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.

Science Fiction vs Science Fantasy

There’s a difference between these two genres, and it’s a difference that I learn more every day. I called myself a science fiction writer, but I’m really the latter.

 

They share a similarity, in that their original genesis is a basis in scientific concepts — but that’s where they diverge. Good stories are the ones in which the characters are ultimately more important, but in science fiction the science has a basis in aspects that can be explained — at least extrapolated.

 

Science fiction can be further divided into hard and soft varieties, but that’s a separate article for the point of this piece.

 

Where science fantasy differs is that there is no rational explanation of things. This is why Roger Zelazny’s Amber series and Robert Heinlein’s novels are really in different categories.

Midshipman Heinlein, from the 1929 U.S. Naval ...

Midshipman Heinlein, from the 1929 U.S. Naval Academy yearbook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

As I said my current stories are science fantasy; I deal with ghosts. There’s no scientific rationale for their existence — but that isn’t a reason for me not to write this story.

 

Ironically, I had no interest in the sciences in high school (except for astronomy) — but my writing interest is science fiction, for both reading and writing. I guess my interest in astronomy helps for the writing…

 

So my current Work in Progress (WIP) is really science fantasy, not science fiction.

Steampunk list

Here are references to get you into the genre:

English: The Great Wetherell Refractor - a ste...

English: The Great Wetherell Refractor – a steampunk telescope by artist Tim Wetherell. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Books

http://steampunkworkshop.com/nine-novels-defined-steampunk/

Games – Video Only

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Steampunk_video_games

All Games – Roleplaying Too

http://steampunk.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_Steampunk_Games

This list includes Space: 1899. The original game is out of print, but I took part in a Kickstarter for the new version. Contact the project runners to find out if you can get it from them.

This is far from a complete list. I’ll likely update it over time. This will, at least, get you started.

Steampunk Omission

I forgot to mention an important aspect of Steampunk yesterday. It’s very important because it’s an element very common to all aspects of the genre:

Both in terms of the visual style and the mannerisms of the genre, the basis is the

English: Steampunk image of author G. D. Falks...

English: Steampunk image of author G. D. Falksen Français : Photo de l’auteur G. D. Falksen habillé en style Steampunk. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Victorian era. So: many of the adult males have mutton chops or long handlebar mustaches, many people have pocket watches, and there is an abundance of top hats, corsets, and parasols.

There are no airplanes; there are dirigible lines. Some stories have robots, but they’re clockwork automatons.

Guns exist since gunpowder does for centuries. For the genre, they tend to be pistols, shotguns, and rifles. There are no automatic weapons or machine guns — though prototypes of these things might exist for the story.

This gives me an idea for a list to come soon: a list of Steampunk-themed properties.

Related articles

What is Steampunk?

There has been a large wave of fandom for this in the past few years. There’s even an anthology of comics (I tried for it; unfortunately I was early in my learning of the Scrivener app and, as a result, I blew it). With all of the popularity I will still try to explain it.

First, here’s the definition on Wikipedia.

The book seen as having launched the genre is The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (fathers of Cyberpunk). It has some slight similarities).

Bruce Sterling, original background edited wit...

Bruce Sterling, original background edited with simple brush strokes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve also heard (before the Wikipedia article) it compared to the

Portrait of author William Gibson taken on his...

Portrait of author William Gibson taken on his 60th birthday; March 17, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Verne I can see, though not Wells. Well, for The Time Machine, yes… but not for 1984 or even Animal Farm…

What makes The Time Machine Steampunk is the technology: it’s windup, dials and clockwork devices, not electronics or computerized equipment. It draws some similarities to Cyberpunk in that man and machine are often merged, the difference being that the technology isn’t of the same kind. The former, not the latter.

Although in general fans didn’t like the film remake of The Wild, Wild West much, the film was very much Steampunk-style with all of the windup technology. There wasn’t electricity in that time period.

In essence, Steampunk is science fantasy, not science fiction. I’ll explain the difference in another post.

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No Fiction While I Write

English: This image is a reproduction of an or...

English: This image is a reproduction of an original painting by renowned science-fiction and fantasy illustrator Rowena http://www.rowenaart.com/. It depicts Dr. Isaac Asimov enthroned with symbols of his life’s work. Français : Peinture de Rowena Morill montrant Isaac Asimov sur un trône décoré des symboles de son œuvre littéraire. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let me explain: I write fiction, and I do read it and have my favorite authors (among them Isaac Asimov, Spider Robinson, Elmore Leonard and Mark Twain) but while I’m writing I don’t read other fiction.

English: Elmore Leonard, Miami Book Fair Inter...

English: Elmore Leonard, Miami Book Fair International, 1989 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The reasons are many. First off are to avoid plagiarism. When I’m trying to keep my own voice in all my fiction, make sure that all of my plot twists are of my own devising, I want to ensure that nothing in my prose has come from someone else’s work.

When you start to write, you copy from your influences… I still have some in my own work that hearken back to Spider — but the chosen words and fiction itself is purely my own.

Another reason that I don’t read other fiction while I write is that influence. I built others into my ‘voice’ when I write, but this comes from reading them for years. If it came from reading them now, that would really mess me up.

So, right now I’m reading non-fiction — but when I write non-fiction, I’ll only read fiction, for the same reasons.

There is a negative side to this: it’s been about 2 years since I began to write my current novel, which means that I haven’t read any other novels in that time.

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