Being a Better Writer: Fleshing Out Ideas – From Idea to Story

Welcome back, readers, to another Monday post of Being a Better Writer! Sorry for the delay. As many of you likely guessed, I was given a morning shift at work to deal with. Half-shift, but even then there’s the prep time around it, afterwards, travel time, etc … Hence why I’d rather sell more books. But that’s a case for another post. Being late, better I dive right into today’s topic!

Now, I don’t actually remember the circumstances by which this topic came to be on the list (could have been LTUE), but either way, the topic is a good one. Hang out in a writing-centric thread online or attend a writing workshop—sands, even look in the comments of a public page for an author or attend a panel—and eventually, probably fairly quickly, you’ll hear a question or  comment that’s a lot like the following:

I have this great idea/concept/story/character, but the moment I try to sit down and write them, I just run out of steam. I can’t get it/them written. How do I do this?

Now, the exact phrasing may vary, but trust me, you’ll here the sentiment, echoed from a number of beginning writers. And you won’t even have to wait long. It’s a question that comes up all the time.

And you know, to be fair, it’s not exactly a bad question. A poor one, maybe, but not a bad one. And it’s one that’s often reflected by the faces and situations of many more in whatever assorted audience is present than the one who asked. Crud, I’m certain that it’s a question that some of the authors who have been forced to scramble for an answer themselves once voiced, though perhaps internally.

But … it’s still a poor question. I certainly wouldn’t call it a good one. Not poor enough that it isn’t worth tackling in this post, but not the best question either.

Why? Well, let me answer that before I get into the deeper-roots behind the question. The question is a poor one because 90% of the time the individual asking it is asking for a silver bullet. A solution that doesn’t exist. I entirely suspect that if, when asked this question, whoever was asked responded with “Well, are you using X program?” or “Are you sitting in this kind of chair?” there would be a massive sale of said product in the audience that had asked.

Again, I shouldn’t batter these poor souls too badly. After all, they are beginners. But as beginners, when asking this question, the answer they get is hardly the answer they want (and sometimes, they’ll tell you). They’re inexperienced enough to think that all it takes is an idea, a pen or a keyboard, and a little bit of writing, and boom! Story! And the problem with that is that, as all writers know, there is no silver bullet. There’s no magic “thing” or element that anyone can just do to take a story from an idea to a finished product (or at least a halfway competent one). And in that regard, the question is poor.

Now, that said, it wouldn’t take much to “fix” it so that we can give it a real answer. If we rearrange it a little, tweak a few of the words a bit, we get something much more workable. Something like:

I have a good idea/story/concept/character, but the when I sit down to try and write it, I start having trouble. How do I take it from an idea to a finished work? What are the steps there?

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Being a Better Writer: Some Advice for Starting Your First Book

Don’t forget, Unusual Events is now out!

So, this is it. The time has come. You’ve finally decided. You’re going to sit down and start that new book you’ve been waiting to write. You’ve done other projects before, short stories and the like, but this time, you’re going for the novel. Long chapters. A compelling plot. You can see the final scenes in your head. You grin with glee, sit down at your keyboard, and …

Nothing. You wait for the words to spring forth, but they aren’t coming. You’re paralyzed by indecision. Suddenly you’re aware what a huge project this is. You’ve never attempted something of this size before! Your fingers seem frozen.

Relax. It’s understandable. Starting a book is a big project, one that brings a lot of pressures and requests to the table. And it’s differentfrom a short story, fundamentally so. It’s going to take some alternative approaches to how you’ve worked before.

Maybe this is you. Then again, maybe it isn’t. Maybe you’ve sat down without any prior writing experience whatsoever and tried to write out a book only to realize you weren’t quite sure what you were doing. Maybe you’re struggling through it anyway and want some tips. Or maybe you haven’t started one yet, but you’ve been watching this blog like a hawk, thinking “Soon, my time will come.”

Well, today might be that time, because today?

Today we’re talking about what goes into starting a book.

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One Million Strong

Normally I wouldn’t be putting up a Sunday post. But this post is different, different enough that I’m going to make an exception.

Last night, I was lying in bed and thinking about writing things (as usual). The release of Unusual Events, work still to do on Colony, plotting for Shadow of an Empire … even the upcoming LTUE convention near where I live (which I will, sadly, apparently not be paneling at this year, though I will likely still attend).

Anyway, as I was lying in bed trying to sleep (and failing utterly because my mind wouldn’t stop rolling along) I realized something. I’ve hit another milestone. A massive one.

One million published words of fiction.

I had to pause and think about it for a moment. The Dusk Guard: Rise? 275,000 words. The Dusk Guard: Beyond the Borderlands? 300,000. Side stories? 115,000 words. One Drink? 33,000 words. Dead Silver? 139,000. And now Unusual Events: 152,000.

Total? 1,014,000 words. As in one million, fourteen thousand words.

Even better? I’m going to almost double that this year. Colony, slated for a May release at the moment, is 325,000 words. Shadow of an Empire isn’t far enough along to have a dedicated length yet, but given that it’s another Epic and I haven’t written one under 250,000 words yet, it seems a safe bet that it’ll be at least 200,000 words edging on 300,000.

