Into It?

*** I was into enough yesterday that I forgot to post anything of my own. Thanks, Leslie and Andrew, for filling in. I guess. ***

Actually, I forgot that it was Wednesday. I get distracted easily, which is one of the drawbacks of the mostly positive thing misnamed ADD. Disorder, my foot! But, be that at it may, it does illustrate the theme of this post.

A few days ago I started drafting a new book. I’d forgotten how much fun drafting a new book is! Even though parts of the process can be tedious. Namely things like outlining, describing characters, and other things that just turn out to be a Word document on my hard drive. Of course, after I’m famous, and gone, archivists will have a wonderful time sorting through all of my old notes, so, really, besides developing a novel, I’m performing a public service!*

But, truth be told, writing the first draft is the most fun. I’ve read quotes from a bunch of folks to the effect that you write with your heart, then revise with your head. And I’ve never liked rules, so getting to follow my lies around by heart makes me feel good. And frequently what comes out is written very badly, but it’s a story. Once I have a story, I can tweak it (oh, twenty times or so) until it’s told well enough that someone might actually pay for the privilege of reading it. (I only write commercial prose. Somebody else can plumb the depths of the human experience.)

So I’m feeling pretty good this week: off on a new adventure with some new people who are, as they always do, doing more of what they want to do than paying attention to what I need in the story.

Where do those characters come from, anyway? <grin>

The Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge
Image is in the public domain (Pixabay)

*If you believe that, check out the bridge I have for sale!


Where do your ideas come from?

Somebody asked me that a couple of weeks ago on a boat to Isla San Jorge off of Puerto Peñasco, Sonora. That was right after I told him what I did for a job.

And it’s a good question, because I honestly don’t know. But I get them. And the world is absolutely crawling with sources for new ones. I’ve mentioned how I steal plot set-ups from a certain English playwright at times. That’s one way. Then there is simply paying attention when I’m in a group of people. I mean, everybody is the hero of their own movie, right? So, by observing people being themselves, I can get in on some of the plots.

Then there’s the simple “what if?” As in “What if Superman was having sex with Lois Lane and crushed her by mistake?” Or maybe “What if your junior high principal really was a demon from another dimension? What? You never thought that about your junior high principal? Liar!

So what I say is that middle bit, that the world is full of story ideas, which is true. But, you know, honestly, sometimes I think some devil does give me ideas. Like that demon from another dimension thing? Who’d ever believe that?

Besides every Junior High student in the country, I mean.

Crotch-Punching The Creative Yeti: Exploding More Writing Myths « terribleminds: chuck wendig

I like this guy’s advice. You can subscribe to his blog after you click this link (can’t fool me, huh?) This post explains how writing is a job (no duh) and explodes some common myths about the profession. Good stuff, Maynard!

Crotch-Punching The Creative Yeti: Exploding More Writing Myths « terribleminds: chuck wendig.

Grammar, Syntax, and Rules

Much has been made in recent years about the Oxford comma. In the UK, one always puts that comma before the final item in a list. And, if you aren’t terribly skilled at hearing what you’ve written, I imagine that that is good advice.

I say fairly often that I don’t care about commas. And I don’t. I do care about clarity. So, I would not ever, as in an example I saw on Facebook recently, declare Nelson Mandela to be an 800 year-old demigod and a dildo collector. Also there is the famous Panda who eats, shoots, and leaves. Remember that one? So there are times when I care about commas very much.

The proper sentence for Mandela ends with “. . . Nelson Mandela, an 800 year-old demigod, and a dildo collector.” That Oxford comma must certainly be there, or you are defaming the memory of a beloved leader.

But what if it doesn’t need to be there? Which mostly it doesn’t. What if the list contains items that obviously exclude each other? “For our vacation we packed the car with our clothes, toys and every bit of swimwear in the house.” You could use the final comma there. In fact, depending upon where you used that sentence, maybe you’d want to in order for it to “sound” right when somebody reads it. But with or without that comma, the meaning is exactly the same.

So, the question becomes not “do you always use the Oxford comma?” Rather the question is, “Does the list convey the meaning you wish it to convey?” In order to put a point on my argument, here is my favorite quote from Pablo Picasso:

You must know the rules like a professional so that you may break them like an artist.

