Category Archives: Writing Craft

Definition of Dramedy, part one

My short story and novel – and the series that they’re a part of – supernatural dramedy, is fairly new to fiction (although technically Janet Evanovich does it in all but name), but it has a long history on television.

The word ‘dramedy’is a combination of ‘drama’ and ‘comedy’. As a genre, it combines them too: the subject matter is dramatic, with moments of humor mixed in.

English: Joss Whedon at the 2010 Comic Con in ...

English: Joss Whedon at the 2010 Comic Con in San Diego (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Joss Whedon has made his career in this genre; see Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and more… but there were other series before them.

One of the most popular (although there were others) was LA Law. It ran from Sept. 15, 1986, to May 19, 1994.

 

David E. Kelley was showrunner until the end of the fifth season of the show, and it also gave new life to the career of actor Susan Day (Laurie Partridge on The Partridge Family) as Grace von Owen.

The series was set in the fictional law firm McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney, and Kuzak.

What makes this an example of dramedy: the show deals with serious issues (AIDS, LGTBQ issues,racism,domestic violence, etc.) but wrapped around the issues were running gags and other bits of humor.

For example partner Chaney dies of a heart attack in the opening of the first episode, but at first, nobody knows because all we see is his hand clutching a tax manual. At his funeral, we learn that the secretary he last hired is transgender and that they met originally at a gay bar (this revelation comes to his wife just now). He paid for the secretary’s surgery, and the hire was meant to be the first real world test. One of the surviving partners fires her immediately due to his transphobia.

(This was in the late 1980s, and the firing character was an over-sexed womanizer. Regardless, I don’t find that funny now.)

This series was co-created by Steven Bochco, and it had a large ensemble cast. Rigger, Mortiz and Shivver doesn’t have as big a cast, but there is an ensemble nonetheless.

I’ll continue this in my next post.

Writing Mood: My Way to Get Into it

Not everyone does this, so I’m not making this concrete advice — but you may find it helpful to put you in the writing mood…

To get into the mindset for writing fiction, this may seem redundant but try freewriting.

Here’s the Wikipedia entry on what it is.

Doing it is not hard:

Freewriting (Mood) How-to

icon for notepad

icon for notepad (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

      • Open up a simple Notepad (On a computer is good for this).
      • Set a timer for 10 minutes.
      • Just write for all of that time, whatever comes to your mind. No edits. Don’t worry about making sense.
      • Don’t save it.
      • When time is over, close the Notepad (or the paper if you wrote by hand.

The purpose is just to get your mental pathways open to writing after. It’s  a warmup process.

I made a PDF of tools for this on Windows, Linux or Mac OSX. Join my list and I’ll send it to you. Update: it’s now a Checklist.

 

Robert Heinlein, SF YA Precursor

When I researched this on Wikipedia I found that I’m not the only person to make that link. 

Robert A. Heinlein, with Ginny Heinlein Robert...

Robert A. Heinlein, with Ginny Heinlein Robert and Ginny Heinlein in Tahiti 1980 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Robert A. Heinlein was   one of the three people seen as pillars of the Golden Age of science fiction (that’s another post). He wrote many books and short stories, but a period of his novels are considered as the start of YA, although he didn’t consider them as such.

Books by Robert A. Heinlein

The books that I’m referring to are his juveniles.

Between 1947 and 1958e had 12 such novels published by Scribner, with another (Starship Troopers) published by Putnam instead (Scribner rejected it) and another novel (Podcayne of Mars) listed as a juvenile, though he didn’t consider it one.

Heinlein didn’t consider these books as juveniles, at least not by nature. They were written for younger readers, but Heinlein had great respect for these younger readers, so he tried to write more challenging fare for them. In fact, this got him into hot water with his editors at Scribner, and often,  after he brought guns into his novels, starting with Red Planet.

He also wrote 2 short stories in Boy Scout magazine, Boy’s Life. He created them after his tours in WW II, trying to diversify his writing from only pulp SF magazines. These stories were serialized.

