Posts Tagged ‘writing’

This is something I see time after time in the slush pile so I figured I’d do a short post about it and bring together some resources from across the net. This issue is all up in the Suspended in Dusk 2 slush pile and it was all up in the Suspended in Dusk slush pile as well.

 

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Filter words/Filtering/Emotional Filtering

It is a common fault that is not easily recognized, though once the principle is understood, cutting filters away can make writing more vivid. Fiction writers work through an observing consciousness (as in a narrator). Filtering happens when you make your readers observe the observer–to look at, rather than through the character. It dilutes the sense of being shown rather than told, because it reminds the reader that he or she is reading a story rather than experiencing it directly.

Burroway et. al., 2011.Writing Fiction, A Guide to Narrative Craft. pp 29-30.”

One of the worst culprits for weakening your prose, distancing our reader from the protagonist’s point of view and the action, are filter words. This is where you say “John thought x y z ” or “It seemed as though x y z” or you say your character thinks/knows/realises/notices/decides/wonders things… rather than just showing the character doing those things.

A great example (and perhaps the most obvious) is if I write “John saw the big man lift his pistol and fire.” You don’t need to tell us John saw it… John is present in the scene and is our POV character. Unless John is blind,  the default position is that he sees the things that go on in the scene. And if he was blind, you wouldn’t be saying he’d seen something, right? Instead of “John saw the big man lift his pistol and fire.” just write “The big man lifted his pistol and fired.”

Anyway, check this out here for a better explanation:

http://writeitsideways.com/are-these-filter-words-weakenin…/

These pages also have some good basic examples of filtering which enable you to contrast sentences with filtering vs sentences without:

http://www.publishingcrawl.com/2012/05/21/filter-words/

http://blog.janicehardy.com/…/youll-have-to-go-through-me-e…

It is important to note that you can filter actions and also filter emotions. Almost every time you say the word “felt” in your fiction, you’re filtering. When you write “Jane felt furious.” you’re filtering the emotion of anger. Instead show us her being angry. Have her slam a cup on the table and curse at her husband instead. Likewise, if you write “Rachel felt overwhelmingly grateful for what Aunt Barbara had done.” you’re filtering her emotion of gratitude. Have Rachel hug Aunt Barb and say thank you, or turn up to her house with a box of chocolates and a bottle of wine… heck, anything that involves Rachel doing something (verbs/dialogue/etc) is better than you telling us she is grateful.

When you finish your editing, I recommend doing a CTRL+F on every filter word you can think of (some of the links in this post have lists) and cycle through your MS. Whenever you find a filter word, decide whether that filtering is legitimate or not. In some cases it might be. You may want distance from the character because you’re going for a certain aesthetic or style with the prose. Maybe you’re trying for an omniscient narrative voice or an old time fairytale feel. In which case, you want to step back from the immediate point of view of the character. Alternatively, if you generally write a close POV, maybe you search for a filter word and you realise the character is confused/out of it/on drugs/drunk/emotional and so the character is genuinely unsure of things so it’s relevant to say something “Seemed” a certain way or that she “noticed” a particular detail (because perhaps she cant make out any other details!)

I guarantee you, if you’re not legitimately trying to distance your reader from the action or point of view, and your remove most filtering: your prose will be tighter, your word count will go down dramatically, and your reader will be brought much closer to the action and also the point of view of the protagonist. In time you’ll realise that you don’t filter much at all and you’ll find you catch less and less during the editing process, but I’ve provided you with a good strategy you can use as part of your editing workflow to capture and eliminate filter words.

Additional Links:
http://robbgrindstaff.com/2011/…/do-you-filter-your-fiction/

http://www.scribophile.com/aca…/an-introduction-to-filtering

http://theeditorsblog.net/…/keep-readers-close-to-action-an…

http://doggedlywriting.blogspot.com/…/filtering-character-p…

 

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One of the great ironies of me being a systems engineer is that I’m generally really slow on the uptake when it comes to new technologies.
Generally speaking, I find what works, I master it, and then I incrementally add to it or tweak it. I’m usually the last to take on new tech or jump into new things like social media. Perhaps it comes from the fact that I”m often learning so much new technology and applications in my work life that I militantly resist doing it in my own personal life outside of work.

The company that I’m working for is a Google partner and makes use of Google Drive as shared space in the cloud for collaboration and to store business documents, etc. Using the Google Drive application which we install on our work laptops we’re able to syncronise a folder on our laptop with one in the cloud. When I write a new business document and save it in the folder it’s instantly uploaded to the cloud. If someone else updates that document, the change is automagically synchronised to the copy in my Google Drive folder on my laptop. This is pretty neat, and very handy for a distributed work force that is scattered across a number of different client sites.

