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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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When Gaerbith Met Kieran

Struggling to complete this scene. I’ve already composed the first paragraphs of a scene that comes later, involving these characters, but am not sure how to proceed with this fight scene. It should be intense, I think, but witty.

Perhaps I am asking too much of it.

From the Plains rose a smudge of green that grew or shrank depending on the swell of the land as they travelled. Days later, it revealed itself as trees, and in two more days, the trees revealed their size, giants standing arm-in-arm.

Yanámari halted her mount on a grassy rise and looked East. “The Guardians.”

Gaerbith nudged his horse up the slope and joined her. Thick limbs intertwined, and massive trunks were separated only by the shadows between them. Somewhere beyond them light flashed, perhaps sun reflecting from the glass observatory built by King Meresh in long ages past. How had it survived the war and all the centuries after?

“The House of the Sky,” Gaerbith said, clasping Yanámari’s hand. “Home to your mother’s ancestors.”

“That blood is too remote to claim any kinship here.”

“Still. Almost home.”

By nightfall, they rested in a hollow among the tangled roots of the guardians. Fallen branches provided enough fuel for a fire in a small pit dug where the Plains sidled up to the trees, and a tiny brook trickled out from the shadows as if it had been awaiting their arrival before springing up from the ground. Gaerbith and Yanámari sipped handfuls from the rill spilling over tumbled stones, and the horses drank from the little pool it formed before disappearing into the tall, waving grass. Animals shuffled and snuffled somewhere beyond the Guardians—familiar night noises—but when a sudden silence fell, both horses lifted their heads, chins dripping, and pointed noses and ears toward the darkness.

A faint shrr of cloth against cloth sounded a moment before the quiet firmness of a careful footfall.

Reaching over his shoulder, Gaerbith gripped the hilt of his sword. “Come, you. No skulking. Show your face.”

He did not expect the answering chuckle, or the pleasant low voice that accompanied it. “That sword is nigh man-tall. Exchange it for a stave, and we will have fine sport.”

A thick staff flew from the shadows. Gaerbith caught it more by instinct than sight.

 

c2017, KB, for Dragon’s Bane, a novel

 

The connection between these two guys is a minor plot twist — revealed to the reader earlier in the story, but not yet known to Kieran. And, at this moment, not known to either guy, because Gaerbith does not yet know it’s Kieran who is challenging him.

 

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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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W: When Characters Attack!

W: When Characters Attack!

What happens when a writer grows weary of his characters?

What happens when they fight back?

One is reminded of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attempting to rid himself of Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls, or the author in Stranger Than Fiction whose protagonists never make it out alive.

Or perhaps the writer realizes she’s dug herself into a literary hole and doesn’t know when or how to end the story. (Lost, I’m lookin’ at you. And you, too, Once Upon a Time, which should have lasted only a season or two, before you misused your great cast and intriguing premise to go screaming off the rails into soap opera badlands.)

W is a 2016 South Korean television drama in the vein of Stranger Than Fiction, Secret Window, The Truman Show, The God Hater, and other stories where the characters confront or interact with their authors, their audiences, or their creators. In this series, comicbook characters become aware of their fictionhood and enter the real world to confront their creator.

First, the protagonist learns why a shadowy figure is trying to kill him and turns the tables on his creator. then the villain also realizes he can enter the other dimension, and demands of the creator a face and an identity.

How the story begins:

Kang Cheol has a few loyal associates upon whom he relies, but when a mysterious woman saves his life more than once, he’s intrigued. Although the police are seeking her as a material witness and a suspect in the multiple attempts on his life, Kang Cheol hides her in order to protect her not only from the police but also from his murderous stalker.

Meantime, his television station, W—which stands for Who and Why—broadcasts and solves cold cases that the police have abandoned. He has earned a golden reputation in society for his ingenuity, wealth, generosity, and dogged pursuit of justice.

Oh Yeon Joo is alerted by her father’s fellow artists that he is missing. He went into his office one day, and although he was never seen leaving, he cannot be found. As she’s standing in his office, searching for clues, a bloody hand reaches through his art tablet and pulls her into the world of W. Without valid ID, money, or other resources, she attempts to navigate the comicbook world and find a way back to her own.

Oh Seung Moo has made his fortune and his reputation with W, finally rising from obscurity to fame with the bestselling series. Why, then has he written an abrupt ending for the protagonist—a bloody death without the satisfaction of a solved crime? After all, fans have been awaiting the revelation of the villain who killed Kang Cheol’s family.

