Welcome Message

Welcome to my blog. Here, you will find information about my novels, life in Japan, as well as author interviews, discussions on writing, and more. Feel free to browse and if you enjoy a post, please comment. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Update

I'm sorry to say that my writing has slowed to a crawl these last few weeks. I was getting close to 1,000 words a day but I have fallen way behind on that. Writing 1,000 - 2,000 words a day is Stephen King's advice but I think I'll switch to writing for a minimum of one hour every day. If I can write more than that, great; but if not at least one hour. I had a rule of no writing on the weekends but I may have to amend that.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Links to Other Authors

In this post I've added links to the homepages of three of my favorite authors: Stephen King, Jeffery Deaver, and Christopher L. Bennett
Stephen King needs no introduction. He's the writer I admire most and the one I most closely try to emulate. I've never read a King story that I've disliked, although there are some I like more than others. I haven't read all his books but I'm trying.
Jeffery Deaver is a thriller/mystery writer most well-known for his Lincoln Rhyme series. My favorite book by him is The Cold Moon. Deaver is known for his plot twists and reversals. While I think he occasionally stretches them, his books are fast-paced and difficult to put down. His prose and style are very different from King but I highly recommend him.
Christopher L. Bennett is a sci-fi writer that has written mostly tie-in novels, the most being for Star Trek. He brings hard science to his stories, with lots of technical details but his books are epic in scope and his world-building skills are admirable. His first original novel, Only Superhuman, is coming out this year and I'm looking forward to it. I'd recommend Star Trek: Titan - Orion's Hounds and Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations - Watching the Clock.
I hope you'll check out these authors. Are there any you would recommend? If so, say it in the comments box.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Outlining

In an earlier post I touched on outlining and structure, and I'd like to talk more about them here. I'm not trying to give advice, especially being a novice writer. I'm just telling what I do. Most of what I learned about writing comes from Syd Field's book Screenplay and Stephen King's On Writing. I won't do a review of these books so just bear in mind that many of my habits came from these two works.

I start with an outline, a road map of my story. It isn't long, usually not more than four pages. I begin with a log line, a short descriptive overview of the story, the kind of thing you would find in TV Guide or such; usually only one or two sentences long. After that I figure out four things: opening, ending, Plot Point 1 and Plot Point 2 (PP1 and PP2, for short). These are the main parts of my story, the road signs that tell it what direction to take.

The opening and ending are fairly straightforward: what is the hero doing at the beginning of the story before they get into their situation; do they win in the end or lose? These are usually pretty easy to figure out.

PP1 and PP2 aren't quite so easy. In a two hour movie these usually happen about thirty minutes and ninety minutes, respectively, into the movie. These are the points where the hero (or heroes) have to make their decisions or something drastic happens to them at this point. Often in action movies PP1 is when the hero learns what the villain has done or trying to do and PP2 is when the hero is caught or when the villain has almost started his final plan. Once I figure out these two points, I have signs to direct my story towards. As I think and write my outline these may change over time but the function of them don't. They are there to anchor my story. In Adventure Hunters, the opening is the three adventurers in the ruin, the ending is telling their last story, PP1 is deciding to search for the Lambda Driver and PP2 is when the golems are activated.

After figuring out those four points, I write an outline, having split my story into three acts. Act 1 ends with PP1, Act 2 ends with PP2 and Act 3 ends when the story ends. I then write fourteen "scenes" for each act, rough outlines of all the major scenes in my story. These descriptions are brief and don't include every detail, they are just general outlines to give me a rough idea of what my story will be like. This is, without a doubt, the hardest part for me, especially Act 2. Syd Field calls writing the outline (or treatment) a "kick in the pants" exercise. Now I have to take my half-baked idea and turn it into a narrative.

I don't have every detail worked out, only the major parts. There are many things I'll leave blank and figure out as I am writing the story. Some take me by surprise. An example of this is in Adventure Hunters when the three heroes go to meet the gargoyles. My outline had it written as a very straightforward "gather their collective breath and get information" series of scenes. But as I was writing their journey through the forest I needed more tension. I needed a character to be scared of the gargoyles who lived in the forest. Neither Regina or Artorius fit the bill, it wasn't in their character. That left Lisa. So as I wrote the scenes, I made her first be angry and racist towards the gargoyles. But that didn't work, so I changed it into a fear bordering on a phobia. But why was she scared? I eventually wrote a scene explaining why, tying it in with a traumatic experience with her parents from her childhood. This was something I never planned on when I created Lisa and wasn't in my original outline, it grew as I was writing and was a pleasant surprise.

Syd Field says to write a four page outline, Stephen King makes it up as he goes along, and Jeffery Deaver writes 100-200 page outlines for his stories, knowing every twist and turn along the way. I'm aiming for somewhere in the middle. Without an outline I write about thirty pages and get lost and frustrated, I've done it before. But a 100 or 200 pages outline? I might as well just write the novel. Deaver is a thriller writer and a master of plot twists, he needs to know every twist and turn in advance to make sure everything fits together. There are merits to all three approaches, I think.