When I started writing, I found myself juggling document versions of stories across multiple devices and things got pretty messy. For instance, I’d work on a story on my laptop during my lunch break at work and have to email it to my gmail account, and then download it at home so I could work on it that evening on my desktop PC. More than once during this convoluted process I lost data that I had to rewrite. So this got me thinking— why don’t I use Google Drive for my own writing? So I looked into it. I soon discovered that, out of the box, you can’t have more than one google drive account running on the same machine and you have to purchase third party software to enable this. Because I needed google drive on my work laptop for work purposes this ruled that out.
That’s when I remembered DropBox.

Like Google Drive, DropBox provides you a chunk of online Storage (5GB!) and client software you can install on your PC and phone (android/apple/etc) which allows you to syncrhonise a folder on your device with your storage on the cloud. This is freaking awesome. I put all the docs for my current writing project, and all my stories, into a folder on my PC and edit and save them there.  When the client notices a change has taken place to the files in the folder on my PC, it synchronises the folder with the cloud storage and the newly updated files are instantly available on all my other devices for viewing/editing/transmission.

I can also make files and folders within my dropbox available as a URL to other people. This is handy when you’re working on a collaborative project such as a short fiction anthology. For example, I could tell my writers “hey, grab the final proof of the anthology from my dropbox: http:\\simonsdropboxlink\” and they’d be able to jump online and instantly access it. And your stuff isn’t only accessible if you have the software client installed on your device You can access your cloud storage via the DropBox.com website just like you would webmail and all your files will be there ready to download. This is fantastic if you’re on a kiosk machine, or at a friend’s place and want to download some of your work but don’t want to (or are unable to) download the client onto the machine or device you’re using.

So what does this mean for me as a writer and editor? It means that I”m always working on the right version of my story and my story is always available no matter where I am or what device i’m using. As an editor it means that the edits I’m doing of other people’s stories are always saved, and always accessible. So far, I’ve performed the entire editing of the Suspended in Dusk anthology out of my DropBox—where I’ve been able to store all the stories, contracts and other information centrally. It has been truly invaluable and has definitely increased my productivity. More importantly, I’m more than certain its stopped me from losing data or losing important paperwork that I would’ve otherwise lost if I was juggling documents between multiple devices. As a writer there is nothing worse, nothing more heart-wrenching than data loss

There are a dearth of options out there for cloud providers, from DropBox to Google Drive, to Microsoft Skydrive and Apple iCloud. The following article discusses some of the offerings out there and I strongly urge you to take a look:

http://www.theverge.com/2012/4/24/2954960/google-drive-dropbox-skydrive-sugarsync-cloud-storage-competition

Each of these will operate slightly different or offer different features or different amounts of cloud storage, but the basic principles are the same and so is the benefit you can recieve in adoption.

Simon.

This, for the most part, has been copied from my comment on Jodie Llewellyn’s blog, but I figured I’d make an actual post out of it and expand on it a little, because it is a worthy subject in and of itself.

——————–

We often hear the people says “Write what you know!”, but what does that even mean?

A lot of time people dismiss this adage, because they’re consumed by the literal interpretation of the phrase.  They see “Write what you know!” and they think “Well, I’m 36 year old Dad with 3 kids, a mortgage, a happy marriage,… who wants to hear about that ??”, or they think “But I’m a science fiction writer… so it doesn’t apply to me. If I wrote what I know, I’d have to write about traffic jams and the grind of corporate 9 to 5!”.

This is where people get a little bit confused, and where it is that I’ll tell you wholeheartedly that everyone has to write what they know. What you need to understand is that there are different degrees of “writing what you know”.

Lets go through a few different examples of how someone might write what they know:

Let’s take the legal thriller writer, John Grisham as an example. John Grisham was a lawyer, right? So when John Grisham got into writing he wrote legal thrillers, and he did pretty well with them because he’s writing what knows and they come across very authentic with all the legalspeak and from having had actual experience in real life courtrooms.

That’s one example of “writing what you know”.  John used his actual real-life experiences as a sort of inspiration for his stories or to give his stories that edge of authenticity that they needed to sell well and to be a fantastic read.

If I was to use myself as an example:  I work in IT.  Because I work in IT and have an understanding of various technologies, I could probably think up some cool plausible technology that could be used in a sci-fi story. This would also be “writing what I know” even though I don’t live in the future and that tech doesn’t exist. I’m taking my personal experience and using it as an inspiration and to give my story authenticity.