The point to all this, aside from me going “Holy smokes, look at what I wrote?” You can do it if you put your mind to it. A million published words in just a few years is feasible if you’ve got the drive. It’s not about the car you own, it’s not about how many workshops you attend or how much you talk about how hard you’ve been working.

It’s the doing. The sitting down and pushing forward. Not giving up or thinking after an hour “I’ll do that tomorrow.” And eventually, as we push forward, we reach the mountain peak.

And then we find the next one to climb.

Being a Better Writer: Beginning Anew

Hello everyone! Welcome to 2016!

Yes, that’s right, it’s a new year, and now that the festivities and parties are all over, that means it’s time to knuckle down and get back to work! Well, for me, at least. And I’d best do it fast. There’s a whole lot of work staring me in the face right now! I’ve got a book to release by the end of January (more on that tomorrow), a second book to release by May (more on that to come, but most of you regular readers know the title), and another book to start, finish, and publish! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! There’s at least one convention—LTUE—to go to, another book I need to rewrite, the next Dusk Guard entry to consider, and even, of course, the weeklyBeing a Better Writer posts to keep track of (along with everything else web-related).

And you know what I say? Bring it on! I’m refreshed, recharged, and I’ve got two books about to come out. How could I say no to that?

So then, with all that said, lets dive into today’s topic: Beginning Anew. I felt it was appropriate to discuss seeing as we’ve just kicked off the new year. All of you are out there setting goals (hopefully), examining your lives, and, if you’re a writer (or a prospective one) figuring out exactly what you want to accomplish this year with your craft.

That’s good. You totally should be doing that. See any of the number of prior posts I’ve made on goals or motivation for my opinions on that topic. And if you want more, there are plenty of writing blogs out there discussing this very topic as a consequence of the new year.

So I’m going to talk about something a little different when I say “Beginning Anew.” I’m not going to talk about the new goals for the year you’re setting, nor entirely the act of sitting down to start a new book (though I feel that might be a topic for another time). Instead when I say “Beginning Anew,” I’m speaking of another kind of new. The kind where you look at something that you’ve worked on again and again and realize “You know? Maybe it’s time to move on.”

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Being a Better Writer: Some Tips for Writing Mysteries

What a weekend. I don’t know about you guys, but I finally got my hands on a copy of Halo 5: Guardians and played through it. The short? It’s a good thing the multiplayer is so good (and I do mean good) because the campaign and story are flat-out awful. And I do mean awful. The shooting’s fun, and the environments are neat … but the story is a hackneyed, jumbled, poorly thrown-together mess, and the dialogue … oh the dialogue …

Look, Halo has never been pushing for awards for great writing, I get that. But the first three games at least put together a fun, grand story that had some great moments. Guardians, on the other hand … Well, lets just say that there are a few scenes that couldn’t bemore poorly written. No joke: if I ever teach a class on creative writing or fiction writing, I’m using one of the cutscenes from Halo 5 as an example of what not to do, because it’s just that bad.

So yes, great gunplay, dialogue and writing so bad it made me cringe. Everything you heard about Guardian‘s poor story is absolutely true. In fact, it might be truer than you expected. If they handed out razzies for poor writing in games (and maybe they do, I don’t know), I’d be nominating Halo 5 this year.

Right. To business. Mysterious tips!

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Being a Better Writer: Character Versus Plot

This post was originally written and posted November 10th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Today we’re going to talk about a lesser-considered aspect of storytelling and writing. I’ve bandied about with a few different introductions to the concept and summarily discarded all of them, so instead I’m just going to jump right in and tackle things.

Effectively—and understand that I am for the purposes of today’s concept, grossly simplifying—every story out there, written, told, or seen, rides a sliding scale into one of two categories: They’re either a character-driven piece or a plot-driven piece. That’s it. These are your options, and understanding which your story is going to be, as well as more importantly, how to achieve this, will play a part in determining the success of your work.

Okay, some of you are nodding, some of you are confused, a few are wondering where I’m going with this. So let’s look into this one a little more deeply.

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Being a Better Writer: The Thought Process

So, today’s topic actually came to me only yesterday morning whilst on my flight home. I was at 30,000 feet (or whatever cruising altitude was for that flight) and suitably armed, as is my custom, with every type of boredom-defense I can fit in my backpack that will work on an airplane. At the moment, my tool of choice was two-fold: My Zune (yes, I have a Zune, and it has endured eight years and far, far more punishment than any other MP3 player my immediate family has tried), and my kindle. Which means that yes, I was a reading, and perhaps—okay, definitely—reading with a critical eye.

Anyway, I noticed something as I read through the first few chapters. It was something that I’ve observed before in other books, but because this book actually shifted its own stance as it moved into later chapters, my attention was captured by it all the more closely. I noted the absolute lack of “it” in the early chapters, and then as the story moved on, “it” began to appear more and more, changing the tone of the book as it came. The more “it” showed up, the happier with the book I became, as, I would hazard, did the author.

What was “it?” Well, to be honest, it was something quite simple. Something very straightforward and elegant, but something that still misses entire books.

It was the character thinking.

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