Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Art Of Writing...It Varies (Part Three: The Writing)

This is part three of a three part series describing my writing process, following:

The Art Of Writing...It Varies (Part One: The Idea)
The Art Of Writing...It Varies (Part Two: The Outline)


Onto the fun stuff.

Now that I have everything in hand from the previous two posts, having transformed my Idea into an Outline, it's time to get down and dirty with The Writing.

It all starts with the First Draft. This is the make it or break it point for me personally. If I can make it through a First Draft then I know that someday, someway, somewhere, the project will be published. But sometimes, no matter how good The Idea is or how strong The Outline, the story fizzles and drops forever into a chasm somewhere along the way. I know I'm not alone in this. Stephen King wrote, “Look, writing a novel is like paddling from Boston to London in a bathtub; sometimes the damn tub sinks. It’s a wonder that most of them don’t.” You can read the entire article Here.

But for the sake of this post, let's pretend things go great, or as great as possible. I call my First Draft the Bare Bones Draft,  The Skeleton.



Here I vomit the words out from my head and let them fall as they will, building The Skeleton from the feet up. I write every major scene and all the important dialogue (though at this stage the scenes range from highly detailed to one or two sentences, and the  dialogue ranges from Shakespearean to Ga Ga Goo Goo) and bridge the gaps between scenes that were left unfilled in The Outline, where possible, and go until I reach the words The End.

When I'm done I sit back and breathe a sigh of relief, and then I look at what I've written and think, "Wow! What a colossal piece of shit! I really need to go back to work at KFC because I will NEVER make it as a writer."  This happens to me nine times out of ten.

But then I remember what the late, great Ernest Hemingway said about First Drafts: The first draft of anything is shit.”

With those words in mind, I dive into the Second Draft with a renewed confidence, where I dress the bones in flesh. Now, before I go any further I should point out that I'm a linear writer. I start at the beginning and go to straight to the end of each draft, no turnoffs, no jumping ahead. I say this because other writers have drastically different styles. Some start off linear and then start to jump around, writing whatever they feel like: a scene at the beginning of the story here, or one near the end there, then jumping to the middle, and then back to the end before returning to the beginning for a while. 

Mind-boggling, to me.

Other writers take a POV character and, along with one or two secondary POV characters, write their threads from beginning to end, and then return to the beginning to work on another POV character, rinse and repeat until they have them all down and then they combine and polish them in a more linear fashion until complete.

That way makes more sense to me than the first but still, seems like a lot unnecessary steps.

And then you have those rare writers who write in an ultra-linear fashion, writing a scene at a time but not moving on until that scene is polished to a fine shine before moving onto the next, all the way to the end. This might make the most sense but it's still not my gig. Remember from The Outline that I'm FSCF, so I couldn't hold myself back like that. My temperament spurs me on, forever striving for forward progress.

In technical jargon: I'm a loosy goosy  linear writer. 

For the Second Draft I flesh everything out, adding details where needed, heavily, strengthening dialogue and scene bridges, adding new characters and scenes as needed, or new plot threads when they come to mind, keeping in the back of my head that whatever I don't perfect in this draft, I have another shot in the next. And at last I find my way back to The End.
 

In contrast to how I feel about the end of my First Drafts, by the end of the Second I'm like "Wow! This is the next big thing!" I then let the draft cool for a day or two before going back to it.

My Third Draft is my Fat Cutting/Heavy Edit draft. Here I chop some of the fat off and tighten things up (as we all know, some fat is healthy, but not too much) look for inconsistencies and contradictions within the plot and characters and correct them, look for typos, all the while strengthening scenes and dialogue as I go until I once more hit The End. Where I felt despair and elation with the previous two drafts, when I look upon the finished Third Draft I inexplicably feel panic-attack inducing anxiety. Here I spent all these weeks and months working away, plugging out tens of thousands of words, going line by line to make sure everything's right and perfect, but yet the MS always seemed to be lacking something: the characters aren't believable,  the dialogue is lame and choppy, the story is uninteresting, has been done before, is confusing, or not confusing enough.  Thoughts post-First Draft creep back into my head, wondering if I should give my old manager a call, if he still works there, to beg him for a job.

But then I sleep on it and decide, as I always do, to hit the next draft.

The Fourth Draft is my polish draft, where I put some makeup on the ugly mofo and make the MS look pretty. Here I basically continue what I did in the Third Draft, cutting, editing, building muscle where needed. No TV, no music, just me and the words in another world, bringing everything to life. Usually by the end of this draft I'm more confident of the story's commercial viability but I'm not there yet. It's here where I have to decide on another draft or a final read. There's a difference. 