Other examples of “writing what you know” relates to emotion and life experience. This is by far the most commonly overlooked by novice writers and, personally, I think we all do it but we do not necessarily know we’re doing it, or give it the credit it deserves if we do.

For example.. we’ve all experienced horror/terror/fear/guilt/shame/remorse/joy/bliss/etc.  This is part of our everyday experience in our lives as human beings with emotions and feelings.  We KNOW what these things are like. We KNOW how they feel and how they affect us, both emotionally and physiologically.  As an example, we know anger makes it hard to think, can make us irrational, can cloud our judgement. We know that physical feeling and the behaviours that comes with anger:  you might feel agitated, hot under the collar, you might clench your teeth or make fists with your hands, etc.

So how does this fit in with writing what you know?  When you, as a human being and as a writer, authentically capture the essence of these emotions and transpose them onto your characters in your stories, you really are “writing what you know”. This is particularly powerful when coupled with experiences the average person can relate to – death/loss/violence/family/school/injury/love/relationships/marriage/etc.

This is called “method acting” for writers, or “Talking from the wound”.  It is applicable in any kind of fiction of any genre.. from horror to literary fiction, from romance to science fiction.

The great thing about this method acting for writers is that it opens up vast vistas of creation for you. You might be a shy, badminton player with a rottweiler and a casual job flipping burgers but – using this skill, you can write a character who gets angry at a cheating lover and kills them, without ever having had to have picked up a knife and stabbed someone yourself.  What’s more you can make it really authentic for the reader if you appropriately transpose what you as a human being know about guilt/betrayal/loss/anger/fury/revenge onto your story and your characters. You dont have to be an actual murderer to write one, but to write a truly plausible murderer you’d still have to “write what you know”.  Similarly you wouldn’t need to have been in a war to write a story about warriors or soldiers in a war.

The list of possibilities that are opened up by this skill for writers is only as limited as your imagination and your willingness to truly dig deep and write what you *know*.

Get me?

Writer’s Burnout

Posted: December 5, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

The last month or two has been a hectic couple of months!!

I recently took a class calledTalking Scars via Litreactor.com.  It was  taught by renowned horror master, Jack Ketchum (aka Dallas Mayr) . This went for 4 weeks and over the process of the four weeks we churned out a number of short stories which were critiqued by jack and our class mates.  Over the next few weeks I diligently subbed my stories to various markets, with no real luck yet.  One of my fantastic class mates, Karen Runge, however managed to sell her story Good Help to Shock Totem. Keep and eye out for her work – it’s fantastic.

While all this was going on I was working flat out on my TOP SEKRIT PROJEKT, -> Details to finally be announced soon.
I’m very proud of it, but it has been a long process that has involved a significant amount of work.

Lastly, we converted my daughter’s cot into a toddler bed. This was fine, but shortly after she realised she could reach the door handles and now she’s been making her way out of her room, down the stairs and into our bedroom to give mum and dad a suprise 3am visit. Trying to get her to sleep in her bed and stay in there at night has, so far, been an uphill battle.

My own writing has definitely been put on hold for a while now. I’ve managed a paltry 5000 words of a new story which I hope will become a novella or a short novel.  I’m pretty happy with it but even the thought of firing Word or Scrivener is a big turn off.  I guess sometimes you just need a break to recharge the batteries.  I’ve played a few computer games and watched like 6 seasons of Son’s of Anarachy (which is great, by the way) and I’m almost feeling ready to jump back into the writing business.  I’ve started by editing one of my existing shorts.

Do you get writer’s burnout? How do you deal with it?

Today, for my weekly(ish) writing craft blog post, I’m going to talk about one of the key techniques you can employ to raise tension and suspense in you stories.

One of the best ways to raise tension and suspense is to write sparely. What do I mean by sparely? I mean:  direct, to the point, compact prose that puts the reader in the moment, gives them what they need – and nothing more – prose that’ll really make the pages turn.

This is one of the very best ways to keep the pages turning, keep the tension up and keep readers excited and wanting more.

It’s often said, that in horror “Less is more” – but this is just as valuable advice at the prose-level as it is when talking about whether or not to show the blood and guts on the page or whether to leave it up to the reader’s imagination.

So when I’m referring to this prose-level “Less is more” , what am I really saying?  I’m literally saying  less words (and possibly even short words) is better.

Waffling on with paragraph long descriptions of character’s appearances or individual sword blows is one fast way to kill tension and suspense and the momentum in your story, particularly during critical scenes where action should be happening and pages should be turning fast enough to give your readers RSI.

