here are the basics:

There is no fee.

There is no prize (you are competing against yourself)

You do get to see how others are doing, and you get a daily graph of your own work.

At the end you upload your book to the NaNoWriMo site, they count the words, and then they delete the file.

For the last couple of years a POD publisher has promised a physical copy of your book for free.

By joining you get to be a part of something huge, something tremendous.  Last year over 165,000 people signed up and better than 30,000 made the 50k word goal by midnight November 30th.

I think you’ve got what it takes to do the same.

In case you forgot, the URL is www.NaNoWriMo.org

Now, go sign up!

Guest Blogger – Karen Smith Gibson

Allow me to introduce Karen Gibson, long-time friend and fellow writer from back in the WeBook days.  I had the pleasure of watching her novel, Chasing SANE grow from a first few tentative sentences to a fully realized, and now published, novel. 

She joins us today as a guest blogger with a topic near and dear to the hearts of all of us.  Karen?

The Pickle I’m In

Does this sound familiar? You have drafted, rewritten and had the next great American novel edited. You have spent days coming up with a witty, well-written synopsis. You have chosen 101 publishers to send your work to and emailed what you could and snail mailed the rest. After weeks of waiting, the rejections come pouring in; those publishers who bothered to open your queries and respond, of course. Some are uber-polite and gently rebuke you saying, “We appreciate your query, but are only accepting children’s stories at this time”. However, most respond with, “We are not accepting any non-represented works at this time”. 

Image: Karen Gibson

But of course, you chide yourself. As with anyone peddling their craft, I need an agent to knock on doors for me. What WAS I thinking? Back to that list and out goes some tweaked paragraphs to literary agents. Cutting back on the enthusiasm of before, only fifty agents are chosen. Yes, fifty lucky agents will get the chance to represent the next great American novel. Slowly, the rejection letters trickle in. One email or letter after the other states, “We are not representing new or unpublished authors at this time”.

But…I sent…so…I need…but, they won’t…what? The publisher isn’t taking unrepresented work and the agents won’t represent you unless you have been published. I see. So, basically a new writer cannot be published or represented? Is this really the case or is this the standard response to queries from unknown/unpublished writers? Is there a writer’s DaVinci code to getting represented or published?

Like the pickle on the deli plate beside the pastrami on rye, we are often overlooked. We know how tasty we are. We know we compliment that special world of deli sandwiches. Maybe someone will notice us and decide to bite in and see just how juicy we are. Until then, we will have to find a way to make that pickle on the side hard to pass up. Such is the plight of the unpublished writer.

_____________

Thanks, Karen. 

If you want to read more of Karen’s work, check out her blog at: http://karensmithgibson.org/

A Real Editor is Hard to Find

As a writer for any length of time, when showing  your work around to people, you will have noticed a couple of interesting phenomena.

1. Everybody you show your work to knows that they, too,  could write, if they only took the time to do so.  “I should write about my life.  People would be thrilled and fascinated with all my adventures.”  This is often followed by something like, “I could take a week or two off work and whip out a novel.  Piece of cake.”

2. Everybody claims to be an excellent editor.  But they aren’t.  “I’ll go through this and clean it up for you.  I’m great at this.”  “Your story?  Yep, I’ll be getting to it shortly.”  “The story you gave me to *read* last year?  No.  Really, I’ll be working on it tonight.”

What a disappointment.  Or is it?  Showing off your writing to non-writers (often non-readers) is like juggling in front of a group of 4-year olds.  Every one of them knows that they could do that, too, if only you’ll let them have the juggling balls to play with.  Practice not required.

I’m sure we can agree on this, but that isn’t really why I invited you all here today. 

Coaching is a two-way street, more, it is a gift.

If someone cares enough about your work to actually step forward and make suggestions, that’s a true gift.  Unless it isn’t.  OK, so there are mean-spirited people out there who’s lives and self-worth are dependent on putting other people down–but we’ll leave those for a RANT one of these days.

Coaching is like a back rub that does more than soothe sore muscles.  Someone once told me that half the value of a back rub is that someone actually wants to give it to you.  The same can (and should) be said for coaching.

I think that the better reviewers are people who actually spend some time saying more than “hey, good”, “LOL”, or “Can’t wait for more”.  This is not to say that those sentiments aren’t nice.  They’re certainly more uplifting than someone patting you on the head and running off, but how do you as a writer grow from such sentiments?