Not only focussed on boys, he took a challenge to write for girls too, which led to 3 Maureen “Puddin'” stories in Calling All Girls magazine. He liked the character so much that he lowered her weight and relocated her to Mars for Podkayne of Mars.

I have to re-read this book. The original ending was hated by fans, so Heinlein rewrote it, then had it published with both endings. I don’t remember what they were. It’s been  more than 3 decades since I read it.

Pundits call it a juvenile, but Heinlein himself did not. His involvement with Scribner and the juveniles line ended when they rejected Starship Troopers. As an aside, I don’t see a novel about interstellar wars as a book for young people, it was just not a great book to me.

What made the juveniles a step toward YA: youths are the protagonists of the stories. Not bad, considering they were written nearly 80  years ago.

Preparing for NaNoWriMo

The setup for NaNoWriMo at home, if I need to ...

The setup for NaNoWriMo at home, if I need to be portable. Long exposure lit by sweeping aLED flashlight over the scene. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 (I began this post before this event; I’ll state what I didn’t do.)

… or Camp NaNoWriMo, which I’m doing right now… which is why I haven’t updated this site in a week.

Camp scene, preparing for dinner, by Buell, O....

Camp scene, preparing for dinner, by Buell, O. B., 1844-1910 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are some tips to achieve your word goal in the month (50, 000 for NaNo, variable for Camp – I’m writing a 20, 000-word project, for example):

1. Avoid distractions

Scrivener can do distraction-free writing via its full-screen mode. The text editor part  is all that you see. You don’t see the Binder, or the menus,  or anything else. All you have to focus on is writing.

Scrivener (software)

Scrivener (software) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are more distractions that you should avoid. Avoid e-mail, Twitter, and (especially) Facebook; most of it is flashy graphics that draw your attention away.

Twitter

Twitter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I failed on most of this. My blog subject list is in Drive, so I was usually in Gmail. I had my Twitter feed open at all times and kept it open to check on. As to Facebook… there’s a good reason that it has the nickname ‘Wastebook’… I was on it constantly.

2. Word-Padding is Your Friend

Always write full character names. Don’t use contractions; spell each word. Your fingers accidentally space words out? Leave them in. You don’t need the word ‘that’ in a sentence? put it in anyway. Adverbs slow a sentence down? Doesn’t matter. Use them anyways.

For NaNo / Camp NaNo quantity is your goal, not quality. The next point will talk about that fact.

At first, I didn’t  fully embrace this. I tried to correct my typos. I got out of it eventually.

3. This is the First Draft

Cleaning up what Ernest Hemmingway said about first drafts, they are not pretty.

Feel free to write scenes that you will cut in later drafts. They will add words now; you can cut them in later drafts.

I did this one. I wrote some scenes that I know I’ll cut later.

4. Ignore Your Inner Editor

As you write you’ll hear a voice in your head correcting your words and critiquing your scenes. Ignore it.

It’s the voice of your Inner Editor trying to slow you down. It will stall you  if you let it.

I didn’t.

** update **

Here's a tip that some people use, but I don't:

Some people count the words that they write for other projects in this one. I'd consider doing this cheating myself.

conclusion

Use these tricks and (unlike me) you might win.

 

Pat Flewelling, on alternative plotting

It’s quid pro quo time.. over a year ago I posted on Pat’s blog (here‘s a link to the blog), now she’s returning the favor.

With me writing for Camp NaNoWriMo right now, this is an appropriate post.

I’m not as prolific, but few people are!

At last count, I’ve written 59 novel-length manuscripts since 1993, and I’ve just come back from a weekend-long novel writing marathon with the better half of # 60. Some have been completely pre-planned. Some were written off the cuff. Most haven’t been published, because they just haven’t been solid enough.

When I thoroughly plotted the story in advance, one of two things would always

The Marathon

The Marathon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

happen: either I would deviate wildly off course, or I would get so bored that I’d just stop writing altogether. I often mistook a tangent as some kind of award-winning plot-twist, and having to delete 10-15% of the manuscript was a real killer to my motivation. And sometimes, I was just bored, because there was no sense of discovery left over, no room to play around. I was choking my own creativity.