After I'm happy with my outline and hopefully find it without too many plot holes, I'll start writing. I refer to my outline and use it as a map but it isn't gospel, I'll change it if I think something else works better. Along with my outline I have a word count I try to shoot for. Again, this number isn't gospel or ironclad but if I get close to it I'm happy. I think it helps me out, knowing that I'm inching closer to a goal and giving me a feeling of accomplishment. However, I won't write just to fill up a word count, if my story ends and I have nothing else to say, it ends. I don't want to stuff it with useless filler.

So there you are, a glimpse into my writing process. Of course I'm new at this so I'm sure my habits will change the more I write. If any other readers out there would be willing to share their process I'd love to read them, just write in the comments box. As always, thanks for reading.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Books About Writing

I wasn't a literature or English major in college, I was a film major. I took Creative Writing as my minor. When I began writing screenplays and later short stories and novels, I sort of taught myself. There are hundreds of books on the market about writing and while I haven't read most of them, there are two that helped me that I'd like to point out: Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field and On Writing by Stephen King.

Screenplay taught me structure. From Aristotle's rules of beginning, middle, and end, most stories follow this format. Syd Field stresses this, along with the three-act structure in his book and it has been very valuable to me. According to Field, when you are planning and outlining your story there are four things you need to know at the onset: opening, ending, Plot Point 1 and Plot Point 2. I figure these things out first when I'm outlining. The opening and ending are pretty self-explanatory, but what about Plot Point 1 and Plot Point 2 (PP1 and PP2)? These are the major elements of the story that tie everything together and hook and spin the story into a different direction. Since most movies are around two hours and one page of a screenplay is about one minute of film, PP1 is about on page 30 and PP2 on page 90. Watch any good movie and you'll be able to figure out the plot points. There may be several PPs but there are are basically 2 that really move the story. An example of PPs can be found in Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope. PP1 is Luke finding his aunt and uncle dead and joining Obi-wan. PP2 is the alliance beginning their assault on the Death Star.
Learning these plot points has been invaluable to me. They are signposts to help guide your story. By figuring these out as I outline (which I'll blog about in another post), I'm kept on track and don't let my story wonder. Structure lets me build my story.

Stephen King is my favorite author and his memoir/craft book On Writing is short, informative, and fun. The first half of the book is a brief autobiography on how he became a writer; the second half is his take on the art and craft of writing. As King himself says, his book is not a manual. He doesn't show you how to write; he shows what he does and tells you if it works, try it. If it doesn't, try something else. His style is plain and conversational, sometimes funny. The backbone of his book is about having the right kind of tools to write with: a workspace, the proper grammar knowledge and mostly the desire to write. He describes writing as any other kind of job, like driving long-haul trucks or laying brick, and I agree with him. You have to be willing to commit to being a writer. Having a writing space in which you "write with the door closed" and taking time away from your work after your first draft are two of his tenets that I really believe in.
King calls stories fossils and that by writing you are slowly uncovering them and the form of the story/fossil is the form of your novel. He usually begins with a situation, puts characters into it, and writes how they get out of it. He is not a big fan of plotting and outlining, which is where I disagree with him, but only out of my own personal experience. I have tried writing stories without outlining, only to get 30 or 40 pages in and be lost, not knowing where I am going. To me outlining is important, especially if you are a crime/mystery writer. My other favorite author, Jeffery Deaver, writes 100-200 page outlines before writing his books. A far cry from Stephen King but both methods work for them.

So there you have it. There is a third book, highly recommended by Stephen King, called The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. A classic, it is a no-nonsense guide about grammar and style that I also highly recommend. These three book have helped shape how I write today.

Please leave comments. Have you read these books? What did you think of them? Have some books about writing you'd like to recommend? Let me know.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Smashwords Discount

www.smashwords.com is having Read An Ebook Week starting March 4 and ending March 10. Many books will be discounted. I'll be offering Adventure Hunters for 25% off. The total price is only 2.74. Grab yourself a copy!

Friday, March 02, 2012

Word Count

I'm up to about 45,000 words on The Super School Uniform. I'm hoping for around 100,000. Stephen King said in his book On Writing that 180,000 is a goodish length for a book if the tale is done well and stays fresh. I don't know if I'll ever get that many words but I'm hoping as my skills improve, my word count will go up. Adventure Hunters was around 63,000 words, I'm expecting to pass that with my next novel. At 44,000 words I'm only near the halfway point on The Super School Uniform.
As I wrote screenplays, page count was always a factor I thought about. An average screenplay was about 120 pages, or a two hour movie. One page of a screenplay equaled about one minute of film. I liked having a page goal, it was something to aim for. If my screenplay was woefully short, say 80 pages, I knew to go back and add stuff, usually character-building moments. Novels are more loose, they can be as short or as long as they need to. But I like having a minimum to shoot for, like a little map to follow. Obviously my 100,000 word goal is not ironclad but it's a nice signpost to write towards.