Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Some interesting posts on book blurbs and story structure that were linked to on the Kindle boards:

This probably helps to explain why I’ve been going around in circles on Horror Movie for so long, as I started from a simple idea to see where it would go. Normally I write outlines, but I wanted to see how well that worked; I’m not sure that it did. I just trimmed out a few scenes that definitely won’t go into the final version, so the word count should now be approximately correct.

This is something I read a couple of years back but forgot to bookmark, and I’ve been looking for it again for some time because I couldn’t remember who wrote it: The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot.

Lester Dent was the writer of the ‘Doc Savage’ novels, and while pulp fiction tends to get dull after you’ve read enough of it, I think his ‘master plot’ here is worth a look by any aspiring writer; the most important elements such as rising menace, showing not telling, ‘shovelling grief’ onto the hero, making every word count etc are important in any genre other than experimental fiction that only three people will ever read (and two of those are your relatives).

I think I’m going to take his advice and write a short story following his formula just to see how it comes out.

I just found an exercise book full of stories I wrote when I was nine years old. It must have been among the piles of junk random stuff from my parents’ house that I shipped over when I emigrated, and I discovered it again while looking for a book I needed as research material for Highgate Horror.

I guess the challenge now will be to rewrite one of the stories and publish the revised version :).


So, the presents are opened and the turkey is eaten. Now is probably a good time to set some goals for 2012.

I’m going to aim for three novels and a dozen short stories out by the end of the year. That doesn’t seem impossible as I have more than three novels at first draft level so I’m going to be rewriting those and releasing them, and I only need to write one short story a month to meet that requirement.

Still, I have a busy year coming up in my day job so we’ll see how much time I can make to get the writing done.

Hemingway’s four rules for writing well:

Four Rules

1. Use short sentences.
2. Use short first paragraphs.
3. Use vigorous English.
4. Be positive, not negative.

Simple and they make a lot of sense.

Just passed 25,000 words on Tunnelers so I’m half-way to finishing NaNoWriMo with more than half the time to go. Plus I have a better ending now and just need to fill in the gaps in the middle.

Interesting post on the perilous clauses in agents’ contracts these days:

Why I turned down a New York/Hollywood Agent

This is one of the reasons why I stopped thinking about trade publishing and decided to just publish my own books; I would never sign a contract containing these kind of clauses that put an agent a position to collect 15% of my income forever, even if I later drop them.

A few years ago I dreamed about getting a trade publishing deal, now I dream about selling a few thousand books a month and don’t care how they’re published. I honestly don’t see how agents fit into the new world of publishing; when I worked on movies everyone wanted an agent, but they were seen as a necessary evil because few production companies would look at scripts without one. There’s no such restriction in publishing when anyone can now upload their book to retail sites and compete directly with the products of trade publishing.

Not sure why I never mentioned these before, but I thought I’d give them a plug for anyone who hasn’t found them yet:

Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, Volume 1
Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, Volume 2

Earlier in the year I spent a couple of weeks going through the thousands of posts and learned a lot in the process. They’re the main reason I started writing again a few months ago, and I wish I’d found them years ago.

Onto the last few tweaks to Tartarus, then I want to do a full read-through to copy-edit before uploading it.

Also, NaNoWriMo is coming up shortly so I’ll be adapting another of my old screenplays for that; it’s one that I never finished, so I have the start and end and some good ideas for what should go in between and hopefully it will work out. It’s really a war story, but the intention is to tell it in the form of a horror story.

Meanwhile, here’s a piece of writing advice I’m finding useful for revision, relating to the characters in the story, both major and minor:

They are each the hero of their own stories. They don’t know that they aren’t the main character and are only there to move the plot along.

I’ve forgotten where this came from: I think it’s James MacDonald, but I’m not entirely certain. However, it’s an important part of making the characters seem real, and useful for working out where the story should go. Each character should behave as though they are the most important character in the story from their viewpoint, not as someone who’s just there to provide plot for the major characters. Not only does that make them seem more real, it introduces more conflicts for the main characters to deal with.

Good article on how to deal with the troublesome middle of a novel. It’s an old one, but it packs a lot of useful advice into one article.

