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Tag Archives: Expanding Horizons

Advice to a Young Writer

Advice to a Young Writer

This message from a young writer arrived last week via my website:

I am interested in writing teen fiction light novels. The genre I would like to work with is fantasy, adventure, and space. What does it take to become a fiction writer? What steps did you take? and How did you accomplish your work? I am still working on my fiction story. I created a link [omitted]. Just to get a head start.

A few days later, when I had time to provide a lucid reply after sleeping hours and hours, I wrote back:

Welcome to the land of stories! We writers are an odd bunch, living so often as we do in worlds of myth and make-believe.

How does one become a writer? One writes.

A lot.

Like all crafts, writing takes time and practice. Often, the first book written will not be the first book published. Many writers have manuscripts that will never see publication, because those were their practice books. Maybe book three or book five is the one finally published, the one readers might think is the author’s first book ever.

Dragon’s Rook took twenty years from concept to publication. Most writers don’t take that long. I was busy making a living while writing short stories and poems, submitting them to contests or magazines, and then — at long last — finishing a novel.

However, there are many unfinished novels. Some I threw away, because the time to write them had long past. Some I kept, because I still have a passion to complete them.

I can’t give you any rules or checklists to guide your journey. It’s unique to you. However, all writers become writers by — drum roll, please! — writing.

Learn all you can about constructing compelling storylines, creating intriguing characters, writing dynamic dialogue, and even learn proper grammar and sentence construction. Good paragraphs are structured like good jokes: not that they are all funny, but that they build toward a strong ending. Write a strong sentence, write a strong paragraph, write a strong scene. Repeat until you have a chapter, until you have another chapter, until you finally have a book.

Avoid cliched phrases or trite characters. Avoid lazy writing. There may be only a limited number of stories in the world, but find a way to tell your story in a fresh way.

Be open to constructive criticism. Not nasty put-downs, but honest feedback meant to help your work improve. Be humble and teachable. Be ready to stand up for your story choices, if necessary, but also be ready to consider other options. Be willing to look at the story honestly, and to see its flaws as well as its strengths.

I saw on your website that you have some of your story posted. A word of caution: Avoid offering too much of your work for free, or too soon. A chapter or a scene might be okay, or a short story related to the novel not included in the book itself. (Many writers are offering free short stories or deleted scenes as bonus material for readers.)

I wish you all the best on your journey, and I hope to hear good things about you in the future.

Sincerely,
KB

Any other advice you’d give a young writer?

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Evocative

Took this shot with a 1:1 lens at sunset in December, and we were losing light fast, so settings for one shot weren’t accurate for the next shot. Still, I like this image. It’s been brightened and sharpened and filtered, and remains imperfect, but it evokes other images.

If this were a book cover, what kind of story would it contain?

Jamie at the campus
(c2016, KB)

 

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Story Mines: Dreams and Family Lore

Story Mines: Dreams and Family Lore

Dreams and family history are two rich story mines. Below are a couple examples from my life:

This morning, shortly before waking, I had a long and detailed dream about my old job. There were new faces and new ideas, and none of the rookies seemed unsettled to see me, but started telling me what was going on, whose idea was whose, what worked, what didn’t, and why.

However, before I could meet the new employees or reach the new workspace (a shiny new and bright concession stand, one of many places I oversaw in the old job), I had to pass people with whom I used to work. They didn’t greet me or smile, but immediately began complaining about my absence. They were sarcastic, passive-aggressive, unhappy.

When I tried to leave that little conclave of depression and blame, they followed me, still complaining, still muttering. None of them, however, set foot into the bright, new workspace.

I turned around from admiring the new setup and speaking with the smart, young assistant manager, and looked out the open door to where the conclave gathered in the dark. They shot ugly looks, quieted but never stopped muttering.

That’s when I woke.

That’s also when I was reminded that 1) those burdens are no longer mine to bear, and 2) vision and gratitude turn on the lights.

(originally written March 1, 2014)

———-

Most of my social media connections know what I think about racism, the pernicious, persistent misnomer that’s not about race — we’re all the human race, there is no other — and all about skin color and ethnicity: Racism ends when we let it end. When skin color and ethnic origins are simply allowed to be, without the assumption or the weight of something ugly attached.

