Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Magpie of Ideas

"Du hast ein vogel."

You have a bird.

This is one way Germans tell someone they're crazy.

For writers, it may actually be sort of true!

I call it the Magpie of Ideas. When you're working on a story, it's that part of your brain that likes to come up with all these shiny new ideas. And then it whispers to you, saying "hey, look at this!" over and over again. It tries to draw you away, because it wants to chase that cool new thing. Just like a real magpie, it's fascinated by the shiny.

And if you listen to it, that's when it turns into a whole damn flock. Every new story generates a new idea, with another magpie. Before you know it you've got 20 first chapters and a hundred ideas squawking at you, vying for your very limited writer's attention span.

Don't listen to the Magpie of Ideas. Keep it locked in its cage and throw a mental blanket over it. You'll still hear its muffled cries for attention, but you have to ignore it.

Ideas are easy. Writing is hard. Don't feed the birds.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Ebook Pet Peeve: Samples

I read a lot of ebooks these days. I love being able to browse at my leisure, then buy and start reading without even getting off the couch. Not to mention how much space it saves in my apartment.

But I have one huge pet peeve I wish publishers would address.

Ebook samples.

Specifically, it drives me absolutely crazy when I finally find a book that sounds awesome, download the sample, load it up and...there's no book in it. Seriously? How do you expect to sell a book if readers can't even check out the first page. A dozen pages of praise for the author's other books and the table of contents isn't going to entice me to read this book.

I'm not going to name the book or author, because it's really not their fault. It's also not the first book I've had this particular problem with.

Now I'm so annoyed I don't even want to read anymore today. GG. Get your crap together, publishers. It shouldn't be that hard to check.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Author Motivation as Plot Device

As writers we're often told all about how our characters must be motivated. They must want something, and need a reason for being where and when they are in the story. It can be hard, especially in a short story where you simply don't have a lot of space to let things develop.

I'm in the middle of tearing apart and completely reworking Song of the Wolf from the ground up, and it got me to thinking. At first it was just meant to be a fun story about a cool character hunting down and killing an eldritch horror in a not-quite-sentient magic forest. With more backstage character development, it's a little more complicated than that. It led me to ask a question I hadn't really considered before.

I know why Alaire is in Grenfelde, but why do I want him there?

It's the type of story that doesn't necessarily call for a specific protagonist. The village had a problem before he showed up, and he didn't even land the killing blow himself. In fact, I could cut him out entirely and switch the POV to my Enigmatic Nonhuman, and lose nothing except my main character.

So I went deeper into my personal motivation as a writer for putting Alaire in this village.

Hint: it has nothing to do with an eldritch horror or a not-quite-sentient magic forest.

I want him there to meet the outcast "wild elf" known as The Wolf. That's it. That's the only reason he needs to be in Grenfelde.

I was trying to tell two different stories in the same space. No wonder why I've been having problems with it.

Sometimes the plot device isn't a character's motivation, it's yours. By figuring out my why, I was also able to make Alaire's why more personal in a way that overlaps with mine. Now I can split out the unnecessary elements and hopefully write a new, more cohesive story. Maybe even two.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

On (Not) Daring to be Different

I'm sure most writers have that one story that's Different. It's told in an unusual style, or has unique quirks that set it apart from the rest. You show a few pages of it around, proud of yourself for bucking the trends and breaking the rules; they're more like guidelines, anyway.

Then you get the feedback.

And you tell yourself well, they just don't understand. It's a stylistic difference. They must not like slow openings. But they don't know why this is important, or that my character is acting that way on purpose. It's his voice.

Does any of this sound familiar?

I bet it does, because that's been my thoughts for the past 24 hours or so after sharing the first page of Song of the Wolf. Thank the gods I asked for no line-by-lines, knowing that it wasn't ready for that yet. What I didn't realize was just how many cracks are in the foundation of the story, and in the name of style I've just been slapping paint on it and hoping no one would notice.

Spoilers: they did.

At first I was disappointed. Then I started to get angry. I made a few overly snarky/whiny comments in reply, which I fortunately came to my senses about and edited before anyone saw them (I hope).

No two crits were the same, but they were all telling me the same things. The turning point was when someone asked me to justify (not to them necessarily) my reason for doing the unique thing that made my work Different. I already knew why and was happy to write it out...and then I realized how stupid it sounded. Dammit.

I'll tell you, that was one big piece of humble pie I had to eat. Because they were right. What I thought was bringing a new perspective to the table just ended up drawing attention to itself and away from the story.

Do you know what Rule #1 actually is?

Story trumps all.

Don't be like me, the idiot who now has to rewrite an entire 23-page short story so it's actually readable.

Don't reinvent the wheel, because people a lot more skilled than you already did and they all have that shit patented.

Lesson learned.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Why Critiquing Others' Work is Valuable

I continue to struggle with troublesome Song of the Wolf and its unique narrative voice. I've been learning a lot about myself as a writer in the process. In the past week or so, that knowledge has extended to the art of critiquing.

While discussing a crit I gave the other day about there being too many important characters in too small of a scene, I realized Song of the Wolf has a similar issue. I have my protagonist, 3 major characters, one minor character, the antagonist and a few bit parts, all packed into just 23 pages. One of the major characters takes up a lot of page space, but hasn't really done anything except stir up meaningless conflict and give me a reason to mention a few ultimately irrelevant details about my protagonist.

So I'm cutting him.

That's 2k words I need to yank and three scenes that need extensive rewrites, but you know what? I'm happy about it. This streamlines the story and gives me more space for character development.

I never would have thought to do it if I hadn't done that crit earlier this week.

This is why it's important to critique other people's work. By deconstructing stories and figuring out why they work, or don't, it becomes easier to see it in your own work.