Category Archives: Story Problems

Sleep. And dogs (#SFWApro)

So I’ve spent the past week sleeping (along with TYG and the pups, of course) on our gorgeous new king-size bed. With the added space I’m sleeping much better, but I’m still falling short of a full night’s sleep. I’m waking up around 4 AM and that close to getting up (typically I’m up at 5) my brain doesn’t want to go back to sleep. So while I’m doing much better and feeling much less zonked during the day, it’s not quite as much sleep as I need. Hopefully I’ll adjust and start sleeping a full night soon. But heck, it’s still great being able to spread out comfortably and having a supportive surface that doesn’t jiggle like jello every time TYG or the dogs moves around.

(Unlike me, Trixie can sleep anywhere).

Another problem is that the dogs are sucking up extra time. Longer walks, now that the weather’s cooler. And about fifteen minutes before 11 A.M. and 5 P.M. walkies, they’re getting really, really restless and needy. Today, for instance, I was reduced to checking email starting around 10:45 because they were too distracting for me to focus on anything else. I don’t have a real solution. I know they want to go out sooner than they do, but I suspect if I went with that, they’d still be pushing for earlier walkies. So no.

Now, as to the writing—Southern Discomfort is up to 45,000 words, though I definitely need to rewrite some sections before I wrap up this draft. Everything is proceeding well. The arcs (or at least recurring appearances) of minor characters are shaping up without feeling forced, the main plot is developing smoothly, but I’ve added quite a few new scenes, and they need tidying up, adding sensory detail, etc.  While I’m on line to get up to 50,000 words by Oct. 31 (my plan for the month), I may have to extend writing/polishing into December to get this draft finished.

I didn’t get any work on the ending plotting done this week, alas. But I think I’m definitely doing better on word count. Last time it was under novel length by a few thousand words, but this draft looks to be back up. I think — obviously it’s hard to tell when I’m mid-book, but by this point (Maria’s been busted, Olwen’s under suspicion and the Hither Country is merging with Georgia) in the last draft, I was several thousand words behind where I am now.

I’m also going to need to fact-check some scenes dealing with medical stuff, to make sure it’s all accurate. Fortunately I know doctors.

I turned in my next Screen Rant though it isn’t out yet: 20 Terrible Sci-Fi Shows You’ve Forgotten.

I proofed about half my next ebook (Applied Science, a collection of stories I did almost eight years ago). It’s pretty clean, but I think I’ll have to go over it and make some minor rewrites. These originally appeared one a month on Big Pulp and information I thought necessary to update new readers probably isn’t now — nobody needs to have Steve’s brother’s life as a spy explained more than once.

I worked some more on Trouble and Glass, now retitled No-One Can Slay Her. I think I have a better grasp of the plot but not quite good enough to finish this draft. I’m hoping to read this at the next writers’ group, but I still have time.

And I rewrote The Schloss and the Switchblade because after this summer, the reaction to being in a room of people wearing Hitler masks is not going to be the same as when I wrote it last year. The rewrite wrapped up, I sent it off.

Ultimately due to dogs and a couple of other issues, I didn’t quite make my 35 hours for the week. Nevertheless I choose to be pleased with what I accomplished. I’ll worry about fixing schedule problems next week.

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Filed under Screen Rant, Short Stories, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

When you gaze into insomnia, insomnia gazes back into you (#SFWApro)

Ironically, after mentioning last week that sleeping well cuts into my writing time, this week I found myself sleeping very poorly. That did indeed help get work done, though not as much as usual — I indulged in some pleasure reading during a couple of the early mornings.

A big part of the problem is psychological. To go back to sleep I have to relax. A lot of nights, my inner voice blocks that: “What if you lie here for an hour trying to sleep? You’ll wake up late or nap during the day, and then you won’t get all your writing done! Get up and work until breakfast, it’s the only way to win!” Feeling dog-tired is not actually a win, but knowing that doesn’t help me shut out the voice. As others have observed, worrying about whether you’re going to get to sleep is guaranteed to keep you awake. If I knew why I slept so much better last week, I would apply that knowledge … but I don’t.

All that said, I did get a productive week:

•I fixed almost all the issues with the paperback version of Atlas Shagged on CreateSpace. Unfortunately the one that remains — getting the cover image right — poses technical problems beyond my capability, so I’ll have to turn to some of my friends for help before completing it.