I don’t tend to make ethnicity a big deal in my stories. People are who they are, who they decide to be, who their actions lead them to become, and sometimes their origins have an impact on that.

The Deer Place“, however, directly addresses racism, and mixes elements from family lore and my father’s childhood. He recalls being called a “dirty Indian” and other names when he was young. He also had a special place on the mountain where he met the deer, and one day he discovered where they went.

(originally written February 28, 2015)

 

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Communication and Respect

c2016, KB

c2016, KB

There’s a meme I occasionally encounter on social media, and it’s a quote from Isaac Asimov:

There is a cult of ignorance, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge’.

Usually, I let the meme pass without comment.

Not so after the most recent encounter:

Unfortunately, democracy is made up of flawed human beings of varying perspectives, values, and educations. One trauma, one triumph, one challenge, one loss, one gain, one ________ can change our view of the world and of ourselves.

We — an all-encompassing “we” — need not assume that someone’s disagreement with our point of view means they are the ignorant one in the conversation.

Regardless of where we stand on certain issues, we too often think we stand above those with whom we do not agree. That, I think, is one main reason there are such gaping chasms between groups in this country.

Are only those with whom we agree worthy of courtesy?

Are only those we deem our intellectual equals worthy of our respect?

Are only those we consider morally correct worthy of being treated with decency?

We tend to assume we’re the ones with the whole truth, and often do not consider we might be mistaken.

On the other hand, there is absolute truth, and if we have no strength of conviction, we’ll never stand for anything.

There’s a time to hear and understand other points of view, even if we never change our own stance.

There’s a time to examine ourselves and explore other ideas, and then decide whether or not we need to adjust or to remain firm.

Simply because others disagree does not mean we double-down, speak louder, or become aggressive in trying to change their minds.

Maybe we’re the ones who are wrong.

Maybe, in our ignorance, we overlook their intelligence.

 

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Step Right Up!

Step Right Up!

(rabid used-car-salesman gestures and wild-eyed look) “Step right up, folks! A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!”

The lawyer clears his throat, and the salesman amends his pitch. “A once-in-a-year opportunity!”

The lawyer nods.

“Enter now to win one of two signed paperback copies of Dragon’s Rook!”

And, for those readers who don’t prefer the high-pressure sales pitch, here’s a graphic with an embedded link, which you may click or not, as you wish. 😉

2 Win a FREE Book!

 

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A Brief Word About Beta Readers

A Brief Word About Beta Readers

In a discussion on Facebook, someone asked the difference between a beta reader and an editor, and the cost one might expect to pay for the services of either. When I said that one should not pay for beta readers, there was disagreement. However, I still maintain that one need not pay for beta readers.

Consider them your product testers. They’re the focus group who tries out the new invention, samples a new product, gives feedback on an upcoming ad campaign, views an early cut of a movie, or tests a new video game to see if it plays as it should.

If you (or a close, trusted individual) are the alpha reader of your manuscript, then beta readers are the folks who see the final, pre-publication draft. That version can still be a manuscript, or it can take the form of a galley or proof copy of the book.*

In return for their effort on your behalf, give beta readers a signed copy of the published book, or offer to read or test something they’ve created.

But don’t hire beta readers as you would hire an editor. And while editors can provide a similar service in the form of a manuscript critique,** there’s nothing like getting feedback directly from readers — who are, of course, a writer’s intended audience.


UPDATE (8-7-16): The paragraphs below are from a reader’s comments in a Facebook discussion sparked by this blog post. They expand upon and better explain what I attempted above.

A beta tester for a video game or other piece of software enters into an agreement wherein he receives a free or discounted early release of the software to use, and in return, the tester will tell the company what he thinks about the software — what does or doesn’t work, what is or isn’t intuitive, what he would like to see changed or further developed, etc. The beta tester is not paid for his work. He is asked, as an average user, to give the company his average-user opinion of the product. At best, he gets a free copy of the software, but it is both understood and accepted (and generally stated in some Terms and Conditions document somewhere, for legal reasons) in the IT community that beta testers are not compensated.

