Category Archives: writing exercise

The New Plan

So, one of the hardest parts about trying to ‘make it’ as an author is promotion.  It is an unfortunate fact that, no matter how good your writing is, you can’t do it for a living if you can’t get people to buy it.  And that means promoting yourself.  Unfortunately, for many, if not most artists, ‘sales’ is contrary to our very nature.

A friend of mine, also an author (Jason Richter, look him up!) has a plan that seems like it won’t be nearly as painful as most self promotion techniques.  It is a multi-step plan which will start right about the time I release Curdled Cuisine.

I look forward to sharing more about it once I actually start, but for right now the part that I’m working on is a series of short stories.  I haven’t done a lot of short story writing in the last couple of years, so I have to ask: if I’m sending out short stories or serialized short stories to people’s e-mails once a month, how long is too long, and how short is too short?

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Promotional Project Woes

So, as I’ve mentioned before, my book sales are not exactly where I want them to be at the moment.  My publisher and I discussed a couple of promotional things that I can do, and I’m hoping that as soon as my book becomes available in print, as well as just online, my sales figures will start to rise.  But in thinking over what I can do to draw some attention, both to my book and to myself as an author, I remembered an idea I had a few years ago.

It’s pretty much a perfect fit with my current series, and I while nothing is guaranteed, it at least has the potential of drawing quite a bit of attention.

The downside is that it basically centers around my writing another book.

That’s right, to promote one book, I’m going to need to write another one.  And how do I promote the second book?  I’ve got a few ideas on that front, but i’m going to be playing it all a little close to the vest for right now.  And that isn’t the point of this blog.

The thing that’s giving me trouble at the moment is that writing this new book involves a complete style change for me.  I’ve spent years learning to write a particular way, and now I have to make massive adjustments in how I approach my new book.

There actually isn’t all that much to write.  Where one of my novels will typically be around eighty thousand words, this new project might get up to ten thousand.  But I’m struggling with it more than I do when I’m writing a novel.  With a novel I hit maybe one or two walls in the first half of the book, five or six right in the middle, and one or two as I approach the end.  With what I’m working on now, it feels like every paragraph is its own wall.  I find myself lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to sort through one more line.

In the end I expect it will all be worth it.  Even if this doesn’t work as a promotional tool, it’s a project that is forcing me to practice writing skills I don’t usually use, and I’m a bit believe in that.

But in the here and now, I’m starting to get frustrated.

The art of the Short Story

For years I struggled, and failed, to write short stories.  I’d come up with a good idea (well, they sure seemed like good ideas at the time), I’d start writing, and suddenly I’d realize that I had another novel on my hand.  I mean, I never finished them, but my difficulties with finishing books are for another day.  Let’s try to stay on point here, people.

Basically, I’d start writing the story, and suddenly I’d realize that I was ten pages in and I hadn’t even gotten to the story, yet, I was still basically just describing the ‘ordinary world.’  Or, if I did manage to get right into the actual meat of the story, I’d realize that the really interesting bit was what happened after the story that I wanted to tell.  Or I’d fall in love with a character and want to tell all about them….

It wasn’t actually a problem, at the time, I was still in grade school at the time, even if I had managed to finish a short story, I wouldn’t have known what to do with it, and it sure as hell wouldn’t have been accepted anywhere.

I’m not going to claim that I’ve perfected the art of writing short stories since then, but I am happy to say that I’ve gotten a lot better at it over the years.  I’ve written around sixty short stories in the past couple of years, and I’ve published about a dozen of them, which isn’t an earth shattering number, obviously, but I’m proud to have gotten that done.

I don’t know how common this problem is, being unable to limit yourself to a short story when you know that you have so much to write, but I have talked to a couple of people who’ve been through it as well, so I’d like to share a couple of things that have worked for me in the past.

The first trick I’ve found involves writing about characters that I have in other books.  One of the big problems for me is that, when I start a short story, I often find that I create a huge world behind it.  In order to make the characters ‘on screen’ three dimensional, I give them backstories, reasons for their insanities, and I want to explain that.  If I have a book, or a series of books in the works with those same characters in them, then I can set aside the unnecessary explanations.  I don’t need to introduce all of the people in their life, or all of their idiosyncracies.  The character is fixed in my head the universe is established, and I can focus on the story.

The second trick I use is what I call the trick trick.  I take an idea, some sort of kooky, off the wall  writing style idea, and I write it like that.  My favorite example is writing the entire story as a one sided dialogue.  I’ve read it a couple of times, and I love it.  It’s tricky to do, because you have to phrase things in such a way that you convey what was said, or what just happened.  But that’s the point.  Writing everything as one side of a conversation, and creating a meaningful story out of that takes concentration and energy, so you find yourself needing to close up the story sooner.  It has the added benefit of stretching you as a writer, and helping you figure out how to pull off similar things on a smaller scale when you’re writing a novel.