When it comes to projects, I've done anywhere between 3 to 10 drafts before submitting to an editor. Other writers I know of have done as little as 2 and as many as 15+. So, whatever floats your boat. For me, I continue polishing and editing  Drafts until nothing "bothers" me about the MS (dialogue issues, plot issues, etc,) or when I realize that I've stopped editing and polishing and have begun to simply "change" things instead. When I reach The End for what seems like the millionth time, I take a break, since by now, let's face it, I'm sick of the story and everything to do with it.

I'll let the MS sit for a week or two (not easy, believe me. as much as I'm sick of it, the damn thing will call my name constantly, begging for attention, that greedy bitch) So I put my ear muffs on and spend the interim doing light work on one of the other million projects on the ledger: Outlining, Brainstorming, Sketching.

And then at last I return to the MS and commence the Final Read. Here I put my reader goggles on and just read. If something snags my eye or jars my brain, I fix it. If I see a typo, I fix it. Other than that I simply read to The End.  And by now I'm feeling once again that the MS is "the next great thing", a least until I submit it to an editor, but that's for my next post.

My problem now is that I have the urge to read it again, and again, to make sure it's perfect, but I keep myself from doing so because I've done it before and realize A) There'll be no end to it, and B) When you read something a hundred times over, nothing changes save that you begin to hate it.

It's a vicious circle.

So anyways, that's it. That's my current writing process from beginning to end, but the work doesn't end there. Keep an eye out for my next series: Getting Published...Ugh: Submitting, Rejection, Published. 

 




Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Art Of Writing...It Varies (Part Two: The Outline)


Continuing from my previous post, The Art Of Writing...It Varies (Part One: The Idea), I'm gonna move onto the next step of my writing process: The Outline, also referred to by me as The Notes.

Different writers have different approaches to this part of the process. Some leave out the outlining altogether and write from the heart, completely organic, allowing fate to lead them toward that unknown ending. Others plan out every detail of every scene from beginning to end,

I fall somewhere in between. A centrist. I need a road map to follow but not one so heavy with details that I get bogged down and bored. While I feel that having no outline leaves too much in the breeze, I feel like having too much of one leaves you locked in, with no wiggle room to breathe, and I'm claustrophobic so, bad news.

If writers were classified by a MBTI, then I would be FSCF: Free-range, Semi-Organic, Claustrophobic, Focused.

For materials I use a basic pen and a notebook. Other writers put their notes to discs or flash drives, typing, or recording their words using Dragon Software. (If I did that latter the neighbors would probably call the cops after hearing me talk about killing this person or that, shooting this or that, or blowing up this or that) But it's old school for me.

I start off by expanding on the original Idea, filling up about a page with the basic beginning, middle, and end of the story. (I do this for novels, shorts, and everything in between) At this point I'll have a tentative title, usually generic. I then move on to my Character List: main characters, minor characters, and even an "extra" or two if they play some roll in the story. I'll then expand on each ones' bio, from their birth to death, traits, and motivations for doing what they do and don't.

Once the  Character List is set, I move on to the Setting. Depending on the story, this could be textual, map sketches, or a combination thereof. Since I used Let Nature Decide in my last post for an example, I'll stick with it for this one.
For this story I needed an isolated place that the characters couldn't readily escape from. I decided on an underground compound (the original title of the novel was Compound) set beneath a mountain with the outdoor environment plagued by nuclear fallout, war, and crime.

I jotted down the compound's history, starting with its creation and the reason it was created, and every incident that'd happened within its walls since. I then sketched out map of the compound--more for me than for the readers--to keep track of details. Both my sketches and my penmanship resemble drunk chicken scratch that very few people can decipher: praise The Creator for computers.

Now, if I was working on something where actual world building was needed, such as an epic fantasy or space opera, the notes and sketches would be more extensive, detailing each world, nation, or faction's histories and their relationship to each other.

For The Sunjack Trilogy, which is sci-fi, I have two 5-subject notebooks dedicated to the entire trilogy, with half of just one containing the notes for The Vatters of Klon alone.
With this I consider the Setting complete and I move on to the The Story. Here I take the one page synopsis I wrote in the beginning and stretch it out, beginning to end, adding details to every major scene, but not too much. Remember I'm FSCF, I don't need to know every step of the story, or how I'm gonna get to each scene. Knowing that I will get to each somehow, someway is enough for me and half the fun of writing (for me) is the surprise I get when my own story throws me a twist .