Thank you, Picasso.

Now, I suggest that everyone quit worrying about whether a comma sequence is “proper” and concentrate instead on how well it conveys the intended meaning.

End of rant.


Kid Lit

I say I write Kid Lit. I put that on my name tag at the Las Vegas Writers’ Group meetings. But the thing is, I’m not sure that there is such a thing. Except, of course, there is such a thing. But it has nuances. Yes, my pretty, nuances.

I started concentrating on what used to be called ‘chapter books,’ but now is often referred to as ‘Middle Grade Readers.’ Whatever. I loved those books as a kid; in fact one of the greatest gifts I ever received was a subscription to the Weekly Reader Childrens’ Book Club. I got a selection of excellent stories delivered monthly for a year or two. Heaven, right? So, once the simple advice, “Write what you love,” finally sunk in, that’s where I started. But wait, there’s more!

Last year for NaNoWriMo I decided to tackle a Young Adult. (Now they’ve come up with ‘New Adult’ also, but frankly, I don’t care.) Young Adult is included in Kid Lit, the same as are Chapter Books and Picture Books, and (unfortunately) Tom Sawyer. But, are these books really written for children?

Well, sort of. Mine are written for me, mainly, because I like them. I hope they’re good enough that people will buy them. The ones featuring the fourth graders actually must be sold, of course, to elementary school librarians. So, in a sense, I write them for librarians. But not really, because at bottom, a story is a story, and no matter who is going to read it, if you want to sell the thing, you’d better have some ordinary person who wants something, but can’t get it, but keeps trying, and gets in trouble, and more trouble, and, oh, heck, you know that drill, right?

In terms of basic structure and craft, the chapter books and the young adult novels are the same. Exactly the same. And so are picture books. Think of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-good, Very Bad Day. Poor kid just wants a few simple things. Trouble. More trouble. Still more trouble. So much trouble he wants to move to Australia! Then even more trouble! Until, finally, bed. Aaaaaah!

See? Same basic structure. I know that some literary fiction purports to have a higher purpose. But, I ask, how many people read the stuff and get that message? I’ve read criticism of Huckleberry Finn because of the way he brings Tom Sawyer back at the end, and how that point could have been made more efficiently. Sure, if you want to screw up the timing and have nobody like the book, it could. Shakespeare didn’t try to write great literature; he tried to fill the house and create good roles for himself and his friends. (That is absolutely true.) But Twain, and Shakespeare, both knew how to structure a story; they had a sense of timing that was impeccable.

And so do people who write good Kid Lit.

So, if you like books for children, and you like to write, then by all means you should try writing some books for children. Just remember to apply all of the good old adult rules of storytelling while you’re doing it.

Know What Pisses Me Off?

Car ads! Hole – Lee – Shit, especially the ones for the “snooty” brands like Mercedes and Lexus. That quiet, condescending narration, the views of the product doing things that no courteous person would do, the price! The price! Well, come to think of it, only the “snooty” car brands use those techniques, because how else can they get you to spend fifty grand on something that you could actually get for twenty? Ah, marketing! In another life, I might have been a marketer. Seriously. Which is why those ads piss me off, because I can see what they’re doing. I think that most people can’t, so there they are, selling cars. Do the people who buy those machines act like the ads are telling the truth? (They aren’t telling the truth; they can not be.) Judge for yourself. Me, I drive a hamster mobile.

All of which is by way of introducing marketing as a topic. Writing is more than just swilling coffee in the morning and bourbon at night and sweating blood at the keyboard. There are quotes all over from famous authors about how to write, many quite clever (these guys were artists with words, after all,) and all irrelevant to selling the damned thing once it’s done. Selling the book is what you do, whether it’s to a publisher or as an indie on Kindle. And, once you sell it to the publisher, they won’t do much about marketing it either. It’ll be in their catalogue, maybe get a notice in Publisher’s Weekly, but that’s about it. What, you think they’re gonna book you on Fallon? Hah!