At the other extreme, stories that had no predestination took longer to finish. I’d often spend hours staring slightly cross-eyed at the ceiling, trying to remember where I was taking that last thought. I’d also ended up spending countless hours editing after the fact, removing tens of pages of verbal dross.

But for this year’s novel writing marathon, I decided to try something new. I planned only so much, but I also left major plot points blank.

I thought of it like a vacation itinerary. Let’s say that I knew I was leaving Montreal on a Monday at 7:00 a.m., and that I had to be in Toronto by Saturday at noon. Let’s say, furthermore, that I also wanted to visit Ottawa, Brockville, Kingston, and Oshawa, before finally heading into the Big Smoke. As long as I got to Ottawa by 4:00 p.m., I could take any route I wanted. I could take the back roads and enjoy a longer drive through the country, or I could stick to the highways and get there sooner, then park the car and stroll around on foot before leaving at 4:00. I wouldn’t decide which route to take to Ottawa until I was in the car with the radio on and a coffee in hand.

During the marathon, I discovered not only that I actually stuck to the plan, but I wrote in an unforeseen major character, who made the plot more engaging and resolved a lot of plot holes. I finally had a planner that would direct my story toward a fun and logical conclusion, but one that left plenty of opportunities to make stuff up as I went along. Most surprisingly of all, because I had a known destination and unknown roads, I found my narrative pacing became the strongest it’s ever been.

But, after this many novels, I know that what works for one project doesn’t necessarily work for another. Likewise, what works for me may not work for you. All I can suggest is that you keep experimenting until you find what works best, and have fun with it along the way.

Pantsers vs. Plotters

With me starting at Camp NaNoWriMo on July 1st I thought that I should explain the difference between these two story methods, and what I do or don’t.

“Pantsers”

This is an expression, short for “writing by the seat of your pants”. A writer goes into a project with nothing planned and just writes what comes to them. They have no characters planned, no scenes either. They just make everything up as they go along writing.

For some people this is the best way to work on a project. They are always surprised by what appears on their screen (or on their typewriter / paper), and as a result don’t have many predictable turns in their stories.

Me? I ‘ve tried it for many years — and won the first 4 — but it proved to be too open for me. I needed more structure to guide me.

Outliner

The opposite alternative is to work from a detailed outline of your story. Even the characters are defined — in name, personality is sketched, their character File:Plotextraktor.pngarcs are mapped  out, the works.

Some people like that level of planning. They can come to finish novels often that way.

Personally, I find that much structure too much. I like to have some measure of surprise in my writing, so control to that level I find stifling.

That led me to an alternative:

not snowflake

File:Snowflake11 2.png
Here‘s a description of how it’s done.

I find this method still tends to be too stifling. It still doesn’t leave room for surprises and twists.

Instead I use a hybrid method that incorporates story beats.

the beat goes on…

I create character sketches, and I outline some scenes (like the end) but I leave the rest open, so that I can still come up with other scenes that will surprise me.

I guess you would call it planned chaos.

chose your own way

Note that this is how I do it.  You may chose to do things differently; say how in the comments.

 

Wil Wheaton and Not Writing for Free

I won’t commit idea theft myself, so Wil Wheaton‘s original post is here. Here’s an opinion on Slate.

English: Wil Wheaton at a San Diego Comic-Con ...

English: Wil Wheaton at a San Diego Comic-Con panel for The Guild in July 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I agree with both views. I offer what I write free on this blog; what I’m writing for Exploits of a Midnight Traveler is also free — but no one is being paid for it.

In the case of Huffington Post, however, the site is valued at 53 million dollars. It makes money off the advertising that it sells on every post it puts.

Telling people that it can’t pay them is silly. Saying that it is free publicity and exposure… that’s offensive. Will it offer beads and rags  too?

When someone is making profit from your work, you should be paid for it too. PERIOD. A restaurant doesn’t give away food in return for word of mouth (unless you’re a published food critic); a  non-Olympic athlete won’t play for a team solely out of love for their sport; why, then, is it OK for an artist to work for free?