Think about it:

The antagonist walks into the bar where a fight is about to break out.  If you write a whole paragraph describing his black leather pants and his handlebar mustache, then you’ve already killed the mood. All that tension that the reader felt in knowing that the bad guy was coming and all hell was about to break loose got lost as you described the intricate leather workings of his riding boots.  Don’t do this.  It would be much better, for example, to have an argument break out and use that argument as a vehicle to keep the reader excited, set up your fight scene and you can dribble in a bit of extra information if you require.

Remember we want to keep tension up, reader interest piqued and pages turning. To that end, we want to keep our sentences tight. Only give the reader what they need to know and not waffle on or describe unnecessary details.

Check out the following examples.. they may be a little bit extreme, but I really want to show you the difference in the effect.  In the “what to do” example, you should get a feeling of tension straight away as though “uh oh, shit is gonna hit the fan”.  In the second example, you’ll probably get so bored you’ll start considering self harm.

What to do:

The bar doors squealed and banged against each other and everyone looked up, ‘cept  ol’ John on the harpsichord. He always was deaf as post.

“I’m lookin’ for Billy Bloggs, lads; and you’re gonna tell me where to find him!”   The man was big, his face hard. His hands rested on silver pistols holstered at his hips.

Old Ted pulled up a shotgun from behind the bar. Glasses and bottles fell and shattered as men jumped out of the way.

“I ain’t givin’ him up, not to the likesa you, Grimmit”

Grimmit’s guns were in his hands before Ted had finished speaking.

“Well, seems as though we’ve got a problem on our hands. I’s got two reasons here why ya’ll should be reasonable, Ted.  You want to be reasonable, dontcha?”

What not to do:

We were sitting the bar, when we heard the doors bang against each other.  We looked up to find a large gentleman had entered the room. He was wearing a brown leather jacket over coarse denim pants, that were tucked into leather boots.  His face was hard, as though it had been cut from granite and he his eyes were a steely grey.  On his hips were two silver smith and wesson pistols, holstered in black leather. His belt was a bandolier of bullets around his waist.

“I’m lookin’ for Billy Bloggs, lads; and you’re gonna tell me where to find him!”

Old Ted stood behind the bar, his fat white mustache sat atop a wicked sneer.  He reached under the counter and pulled out a double barrel twelve gauge.

Conclusion:

Cool tidbit about these two scenes:  They both have the exact same word count, 130 chars. check for yourself if you’d like. The good one however moved much quicker, was tense from the get-go and the content was far more exciting,

So remember folks, when you want your pages to turn and tension to build up.. either before and during your critical scenes – write sparely.

S.

Tension.

Suspense.

Fiction lives and dies by tension and suspense.  That may sound like artsy fartsy bullshit, but hear me out for a minute.

Usually, we think of suspense as that breathless feeling you get in the action movie when the bomb is about to go off, or the thrill of fear as the woman in her  runs through the forest at night being chased by the serial killer. These are indeed suspenseful moments.

Will the bomb go off or will the hero cut the correct coloured wire in time? Will the lady get away from the serial killer or will he catch her and butcher her with the carving knife from her own kitchen? Can she somehow turn the tables against him?

These are the kinds of questions that we ask ourselves as we watch or read these scenes.  But they are not the be all and end all of suspense.

Similarly there are other moments of suspense that are more mundane.  We have the “will he get the girl” moments in romance novels or that feeling of “What is gonna happen now?” when the war hero returns to his homeland only to find his family and world has changed in his absence.

This is the suspense of story.  How suspenseful your tale is, overall, really defined by the story itself and the kind of conflicts and obstacles faced by the protagonists, and how you as the writer execute those events and presents them to the reader.

So you already have a kickass story in mind, but how do you best execute it ? What craft techniques can you employ when writing the events your characters go through to really turn up the tension and suspense to 11?

There are a few and over the next few weeks I’ll be making some blog posts which describe them and give you examples of these in action.  You should be able to use them to make an impact on your own writing.   Hope you enjoy, feel free to comment.

Start scenes at the action.

This is particularly important in short stories but is worth remembering for longer work as well.   In novels you can be a bit more verbose and have a few more pages up yourself before a reader will give up on you, but in essence, the theory is here is the same and applicable to longer form writing as well.

If you’re writing a story about a couple of kids who go to a haunted forest for some weird sacrificial rite, please don’t start the story 3 days before they arrive at the woods.  Don’t start it in the middle of their family Christmas dinner and then waffle on for 2000 words to expose some back story.  By the time the reader gets to the actual interesting part – scary forest of bloodletting – they’ll be asleep.