So, you have to learn how to market your own work. You’ll notice that I’m advertising my indie kid book here. That’s fine, but I don’t expect to sell a lot of them that way. In fact, I have other projects going at the same time (I could write a couple of posts on just that strategy) and the book for sale here is a part of a larger strategic effort which will, I hope, ultimately result in Messy and its two unpublished sequels getting into school libraries everywhere.

England would be great. I like England. I could visit schools there. You listening, England?

So, as you write, or maybe when you’re stuck for the day (it happens,) think about how you are going to promote and market your product (the book, fool) after it’s all finished.

You’ll be glad you did!

Ideas for New Books

*** Before I begin, if you haven’t been following my friends on their sail around the world, you’re missing out on some great stories and photography. Check them out at, or follow the links that I repost here. ***

Over the weekend I started notes for a new Young Adult novel. I’m not going to mention what it is, because frankly I have no idea if it will ever get written. It’s a good idea, though. One thing writers get asked is, “Where do you come up with your ideas?” Well, in some cases there isn’t really any choice: the idea smacks the writer in the face like the alien in Alien, and there it is. But for most of us that doesn’t happen very often.

One  technique that works for commercial fiction (I can’t help you if your an an artiste who is out to expose the world for what it truly is) is to steal plot ideas. I don’t mean entire plots, but the underlying dilemma that sets the plot off to the races. Shakespeare did that all the time, so I don’t feel even a little bit guilty about doing the same thing. In fact, lots of people grab plot ideas from old Will, and often they work fine. The trick is to not try to duplicate the original author’s storyline, or voice. Rather you take the original premise and run with it.

For instance, how about “Seventeen-year old’s father is murdered by his uncle and the kid finds out.” What happens next? You’re the author, you tell us, but for sure don’t make him a Prince of Denmark in Elsinore Castle. The world has perfectly adequate experience with medieval Danish princes, thank you very much. But you see, there is a plot starting point right there.

Remember, that’s just what Shakespeare would do. Now, if you can write as well as he did . . .

Writing Girls?

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L'Engle (several editions are available)
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle (several editions are available)

I hope that this works. I’m trying to write a strong, sympathetic heroine as a part of a YA. She has a boyfriend, who has been easier. So, in my usual style, I am reading about a strong, sympathetic heroine, as illustrated by the book pictured here. (I’ll review it on Amazon when I’m finished reading it.)

I’m about a third of the way through, and I believe that I have learned some things. I’ve never written from a high-school girl’s POV before, although I’ve known a bunch of them. I’ll post the results, if any, at the conclusion of the experiment. If it concludes, of course.


This is Just Not Funny!

And there’s a reason for that. Comedy, you see, involves a lot of writing. And I like to write! Heck, I’m writing even as I write this, right? But I have other stuff to write, too. Like a couple more middle grade readers to polish up, and a really nice YA romance, that I do believe will be a hit, which I’m still polishing up. And then there’s the house, which cleans not itself, and I have to do maintenance on the place inside and out, and, well, that leaves roughly zero time for writing funny bits. Which is too bad, because I really like doing funny bits. So that’s why this, and not much else I’ve published lately, just isn’t funny. Don’t laugh! It really isn’t!

But, here is a writing tip for you, one that works for me, at least. It can be quite funny, if you write funny stuff, so pay attention.

I use the Voice Recorder app that comes with Windows. Pretty much any version, if memory serves. For Windows 10 it has gotten simpler looking and more sophisticated. Here’s a thumbnail of how it looks when open:

The voice recorder as seen with Windows 10.
The voice recorder as seen with Windows 10.

You can see that it looks clean, and if you enlarge the picture by clicking on it you’ll see that it pretty much explains itself. If there are no recordings in the default location, the entire screen is white except for the microphone icon. Now, Windows isn’t the only program with such a feature. Heck, I have one on my Droid, and if Apple doesn’t provide one, you should flush that sucker and get a real computer, but of course they do. Have one, I mean.

What I’ve been doing is to read each chapter into the voice recorder, then listening to the recording the next day. Whilst doing both things I make changes, or if the change is large, making notes in the Word document that is my manuscript. I find that I frequently say things that I meant to write, but something, I don’t know what, made me type in a stiffer phrase. Seriously, this has been working great, and I commend the effort to your attention.

If you try listening to your own dictation, I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at what you learn about your own writing. I know I sure do!