Category Archives: Support for Writers

How To Deal With Your Past, Published and Bad Writing

Sometimes I write trash.

How about you?  Does it ever happen that an essay, an article, a story, a chapter, even a whole novel turns out to be pure, unadulterated garbage?  No?  Well, You’re lucky.  Happens to me all the time.

What do you do when you find out you’re written something that is embarrassing?  How does that even happen?  We’re all fairly bright, rather well-read, in other words, not methane-breathers, right?

Realistically, we don’t put our work out there in the world if we think it’s bad, now do we?  So how does it happen?

Sadly—and perhaps gladly as well—it happens because we grow.  The work we published  as teenagers, or later in life didn’t seem that bad at the time, did it?Of course not.  We just outgrew it.

How about the things we wrote and, say, put up on a blog 6 or 7 months ago?  How bad could that be?  Sometimes we can judge, sometimes we can’t, but hindsight is golden, isn’t it?  Those old blog posts might have been a little clunky, but the spirit was good, and (see above) we aren’t idiots.  We just kind of outgrew what we wrote earlier. 

Image: tvtropes.org

In most cases when you write something and post it on the Internet, you’ve started it.  “…like a snowball rollin’ down the side of a snow-covered hill.  It’s growin’…” 

Chances are it’s out of your control then, even if you can go back and change what is on your blog, others have looked, read, perhaps even copied.  Once it gets out there, it’s hard to control.

A few days ago I wrote about John Fowles, and the struggle he had getting his first novel, “The Magus” to light of day.  He wrote the book twice, and made a big hit with it both times.  His problem?  He didn’t think it was ready after all, even after it had critical success.

What’s the point?  Well, perhaps it is time for us to make deals with ourselves.  Perhaps it is time to say, “unless I stop growing, my writing will get stronger every time.  I may always find faults with my older work, but seeing the difference between then and now only affirms that I am growing.”

I think it’s worth a shot.

Now, I wonder how stupid this is going to sound to me in six months?

Your thoughts?

Polyglot: Word of the Day

Polyglot, n.

A person who speaks, writes, or reads a number of languages.

My friend Kip speaks French, Spanish, Esperanto and a dialect of Chinese.  He is also able to program in BASIC, COBOL and C++.  I would say that he is a true polyglot.

How will you use polyglot in a sentence today?

How to Grow Your Character Over the Long Haul

My two favorite story lines are the “journey of the group” and the “transformation of a character“.  Even better are the stories which do both.

Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring series is an excellent example.  Frodo must go from a simple, happy Hobbit to a seasoned, bone-weary, and world-wise traveler.  Of course he has three volumes to do it in, but grow he must, and grow he does.

There are stories where this is done in extreme, and the result is comedic.  While I love the John Ritter and James Belushi film, “Real Men“, but the transformation from Milk Toast to He-Man Special Agent is too fast and unbelievable.

Unless you are writing about a Superman-type character, your MC will need to grow throughout the book.  Only special proto-type characters can stay the same.  In such a case the supporting characters need to change.  Someone has to grow, has to change, during the story, or you find yourself slipping into Experimental Fiction

The change has to be subtle, by the way, in order to be believable.  Also, do yourself a favor, and don’t use the hackneyed old bit about guy meets girl and they hate each other only to fall in love.  Find a different way, OK?  I mean, really, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when boy meets girl and the sparks that fly are ugly?  Yeah.  That’s it.  They’re gonna be an item.

People might fall in lust right away, but love takes longer than that.  Let things perk.  Let them develop.

The trick is to know what the change will look like once it is complete.  Then, ask, will it occur half-way through the story?  Three quarters?  Will it take the whole book?  Will the character have to die, and in dying see the light?  If you know where the character is going, the chances are good that you can figure out how he or she will get there.

Your thoughts?

How to Orgainize an Outlining Escape

Over the years I’ve learned that certain words, to certain writers, are little more than a nasty noise.  One of those words is “Outline”.  Yikes!  Did I just feel a shudder running through my keyboard?

A lot of writers I know would rather chew off their own leg than outline a novel, or even a chapter, but my experience is that a very brief outline really works.  If you know where your story is going, if you know where your characters need to be at the start and the end of a particular chapter, then all you really need to do is herd them around a bit. 

Knowing where your novel should start, what the character and plot development points are, and approximately when they should happen is not a crutch.  It is a valuable tool that will have you writing rather than scratching your head and staring out into space.  Knowing where you are going keeps you going.

Now, for those who have just been convinced, and those of you who are in the choir being preached at, here’s an idea about how to make your outline a reality.

Do it instead of something you hate to do. 

Image: israelnewsletter.com

For me, it’s waiting in line.  Waiting for a queue of people to move up for me is tedious and irritating.  When I can, I bring a book or play a game on my phone, but unless the game or book will inspire ideas for my novel, I’m just wasting time.

The solution?  Bring a notebook.  Come on, people, you’ve got nothing better to do in that line, right?  Jot down a few ideas.  Imagine where your lead character will be when the book starts, and make a note of it.  Think of when and how you will introduce your supporting characters, your villains, and the like.

The idea is to do a large, loose outline.  You’re not committing yourself to a final form for your novel, you’re just giving yourself a basic roadmap, and permission to create while standing around waiting.

I always take my notepad with me these days, and a lot of good has come from it.  Oh.  One more thing, I do NOT take a novel or anything else that can distract me from the outlining process.   I don’t particularly like it either, but…  to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, “…I hate outlining, but I love having outlined.”

Your thoughts?

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

Froward: Word of the Day

Froward, adj.

Willfully contrary; not easily managed: to be worried about one’s froward, intractable child.

The toddler who lived in the house across the fence from us screamed day and night.  Its cries never sounded like pain or fear, but rather a froward act of defiance.

How will you use froward in a sentence today?

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?