The third trick is the emotion trick.  Basically, for me, these stories are about finding a specific instant within a story, and focusing on the emotion of it.  Whether it’s a soldier who is about to sacrifice himself to save his platoon, or a victim who has just discovered that he is in the clutches of a serial killer, or an old woman with dementia who is trying to figure out why she’s in a house with all of these unknown, but kind people, the point of the writing isn’t to tell a story, it’s to evoke a reaction in the reader.  In the course of creating that emotion, you do in fact tell a story, but the story is incidental to the emotion.  And since, in longer works, you have to have rising and falling emotions, you find yourself limited in how long you can make this particular work.

The unreliable narrator

In my ‘Corpse-Eater Saga,’ I wanted to push myself a bit with my writing.  I try to do that as often as I can.  In this case I did a couple of things that I don’t normally do.  The first thing I did was give myself a narrator who relies less on his eyesight than the rest of us.  That has actually been much harder for me to handle than you’d think.  Recently i went back over book one and I found several things I should have done differently if I really wanted to make that detail stick.

But the other thing I did, the thing that I want to contemplate right now, is use an unreliable narrator.

As a rule, the unreliable narrator is not my favorite tool.  Mostly it goes back to my own gullibility.  As a rule, when somebody tells me something, my first instinct is to believe them.  Even after having been lied to many times, and having discovered that I was given an obscenely one-sided story, when I talk to people and they tell something, I have to make a concerted effort not to assume that their recitation is the literal truth.

I have used unreliable narrators before, particularly in short stories.  Having someone who is misinformed or unable to perceive the truth of a particular situation is quite useful for twist endings.  But in ‘Awfully Appetizing,’ I am trying for something a bit subtler with my character.  I’m trying to write the story of somebody who is dishonest with himself.  Giving quiet hints that his perception of the world is skewed has proven more difficult than I anticipated.

Part of the problem may be that I’m going for something a little bit too subtle.  Or maybe he’s not dishonest enough with himself.  Is he really an unreliable narrator, or is he just uncertain?

Maybe I failed to make him unreliable and only made him conflicted.

One of the tricky things when you’re looking at writing a series is that it’s hard to maintain what you perceive as a flaw in your narrator over the course of years and years, and books and books.  You see the flaws in them so clearly, you can’t imagine how they could completely miss it in themselves.

Well, if that’s the case, at least he should pick up some of my own personal flaws, the ones that I’m blind to.

Starting at Zero

Have you ever gone to a movie and realized about halfway through that the jackass who made the trailer for it spoiled one of the major plot points?  One of my favorite examples is The Sixth Sense, where the creepy kid confides ‘I see dead people,’ in the trailer, a very important plot twist that doesn’t come until about halfway through the movie.

Well, the same sort of thing can happen in books.  I’ve had, on multiple occasions, found myself a chapter or two into a book when I suddenly realize that the author wanted to spring something on me that I knew going in.  Perhaps it’s the fact that the novel is set on a spaceship traveling to a new solar system.  The first few chapters take place on a farm, so when we get to the end of a chapter and the boy is peering through the glass dome and realizes that he’s out amongst the stars, it’s supposed to take our breath away.

It’s a little hard to be surprised by that revelation, though, when the cover of the book shows a spaceship that happens to have a giant dome on its back and what appears to be a continent within it.

Similarly, the scene where the kindly old professor reveals himself to be a bloodthirsty vampire is just a bit less of a shocker when the cover shows me an old man grinning to reveal two impressive fangs.

Not to mention everything that a back cover can give away.

Part of the problem is where the control over these things lies.  If a writer has final say on a book cover and jacket blurb, he’s got a good chance of getting out ahead of these problems.  But if the publisher isn’t interested in feedback and just wants to rush the manuscript through their machine and get it out in the world, things can be a bit more complicated.

But even if the writer does have control over these things, it can be tricky figuring out how to market certain stories without giving things away.  Take that story about the farmer who discovers he isn’t on a world, but on a spaceship.  If that revelation is in chapter two, then presumably most of the book is a science fiction story.  How do you hide what it’s about, while making certain that the appropriate audience reads your book?

It’s a conundrum.  And something to think about.

Seven Favorite Sins

So, there are a lot of ways to go about building characters.  You can base them on people that you know, or exaggerated ideals.  You can make them to fit a special need in your writing, or you can imagine a crazy society and ask yourself what would come about because of that.

Sometimes, though, what I find myself with are too-perfect characters.  I make them, not into reflections of myself, but reflections of who I’d like to be.  I make them the ideal human, then wonder why nobody can relate to them.

Well, if you ever find yourself with a character that you think might be just a little bit too perfect, here’s something you can try: ask yourself what their favorite sin is.

There are seven deadly sins, let me see if I can list them all:

Lust

Greed

Wrath

Pride

Sloth

Gluttony

Envy

Now,as I understand it, there are people out there who have managed to completely rid themselves of one or maybe two of these, but let’s be honest here, for the rest of us, all seven are pretty big.  But the thing you have to keep in mind is that everyone has at least one of these that is there go-to sin.  Or, if you’re not a fan of the word ‘sin,’ let’s call it imbalance.  Whatever name you give it, it comes back to the same thing:  There’s something in you that drives you to behave foolishly.

Pick one, give it to your character, and whenever you write that character, remember that failing and make a point of bringing it out a bit.  It’s a fantastic way to make your characters be just a little more human, when you would otherwise be writing them as minor gods.