Testers who are hired on for their services are not hired to come at the software from the average user’s perspective; they are hired to make sure that the software functions appropriately (e.g. program doesn’t crash on loading, save function actually functions, etc.). They are hired to seek out and fix problems with the software, not to provide the average user’s perspective. These testers are not referred to as beta testers, because that’s not the job they do.

A beta reader receives a free or discounted early release of a book to read, and in exchange, the reader will tell the author what he thinks of the book — what does or doesn’t seem to fit or flow well in the story, what does or doesn’t make sense, what he would like to see further explained or developed, etc. This makes a beta reader the exact literary equivalent to a software beta tester. Traditionally, beta readers are treated the same as beta testers — that is, they are not paid for their services. And there is nothing wrong with that.

For clarification, if any reader, compensated or otherwise, provides any services outside what I listed above (other services include but are not limited to any form of editing, proofreading, etc.), then he has ceased to be a beta reader and strayed into editor/manuscript critic territory.


* It’s best if beta readers are honest with you about what works or doesn’t, what they like or don’t like, and are willing to give specific feedback (not merely generic “I hate it” or “I like it” statements, but detailed responses).

Prepare a list of questions for them to answer, so they know what kind of feedback you need. Example: “In the scene where Tara is driving Sven to the airport and they encounter an overturned ambulance, is the dialogue and action believable? Why or why not?”

Keep the questions simple and straightforward, and keep the list short. Try not to make the readers feel they’re doing homework, but make it easy for them to help you.

Also provide readers with a simple way of reporting any typos or grammar issues they find. It’s handy when they provide you a page number, and maybe even a paragraph and a line number — “page 35, paragraph 3, line 7” — as well as a description of what’s wrong (“dipsolve” should be “dissolve”). 

** Manuscript critiques may cover such issues as continuity, characterization, worldbuilding, etc. Regular editing may also touch on those issues, but will also focus on the writing itself.

 

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Fake Elvis, the Zombie Hunter

Fake Elvis, the Zombie Hunter

I enjoy impromptu writing exercises, and when they’re part of writers meetings, they can be especially fun.

At the most recent such meeting, our prompt came from an excellent, often hilariously funny resource: The Amazing Story Generator by Jason Sacher. For about fifteen minutes of furious writing, we all composed vastly different stories, each expanding on “Forced to join the family business, an Elvis impersonator leads the charge against a zombie army.”

Two writers created funny, tight, complete stories, while the rest of us merely composed beginnings.

My offering is nowhere near the cleverest or funniest, but it might be useful for a minutes’ entertainment.

_______________________

“Aint’ nothin’ but a–”

I interrupted checking my pompadour in the glass of the turret to aim the cannon at a lone zombie lurching out of the dust. The brain-eater disintegrated into ash and bone.

I radioed to the rest of the squadron. We backed our machines into a ragged circle, cannon pointing out, and let the billowing brown-orange dust clouds blow away.

I flicked a handkerchief over the rhinestones on my fringed jacket. No white jumpsuits for battle, but black leather made one look cool and Presley-ish at once. I curled my lip at my reflection. Even though Dad had hidden all my costumes and told the event managers I lip-synced all the songs, forcing me to join the family monster-slaying enterprise, I need to stay in practice for my return to the stage.

Meantime, the gang and I needed to obliterate these mountain zombies before dark. Otherwise, they’d shuffle off to their caves and we’d be stuck here for another week, picking ’em off one at a time.

The thing about zombies, though, is they’re still aware enough to avoid charging our cannon en masse. Someone needed to volunteer as a human lure, but I wasn’t about to risk the hair.

c2016, KB

_______________________

If you’re in need of a story idea or simply a good laugh — “Longing for a simpler life, a sassy nun steals a baby” or “Vowing not to bathe for an entire year, a North Korean scientist meets the ghost of Ernest Hemingway” — grab a copy of Sacher’s book. You won’t be disappointed. 🙂

 

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