•I’m up to 37,000 words on Southern Discomfort. They’re looking good, though I’ll need to schedule time at some point to go back and revise a few sections. I also put in some time replotting the ending third (finally!) though I’m far from finished. The big challenge is needing something for Joan to do after she’s kidnapped — even if I allow time to run differently in the Hither Country, her situation stretches out over more chapters than it should while everyone else is reaching her. I need to have her doing something different or handle what she is doing so it works better.

•I rewrote Angels Hate This Man! and it was a big improvement, which is not to say it’s actually good yet. But the central character has much stronger scenes than the main characters I started with, so that’s a win.

•I finished another Screen Rant, 17 Things You Didn’t Know About Jor-El, and it’s now live. Below is a great Nicholas Cardy cover I used for one of the illustrations (all rights remain with the current holder).

•I started another draft of Trouble and Glass (I still haven’t found a replacement title I like) and it went well. Rather than try to squeeze in condensed information, I’m letting it expand, filling in whatever worldbuilding details feel necessary as I go along. The results are much more to my liking. However the plot still doesn’t hang together.

 

•I gave a last review to the proofs of Backstage With the Hypothetical Dead and signed the contract. It should be live next week.

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Filed under Atlas Shagged, Nonfiction, Screen Rant, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals

An odd but satisfactory week (#SFWApro)

It wasn’t anywhere near as odd as Clark Kent’s dilemma (cover by Curt Swan, all rights remain with current holder). Just disjointed. I got the basics done for a Screen Rant list on Flash but I’m going to wait until closer to the S4 premiere to finish it. By the time I found that out, I had to hustle to draw up a different list … but I was told (correctly, I think) that it needs much more work to be interesting to SR readers. So I wound up not getting one done, which feels very strange after doing them so regularly for several months (I have skipped weeks but by design, not chance).

Screen Ranting aside, I did get quite a bit done

•I finished my work on the Leaf articles. That project is wrapped up, so it’ll be much more fiction the next few weeks (yay!). Though I’ll be ready if they tap me for another gig.

•I rewrote A Famine Where Abundance Lies and sent it out. I also sent out The Glory That Was.

•I almost sent out The Schloss and the Switchblade again, then I realized I need to rewrite it. In the current political climate someone who discovers a con apparently catering to Nazis isn’t going to be as surprised as when I wrote it last year. I got a first rewrite in but I’m really annoyed I have to do it at all. Thanks Trump for all the enabling you’ve done for white supremacy!

•I’m up to 18,000 words on this draft of Southern Discomforts, which is cool. And I think all the scenes I’ve done so far are much improved.

•I began work on replotting the last third and found (I think) the problem. The plot hinges on Gwalchmai kidnapping Joan, one of the lead characters, and using her life to force Olwen to surrender. The trouble is I’ve set it up as “surrender by time X or she dies” and it really doesn’t make sense. He wants things over and done, so it’d be more likely “surrender now.” So maybe he has no reason to kidnap her … but in that case what does he do? What ratchets up the tension and pushes everyone to struggle to stop him? The answers are not coming yet, but I think I’m asking the right questions.

•I got four more chapters of Undead Sexist Cliches done. Two of them are new and rough so they’ll require more tinkering than the rest, which are on their second draft (or third if you count the original blog posts).

I also received a review (via my publisher) from some German magazine for Now and Then We Time Travel. The English translation is very awkward, but I think their assessment is “impressive breadth, needs to be deeper.” But I could be wrong.

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Filed under Now and Then We Time Travel, Personal, Screen Rant, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Time management and goals

Defying gravity! Will I fall off the cliff? (#SFWApro)

This was a good writing week.

I wrote last Friday that I was nervous about Southern Discomfort because I didn’t have a clear path, plotwise, as I progressed through the book. Surprisingly, that wasn’t even slightly a problem this week. If anything, writing was easy. I finished one chapter, asked myself “Okay, what next?” and presto, I got the answer. That’s surprising — I very rarely get into that kind of flow state — but it’s really enjoyable.