I write RPG products to make money. My novels will sell on Amazon. I’ll give away a story to help to build up my email list… I don’t write these things without a purpose to benefit to myself.

Free exposure is not it.

Why I’m an indie author

If I was under a contract to a big company, I could only write the books that  I was under contract for. I could write other things, but I’d likely have to sit on them for a different deal,  or have to publish them under another publisher, under a pseudonym.

As an indy, I can publish whatever I want whenever I choose to.

Advantage: indie pub

Independent Truck Company logo

Independent Truck Company logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If I was under a contract to a big company, I  would be hampered to writing in just one genre, and just one style. If I was signed for one series, I would be forced to write for that series alone. If it was for novels (it often is) I could only write novels and not short stories or non-fiction (the exception being if they help to drive interest to your contracted novels, and if they don’t affect your contract time).

[Of course Steven King, James Patterson, and J.K. Rawlings are exceptions to this rule.]

Indy pub authors, on the other hand, can write and publish whatever  I want and when I want to. I can  start one series, then another, then  put out an unrelated short story or a non-fiction work. I have that freedom.

ADVANTAGE: INDIE PUB

People under contract to a big publisher have no control over how their work is presented.

Indy pub authors control every aspect. The cover art is what they chose, as are the fonts (for a hardcopy book; for eBooks it’s still not under your control) and even illustrations inside the book .

You can print on demand and/or e-publish on Kindle/Nook/epub/Smashwords/whatever you choose.

[If you pick the  Kindle KDP program you can’t try another for 90 days..]

ADVANTAGE: INDIE PUB

Audiobook? Indy Pub authors can do this at will, and profit from it. Authors on contract can too — if they’re on the contact to get paid for it. Otherwise the publisher might produce one, but all profits go to them.

ADVANTAGE: INDIE PUB

To play Devil’s Advocate, there is a big negative: all the costs (art, editing, advertising, etc.) come to you. After your first work sells, you can set money aside for the next one, but that first one may cost a lot.

advantage: traditional pub

Novels in a Polish bookstore

Novels in a Polish bookstore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The one minus doesn’t outweigh the positives though.

 

Space Opera — What is It?

This is a genre that’s existed for decades, but it’s often misunderstood.
It was considered as Science Fiction in the 1950s, the Golden Age of Science Fiction, but it’s really a form of Science Fantasy. There are many worlds of aliens, in fact hundreds, which gave it the veneer of science fiction. How it no longer fits it:

There are myriad inhabited worlds, often within the same systems. Science shows us that’s not the case, without major terraforming. That is a concept that didn’t exist in those early days.
Entire worlds often have a single feature, such as a desert world or an ice planet. Just look at Earth… we have different climates based on different areas. Just winter alone is different here in Canada and in Northern Europe – and it’s non-existent in the equator zone.
A major example is the Lensman series by E.E. “Doc” Smith, and in film: the Star Wars saga.

E. E. "Doc" Smith

E. E. “Doc” Smith (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Note that I’m not ragging on Star Wars. I’m a fan). Star Wars because there are so many worlds with life on them, and entire worlds just one climate.

Technically it isn’t entire worlds with a sole environment. A good writer could say that we just see part of a world, so the entire world isn’t just one environment type… but for the sake of this genre it’s considered to be.

Also, there are more intelligent versions of this genre. Lois McMaster-Bujold has her series of Vorkosigan novels set in a Space Opera universe, but she uses more science fiction ideas in it than others do.

Lois McMaster Bujold. Photo: David Dyer-Bennet...

Lois McMaster Bujold. Photo: David Dyer-Bennet 1996. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The main definition of space opera, according to its entry on Wikipedia, is that a space opera is like a ‘soap opera in space’. This is a bit simplistic, but they are often melodramatic stories involving ship combat, or romances and betrayals. We see them in standard SF, but far less melodramatic.
The Wikipedia article lists Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series as an example of Space Opera; I have trouble with that. First off, I’m a big Asimov fan. The Mule is an example of a large power escalation — cited as a characteristic of Space Opera — but Isaac didn’t write deep romance, and he was an actual scientist; his writing did have a more believable basis (I’m not saying that Psychohistory is real.
My 2nd NaNoWriMo novel (Into the Flock, a winner) was a Space Opera. I may try to redo it someday.