But Kang Cheol will not die, and he begins to affect the story from the other side of the tablet. Seung Moo is no longer in control of his creation.

Has Seung Moo run away, unable to cope with success? Or is he suffering a common literary malady—an inability to properly resolve the story?

And why does Kang Cheol believe Yeon Joo is “the key to my life”?

The answer to that, my friends, is a plot twist.

At only 16 episodes long, W is fast-paced. However, it does slow down a little on occasion, allowing the viewer to catch his or her breath and often poking gentle fun at kdrama tropes.

The cinematography is excellent, and the special effects—as characters pass from one world to the next, or as pieces of the comic are drawn and then appear in the webtoon world—are top-notch and deceptively simple. Some effects are in-camera rather than digital, lending a level of reality to the cartoon world.

W would fit nicely into any of these genres: horror, fantasy, thriller, mystery, suspense, romance, action, and more. It is twisty, unpredictable, and references many kdrama tropes then refreshes the cliches to turn the story in unexpected directions.

The reason for so many genres intermingling is due to the story being hijacked by the characters, who don’t know the cartoonist’s plans but simply want to live. And to live on their own terms.

Story themes include existence, humanity, determining one’s own life/destiny/future, and the roles and relationships among god/creator, devil/antagonist, and allies and enemies. Choices have consequences—and the choices and consequences become manifold as fictional characters no longer follow the plot but assert their wills on the story. Viewers of varying philosophies or worldviews will find this an intriguing tale.

Currently, W is available on Viki, which allows viewers to comment during the show. However, during your first viewing of the show, I suggest turning off the scrolling comments at the top of the video window, as they can be distracting, annoying, downright funny. Best to watch without them, until you view the show a second time.

 

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Dragon’s Bane Update

Dragon’s Bane Update

First, a bit of housekeeping: The recent Goodreads giveaway was a success. Not quite as many participants as the 2015 giveaway, there were still a large number of entrants interested in Dragon’s Rook. The winners are Jessica from the Netherlands, and Sheila from New Mexico. Signed paperback copies have been mailed, and should arrive soon.

Second, questions have been asked by readers concerning the availability of Dragon’s Bane, the second half of The Lost Sword duology. They have served as prods to speed up the completion of the story:

1) I just finished Dragon’s Rook and loved it. Any news on when the sequel will be available for purchase? I can’t wait!

(T)hank you for the kind review! We writers pour pieces — minutes, hours, years — of our lives into our work, so when readers receive it well, we are encouraged to continue.

As for when Dragon’s Bane will be available, I had hoped it would be completed and published by January 2016, but life matters took me away from it for a long while. (I won’t bore you with the details.) However, I hope to have it ready soon.

Today’s revisions included (SPOILER ALERT) a reunion scene between two characters who each thought the other was dead. 🙂

2) I just finished Dragon’s Rook, really liked it. I was wondering when the sequel is coming?

First, thank you for reading the book!

Second, I’m pleased that you enjoyed it.

Third, I wanted the book completed and published this year. However, due to life circumstances, my writing has been quite slow. Dragon’s Bane is about one-third complete, and there are copious notes regarding unwritten scenes.

The ending scene was written about fifteen years ago — believe it or not! — but it may change. I’m exploring a couple of potential plot twists that never occurred to me during the writing of the first book, but which may deepen the story even further.

Below is a taste, a scene from the first third of the book, a confrontation between Lady Yanámari and her mother, Queen Una:

The eyes widened, the fury grew, and as it did, Queen Una fully materialized, her form solid, even the tiny creases around her eyes and mouth delineated. She released Yanámari and stepped back, lifting her arms from her sides and lowering her head, looking at Yanámari from beneath dark brows.

As the queen opened her mouth to speak, Yanámari laughed. The sight was too comical: flowing black garments, menacing stare, threatening posture. A bit too much like the Hôk Nar Brethren. In the past two days, she had seen more amazing things than this.

Beside, what true power resorted to manipulation and magic?

There was something external about magic, as if the one who practiced it and the one upon whom it was practiced were both tools of a capricious power that must be cajoled and lured with secret rites and careful spells. Is that where her mother had been all these years? Learning the dark arts? What an absurd expenditure of time.

Where was she when I was a child and longed for a mother? When I might have loved her?

But there was no hope of traveling that road—the cart had already passed.

(c2016, KB)

For more information or to read reviews, visit keananbrand.com.

 

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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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