However I know from experience, that’s not a guarantee I’m on the right path (though it certainly feels like I am). Hence the use of the Fool of the Tarot’s Major Arcana (Arthur Waite version). According to one interpretation of the card, it represents the quester passing through the spiritual stages of the other Arcana. Walking to the edge of the cliff, he may be the naive, beginning quester who doesn’t realize the danger he’s in. Then again, he may be the enlightened quester who knows that if he walks off the cliff, he’ll land safely.

And it’s possible I’m either one. If it keeps going this well, I’m the enlightened quester. But it’s possible that 10,000 words from now I’ll discover everything I wrote this week has steered me into a dead end. One potential problem is that several key events, while they flow much better in this draft, now take place about 15,000 words earlier. If I don’t make up the 15,000, I’d end up about 68,000 words, which is way too short.

Nevertheless, writing the book this week felt very good.

That consumed most of my writing week. I also got off one query (as And magazine stopped using my columns, I’m hitting other markets), worked some on Undead Sexist Cliches—the Book, and started a new draft of the short story Trouble in Glass. I also tackled various paperwork issues (taxes and other financial stuff) I needed to catch up on.

I’d planned to take about four hours off to use up some of the extra hours I’d built up, but I just didn’t get around to it. Still with Memorial Day coming up, if TYG takes time off, maybe I’ll use it then.

 

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Filed under Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Writing

I think this advice for writers is unsound (#SFWApro)

So I recently stumbled across an article Dean Wesley Smith wrote several years ago, about killing the myths of publishing. One of the myths, Smith says, is that you must rewrite something to make it good — in his view you shouldn’t, unless an editor asks you to [edited for clarity]. It’s fine to throw away a draft, then start over fresh and improve it, but actually going back and editing your work is giving in to the critical side of your mind, which is composed of bad advice from writing classes and editors and how-to articles. Instead write it, polish it (small changes are okay) and either submit it or self-publish it. Even if it sucks, editors and readers won’t hold it against you next time. And no amount of rewriting will ever fix a bad first draft.

Smith acknowledges that every writer is different, not every writer does things the same way, but I think that’s just boilerplate — the whole point of the article is that you should do it this way. That if you’re doing it the other way, with rewrites and self-editing (aside from edits requested by an actual editor who can buy it), you’re doing it wrong. And obviously this method works for him, as he’s published a lot of stuff. And for several others, whom he mentions in his article. But as a fundamental rule, it’s a pile of bollocks. Smith isn’t myth-busting, he’s myth-propagating. I’ve been reading variations of “don’t rewrite” and paeans to the first draft being pure unfettered creativity and the logical editorial side of you can only strangle your pure creative spirit as long as I’ve been reading about writing (which at this point is a while).

No question some writers can write awesome first drafts. I will agree with Smith that not every writer has to rewrite (although I suspect no-rewrite writers are rarer than he thinks). But “famous writer does X” isn’t always proof that’s how it can, or should be done. Stanley Weinbaum sold the first short story he wrote, A Martian Odyssey, and it remains a classic. That doesn’t mean most of us can write and sell a classic story first time out, not even if we tried (as Lewis Carroll put it) with both hands.

Besides I know for a fact that bad first drafts can be rewritten into something good. I’ve done it often enough and the results have sold.  Smith’s argument I should just have published the originals or submitted them … that I find dubious. It’s possible, as he says, that editors may not remember them or hold them against me (I’ve not been an editor so I can’t say) though if I’d done that with, say, Wodehouse Murder Case. I rewrote it a lot before I started sending it out. And I improved it. If I’d sent in the first draft to Azure Valley and they’d rejected it, I couldn’t have resubmitted the revised version that sold.

Readers? Smith argues that as readers are free to sample your indie stuff, they simply won’t buy the book if it sucks — no hard feeling. But what if the book opens well, then bogs down mid story? Or simply ends without wrapping everything up? Sampling may not reveal that. And if I someone puts my stuff down after sampling because it sucked, are they likely to sample my next book? Some people will give authors multiple chances, I almost never do. Case in point, I won’t make any effort to read more how-to’s from Smith.

For a better discussion of revision (and the Heinlein quote Smith uses to buttress his case), visit io9.

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My week in review makes me think of that TV series Hindsight (#SFWApro)

One of the things I liked about VH1’s Hindsight was that after the protagonist travels 20 years into the past and fixes her big problems (her train-wreck first marriage and her dead-end job), she has no idea what to do next. Knowing what was wrong in her past doesn’t show her what path will lead to happiness (her best friend points out that she’s no worse off than anyone else). Which is sort of what I felt like working on Southern Discomfort this week.