This is an interesting site: How To Write A Novel Using The Snowflake Method. I like the idea of starting with a one-line description of the story and working out to a full outline, though I suspect it’s too constrictive for my taste.

However, by doing the one line to multi-paragraph outline, I have realised that the character I thought was the main character in The Thing is probably not, and that The Thing is probably the villain rather than the MacGuffin. So some rewriting is probably required when I get around to revisiting that story.

That said, I’d half-realised the former already because I’d spent a lot more time writing his story than the story of the character I thought was the main one. Also, I’d been thinking that I should make that character’s family less sympathetic, so this gives me an excuse to do that.

Perhaps I’ll give this a more serious try for the next novel I write.

Writing tips from Ben Bova. Well worth a look.

Two of the more useful tips:

A fictional story consists of a character struggling to solve a problem. Nothing more. And nothing less.

In other words, you start out with a problem for the protagonist to solve. Do not solve that opening problem until you have created at least two more. Your story should be a chain of promises, a series of interlinked problems that the protagonist must solve.

I think my stories have often suffered from violating the second tip, where I haven’t given the characters enough problems and have solved them too soon, leaving them with twiddling their thumbs and drinking coffee for a while before the next problem arrives.

Also, the plan for the next week or so is to get Tartarus up for sale and finish the second draft of Horror Movie; I think it’s mostly there, but the ending still needs a rethink and there’s a lot of tidying to do before that.

One of Vonnegut’s rules of writing:

Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

And it’s true. You don’t understand characters by seeing what they do when the world is happy and fluffy all around them, you understand those characters by seeing what they do when brain-eating zombies are marching towards their grandmother; do they run away and live, or do they run to help and risk death? Or what do they do after watching those zombies eat their grandmother because they did nothing?

Of course there are limits; it takes the right kind of sadism to fit the story. If your characters are repeatedly being raped by monkeys then the readers may be spending more time trying to figure out quite how perverse the author’s mind is than concentrating on the characterisation.

No, I’m not talking about my life, but writing. One of the biggest rules in writing a story is that nothing can go right.

Imagine, for a moment, that your heroes have found the Evil Weasel’s lair, and they sit around for ten pages making up a careful plan as to how they’re going to break in any capture said weasel. Then they go in, and they follow the plan, and it all works perfectly.

Well, what’s the point? Instead of reading the hundred pages where they execute their clever plan and it all goes right, you could just read the ten pages where they made up the plan. In order for that hundred pages to be interesting, it has to go horribly wrong. Not just ‘oh damn, I broke a nail/dropped my favorite coffee cup’ wrong, but so wrong that the reader actually believes they’re going to fail.

In addition to that, unless stupidity is an intentional part of the protagonists’ characters, it has to go wrong despite them making their best attempt to get it to go right. As a reader I want to see the characters do their best to succeed and be thrown back by events, not fail because they decided to walk in the front door with a big flag saying ‘Death to the Evil Weasel’.

This is one of the problems I’ve had and one of the big problems I see with unpublished scripts and stories that I critique; either too much goes right, or when things do go wrong they don’t go wrong for the right reasons or they don’t go wrong enough that I think they’ll actually fail. It’s also been a problem with a number of recent movies, where I never believe that the protagonist is going to fail so the whole movie is one long anticlimax.

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

Apparently da Vinci said that, but I thought I’d stolen it from a movie director; I guess they read da Vinci too.

Either way, it’s true. Every one of the movies I’ve edited has been sent out the door when we were truly sick of the thing and couldn’t imagine improving it any more.

In almost every case I’ve watched the movie since and noticed a number of things I could have improved or fixed up if I’d had the time. One particularly memorable instance was two members of the crew standing in the background in different shots; I’d spent months editing, sound mixing and grading the movie, must have watched it a hundred times, and not once had I noticed them standing there. Of course the good news is that no-one else has ever seen them either, so ultimately it didn’t matter.

I’m starting to feel this way about Uncle Howard’s House, so that should bode well for my chances of getting it out in a month or two. If I can ever come up with a good title.

LK Rigel on the Kindle Forums posted a link to this video by Vonnegut:


It’s both very short and very good.