Instead start the story with the one of the protagonist’s feet snapping a twig as they take their first skulking steps into the forest in the dead of night, causing their friend to jump out of their skin.  It’s instantly a much better.

Example:

A twig snapped under Jared’s boot.

“Shhh” Alice hissed and motioned him to be quiet. The moonlight barely made it through the canopy and the trees around them looked  like great charcoal pillars.

Jared grunted and slowly navigated his way through the brush until he was next to her. He leaned close and whispered.

“Sorry. This place is a jungle. If we crash through here like a stampede of elephants we’ll be caught before we even reach the tower”

What did I tell you in this one passage?

1.  There is a boy and a girl together

2. it is night time

3.  They’re out of their comfort zone, or at least the boy is.

5. they’re concerned that they’re going to get caught by someone, so they’re sneaking.

6. they’re trying to get to a tower for some reason

7. they’re worried about being caught

That’s a lot of information teasing the reader within the opening lines. In fact, most readers wont even conciously take in all of those 7 points although all 7 should register with them subconciously.  This should draw the reader in quickly. This uch better than starting the story earlier than this point and should pique your reader’s interest. They’ll want to know about these two characters and who might catch them and what this tower is and this will create suspense for them.

Exercise:

The reality is, all our stories have some level of back story and if we want to get nitpicky, the start of that back story is technically the start of our greater tale. This however is the worst place to start. We want to skip any back story and move to the first clear event or “inciting incident” as it is often referred to by literary boffins, and start the story there.  If you find yourself saying “but what about such and such event that happened before, it needs to be shown for context and so readers understand and blahblahblah”  just shut your inner dialogue right up.  All that kinda stuff can be tactfully exposed through the introspection of your protagonist or through some well written dialogue.  You don’t need to bore a reader and chew up your word count by writing that stuff out.

Come up with an idea for a short story.  Don’t ask yourself “Where does the story begin”, ask yourself “Where does important stuff actually start happening” and start your story there.

Writing from the Wound

Posted: September 20, 2013 in Blog, Craft
Tags: , , , ,

So I’ve been lucky enough to take part in the Talking Scars course on Litreactor run by renowned horror and suspense writer, Jack Ketchum.

In our first week jack gave us a lecture and and assignment. The assignment was to “Write from the Wound”.  We had to write a paragraph about a fearful/scary/terrible event that had happened to us in real life and then fictionalise it somehow in a 1200-3000 word story.

The exercise was meant to teach us to re-live an experience in our heads and transfer those emotions and feelings that we felt onto our character on the written page.  Like method acting – but for writers.

I churned out a cool little story that I’m not too sure is horror, but I feel is certainly suspenseful.  I called it “The Leper’s Hill”. The other writers in the class have all written some fantastic tales as well, based on some pretty scary real life happenings. Now I just need to try and find an appropriate market for it, which may be a little more difficult.   Really looking forward to hearing Jack’s feedback on our tales.

You can find a link to the mp3 audio of Jack’s Writing from the Wound lecture on his website, here:  http://www.jackketchum.net/2013/09/06/writing-from-the-wound/

Writing work flow and bad habits

Posted: September 11, 2013 in Craft
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I think I really have some quite bad habits when It comes to writing. A few sold stories into my writing career and I’m already wondering if I need to have a look at the processes I use to turn out my work.

I’ve tended to spend and evening writing, perhaps a thousand words of a short or something and then next time I come back to it and open the file, I start editing what I’ve already written until I’ve reached the point where I finished last time BEFORE I start actually writing again. I’d always convinced myself that this helped me “re-immerse myself” in the story etc, so the new night’s righting would be totally top notch! (yeah right!). I’ve since realised that this is just my inner procrastinator preventing me from achieving a decent word count.

Having noticed that I do this I started skimming reading through the previous nights work and just highlighting (fluoro yellow) a sentence or a paragraph here and there that I wanted to get back to and rewrite or address. This saves sometime but my inner procrastinator is still saying “Simon, you didn’t immerse yourself properly now this next sprint is gonna suck ass…”

The most productive I’ve ever worked was to tight deadlines for anthology submissions or on my lunch break at work where I know I’ve only got an hour to smash out some story. and at the end of the day I’ve not sure that I’ve lost any value all from just jumping right in and *writing*.

It’s amazing how easily we fool ourselves into thinking our cruddy habits are necessary.

What works for you? How do you be the most productive you can be?
What are your bad habits and how do you deal with them?