The one part of the book I still haven’t outlined is Joan and Maria journeying to Caer Gwalchmai. It has to be less than the relatively simple “waltz through the Otherworld and get the magic McGuffin” sequence in the last draft, but I’m not sure what. This week I got a clearer idea of what I don’t want: it shouldn’t be just a struggle fighting through supernatural forces and monsters. My gut says that’s wrong, and I trust my gut. However I’m not sure what the alternative is. A series of traps and wards they have to circumvent? Maybe. Or something I haven’t yet thought of. Quite possibly. I’ll keep pushing until I figure it out. And start on the earlier chapters while I’m thinking, so I don’t waste too much time staring into my navel for inspiration.

I did not get as much work on the novel done as planned because of those two assignments I mentioned last week — a History Magazine article assignment and a trial run as a writer for Screen Rant. I got the History research collected and managed to bat out a rough draft (very rough, but it gives me a sense of how I want the piece structured). And I found the photos I need online.

The first Screen Rant column, as I suspected, took much longer than I wanted it to. If I’m going to stick with the gig (assuming they like my work), I’ll have to write much more efficiently. But that was the case with Demand Media: the first few articles were crawling, then I found my rhythm. I’ll also have to structure my time so that I don’t work on them over the weekend — this one will have to be wrapped up Sunday. The writing’s done, except for proofreading, but I have to enter it in the system, which will probably take a bit longer. And I have to find illustrations and crop them which will be a pain. But then again, writing about comics and getting paid for it is pretty damn cool, so onward!

I applied for a couple more freelance jobs, and that was about it for work, even with more than the usual number of hours in. Of course that’s partly because reading White Flight was slow going, because the book’s so packed with information. And I got stressed and tired Wednesday which made hump day less productive than I’d planned.

To end on a high note, here’s a look at Plushie after his new cut. Adorable, is he not?

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Filed under Nonfiction, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

I totally did not see these plot twists coming (#SFWApro)

Plot twist the first: after a big get together last weekend, TYG came down with a nasty cold. As of today, it appears I’ve caught it too, but in much less virulent form (that’s how it usually works with us). I felt like all I want to do is nothing, but I’m not hacking or sneezing any. So yay for small mercies.

Plot twist the second: I routinely submit query letters to various non-fiction magazines, but my success rate is so low I’ve often wondered if writing and finishing more fiction wouldn’t be smarter. But this week, guess what? I got a go-ahead from History magazine for an article proposal. After the initial panic at having committed myself (I’m so used to working without deadlines or obligations these days) I took a deep breath, relaxed, and enjoyed the moment.

PT the third: I also apply for freelance gigs through the Journalism Jobs website, usually without much success. But this week I pitched Screen Rant on a gig writing about comic books, and they liked my stuff. It’ll be a trial run at first to see if it really works out on both sides, but writing about comic books (list-style articles) is like a dream job. More details when I have something posted.

This, of course, leaves me with the challenge of adjusting my schedule for the new assignments. That’s tougher than you’d think, simply because I don’t want to give up time on fiction — but most probably, work on short stories will take the hit. Next to actual paying gigs, Southern Discomforts is the top priority, lesser projects will have to go on stand-by.

Speaking of which, this week’s replotting went reasonably well. I have a rough outline of how things should happen and how everyone reaches their endpoints. I do not have, however, the scene by scene breakdown that I wanted; my vague outlines tend to fall so far apart midbook that I have to give up and start over, and I don’t want that. I’ll continue scene-by-sceneing it but I may start work on the early, well-detailed chapters as well. But I’m still concerned that I may be losing some of the sense of Pharisee as a community outside the plot of the story. I’ll have to watch that as things progress.

I delivered my next And column, though it’s not out yet, and got another 12,000 words written on Undead Sexist Clichés: The Book (not how it will be titled, but it’s the simplest way to distinguish from the same name blog-post series). I also took care of getting a second opinion on one household project (major repairs not necessary for a while, whoot!), and took the car in for its annual inspection.

A good week. With surprises that were mostly pleasant ones. I’m as happy as a plush dog chewing on a stick.

another-stick

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Undead sexist cliches, Writing