8 Important Steps I Follow to Write a Book a Year

I haven’t yet succeeded in doing this, but it’s worth my consideration. This is my first Guest Post as well, and it needed some editing:

I have few business ventures that are as rewarding as writing a book.

Please don’t interpret that in financial terms; most any business author will tell you that getting rich on writing a book is a pipe dream. But the ancillary benefits are amazing:

• Credibility — People take you more seriously when you have a book.

• Marketing — Books are far more powerful than brochures and are roughly the same cost to produce. And people just can’t throw away a book!

• Confidence — For many (including me), writing a book fulfills a long-held dream

• Launchpad — One book can launch a series of other products (follow-up books, seminars, webinars, audiobooks, etc.).  That is why I have committed to

That is why I have committed to write one book a year without fail. I’ve written five books to date, and I am currently working on both numbers six (I’m writing it now) and seven (it’s in the research phase). What I write are business books, not fiction, and my “steps” refer to the former, not the latter. The steps are also about how to write the book, not how to market or sell it (by far the more difficult part). So, have you been wondering how to actually sit down and write your first book? Then here are those eight steps.

1. Determine a concept. You may think you have this down already, but the key is to vet the concept with some honest and trusted advisors. Find people who will tell you the brutal truth and then listen to their counsel. Sometimes, we fall in love with our own ideas so much that we get blind to what people actually want to read.

2. ‘Avatar’ your reader. Design the profile (avatar) of your typical reader. Who is s/he? What and how does this person like to read? How do you want this reader to be affected? When you understand your reader, you gain clarity on how to both structure and write the book. In this step, establish your “big takeaway.” What really matters to the reader? What do you want him or her to walk away with?

3. Identify major sections. With your theme and target reader in mind, break the book up into several major sections. The purpose here is to make the book easier for you to write, and simpler for the reader to read. The sections should work like the acts in a play, providing something of a course to follow.

4. Identify chapter themes. Start by identifying your “big idea” — the one thing you want your reader to take away from every chapter. In my current project I literally include the words “big idea” in every chapter, along with a one-sentence takeaway. In every case, I identify that major point before I begin to write. This keeps me focused on my message and helps to prevent me from going off on a tangent. Don’t worry about titling your chapters just yet. Those can be written at any time. You will likely find that the titles come more easily after you write the text.

5. Rough write. Many business writers get bogged down because they try to craft the perfect sentence during the first writing. Big mistake. The words might sound good, but you lose impact because the bigger points get lost. I find much greater success in the “brain dump” method — just free-writing without paying much attention to word choice, punctuation, etc. The resulting content is a mess by the time you finish this step, but free-writing is so much easier to do than the eventual real writing.

6. Form write. When I have done a rough write on the entire book, I go back and write for style,

7. Polish write. With my form-writing complete, I come back and polish things up. Here is what’s key at this stage: Read the text out loud. I cannot emphasize this strongly enough. You will make tremendous improvements when you do this, because you’ll hear the sentences read back to you. You’ll find yourself saying, “Now wait, that doesn’t make any sense,” or, “I can make that clearer still.” Some writers read their manuscript out loud three or four times before they consider it complete. (Note: I read this blog out loud before submitting it!)

8. Get a copy or line editor. Big mistake: editing your own work. Second big mistake: getting your spouse to do it. Line editors are a special breed of people with an attention to detail that is uncanny. And they are detached enough to be honest about your work. Their job is not to critique the arc of your narrative; their job is to make sure you don’t look stupid. I don’t know how else to say that. Skip this step, and you’ll likely end up looking foolish. You can find editors who will bid for work at elance.com.

There you have it: writing a book in eight steps. It’s not easy, but it is possible these days for virtually anyone to write one. And it might just change your world.