Good critiques and coaching doesn’t always feel good.  If you want unconditional love, buy a puppy.

How to Get Ready For NaNoWriMo

 

Yes, friends, NaNoWriMo is right around the corner.  It is just a bit over a month away as of today. 

People ask, “can I work on my current novel for NaNoWriMo?”  Of course the answer is nobody looks over your shoulder while you do this 30-day challenge.  That said, starting with new, clean prose does several things for you, among them, it reinvigorates you, it pushes you into a new project, and it just plain gets you moving. 

But, you ask, can’t I do anything before November 1st?  

Image: ase.tufts.edu

Yes you can.  And I recommend it. 

You can outline.  OK, fine.  I heard those groans out there.  I get it.  Some of you don’t believe in outlines for one reason or another.  What was it?  Did a teacher make you outline something boring in school?  Have you never learned the trick?  What makes you hesitate to outline a story? 

I’ll let you in on a little secret.  I used to hate it too.  And I had a good reason.  When I was starting up with writing, I’d get these flashes of ideas, and the chemical changes in brain and body told me that these ideas were top-notch, sure-fire sellers.  (That chemistry will be grist for a different post, by the way.) 

Back in those days for me I had a problem with stories.  I would get so excited about them that I would tell anyone who listened not what I was writing, but what I was ‘gonna’ write.  And, once the story was told, I would lose interest.  Writing, after all, was harder work than just brainstorming, than just wool-gathering.  So, I made up a superstition that if I told someone what I was working on, the story would be “told”, and no longer needed.  For me, outlining was the same thing as telling someone my story.   Clever, eh?  Clever but not useful. 

Then, as I prepared for my second attempt at NaNoWriMo (I failed the first time, but have made the goal every time since—this year will be my ninth NaNo), I realized one of the reasons I failed to make the 50k words that first time was that I really had no idea where I was going.  What was the solution?  

For me it was a brief outline.  Oh, that brief outline process has gotten a little less brief over the years, but it is still small and easy.  Here is how I do it. 

First, I get a title.  Not everyone does that, but for me, a good title drives the creation of the book 

Next. I write in a single paragraph, what the novel will be about.  (The ending is not included in detail) 

Then I write paragraphs about the main protagonist and the main antagonist.   These paragraphs include a sentence each on what they want.  If these two characters don’t want something, the story is weak from the start.  

Those paragraphs typically generate ideas of who the main secondary characters will be, and I write a paragraph on each of them… including what it is that they want.  Hopefully you’re getting this.  Every character in your story needs to want something.  There has to be a bigger reason for them to be there than to just fill pages.  Trust me on this. 

Now that I have characters “skeleton’d out” (the fleshing comes later), I think about locations. 

Where will this story take place?  If it will be a journey story (a favorite of mine) which PLACES will heroes and villains pass through?  If the places they will be visiting are on this planet, I use Google Earth to take a look, to get an idea of what they will be facing. 

Next I consider any twists and turns I may want to include, and how I might foreshadow them as the story progresses. 

Finally, I do one short paragraph to introduce each chapter.  These are very short, designed only as a jumping off place (and an ending place for the previous chapter) 

And, that’s it, really. 

Sure, you can put a lot more into this plan… and you probably will.   I typically do.  But this… this minimum amount will get the mental muscles moving. 

I know that you may only have a title, or a basic theme, and there is nothing wrong with that.  Still, taking it further, actually drawing out the roadmap for your story, even if you do so in whispers and suggestions only, will make the writing process come alive for you. 

Oh.  One more thing.  Your outline isn’t written in concrete.  At least it shouldn’t be. 

There will come times when your characters actually refuse to go where you said, back in the beginning, where they should.  Why?  Because it doesn’t make sense.  Yeah, sounds silly, but really.  Characters who are designed to be like real people will balk at being told to step out into space, or to drive wearing a blindfold or some such silliness.  Respect that, and change your outline as you go along.  You’ll find it easier to change an existing outline during the writing than to have to stop cold and work up totally new ideas. 

NaNoWriMo is worth your time, and this process will help you be ready to start writing on day one. 

Oh, and by the way, you can use this process for any fiction novel you may have up your sleeve. 

Your thoughts?