It's during this part of the process that I invest the majority of  creativity into the overall project; The Idea is fleshed out, the scenes are fleshed out, the characters' actions "come to life", events begin to unfold, and before I know it I have the makings of a pretty awesome story. (my opinion)

The size of The Story varies with each project. For Let Nature Decide, it was about two pages. For Vatters of Klon, about thirty, for Children of The Forgotten, fifty, for a short story, maybe one page, maybe three. The bottom line is, however much it takes, I put it all down and go from there.

The last thing I do with an Outline is add a Miscellany Notes Section, if explicable. Here I detail things like calendars, if different from real world, and monetary systems (including exchange rates), religions, special events, languages, ANYTHING that didn't fit into one of the other categories,

With all that done, there's nothing left to do for me but write and transform it all into a cohesive, commercially viable story fit for consumption.

I'll talk about what I do for that process in my next post: The Writing


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Art of Writing...It Varies (Part One: The Idea)


Hi, Everyone!

Before I delve into the main post, I promised updates on New Empire Book 2. So far I got the prologue of the first draft done and a few chapters outlined. Not much I know, but it will pick up. I've also been working on a few short story projects, but New Empire remains on schedule at the top of my priorities.

Okay, now for the main post: My Writing Process; broken up into three parts: The Idea, The Outline, and The Writing.

As part of being a writer, I like to peek into how other writers work. Maybe there are a lot of you like me, or maybe I'm just weird, but either way I decided to reciprocate. As for me, the process I use now took me over ten years to perfect, and I believe that it's still evolving.

Moving on.

Every novel or story begins with The Idea. It's nearly impossible to begin anywhere else since, without The Idea, what do you have? Nothing. And often times, especially when it comes to novels, several ideas coalesce and collide to form one giant scheme. Now, some writers--such as the late Robert Jordan, author of TWOT, for an example--get an idea or two and then wait years or decades to allow it to germinate before then moving on to the outlining process.

Not me.

The moment I get an idea I need to immortalize it in some way ASAP, because I'm so worried I'll forget it. The light bulb flashes on and I run to the nearest pen and pad or keyboard to jot it down. If those tools aren't available I'll gnaw a hole in my wrist and use my own blood to write it on a wall.

But, the funny thing is, I've NEVER forgotten an idea, whether I wrote it down or not. While the time frame between getting The Idea from my head to paper is relatively short (averaging several seconds to several days tops) it never gets that far if I don't get the next ingredient, that Something Else, that bridge that'll allow the seed that is The Idea to fully mature into story.

As an example, here's an idea that never made it to paper, yet I still remember it vividly. This was seven or eight years ago, shortly before my son was born; I was standing in my living room, looking out the window, when I happen to see the recycling guy emptying the bins into the truck, which were full of cardboard boxes from the recent baby shower. My writing brain got to thinking about how much info guys like that can obtain from the contents of a simple recycling bin. They'll know if you just bought a big-screen TV, an expensive gaming system, knows if there's kids living there, all this stuff, and then I got the idea for a story called The Recycler  (tentative title) about a guy like that breaking into and robbing peoples' houses and stalking the residents by using the information he got from the bins.

Of course the idea fizzled rather quickly since it was lacking the next ingredient, which was commercial viability. (Any of you reading this out there, feel free to use the idea if you want, free of charge; I'd like to see it work)

On the flip side, one night I was watching one of those Prepper shows, and one guy was showing off his former missile silo that he planned on converting into a luxury subterranean post-apocalyptic  hotel, and he was already renting spots to strangers.


So I got to thinking: what if the guy let in a serial killer (or killers) by mistake, and what if the population at large had no way to escape, and what if they didn't know who it was until it was too late. Right there is the point where the initial idea and the special ingredient came together, suggesting to me the strong possibility of commercial viability, which then lead me to the next step: The Outline, where I flesh out the idea and lay the groundwork for some serious creating. (If you haven't guessed, this particular idea became the basis for my novel, Let Nature Decide)


Next up: The Outline.





Tuesday, January 5, 2016

New Empire Book 2

Hi, everybody, and happy belated New Year!

I have a Star Wars post waiting in the wings. It's unfinished as it began as a review of Force Awakens and turned into a rant that encompasses the entire franchise. Nothing negative really, and I pretty much agree with every other review out there on Force Awakens. For me, personally, I liked I a lot. I'll leave it at that for now.

Onto other things; I have officially started work on New Empire Book 2! I was gonna wait and do one more project before that, but I keep promising that it will be out Summer 2016 and the only way I could have accomplished that is if I start now and don't sleep 'till summer's end, so that's what I'm gonna do. I've kept you all waiting long enough (not on purpose, I swear!)

Target date: June-Sept 2016...could be a little later, prob not sooner.

For anyone who hasn't read the first book and wants to check out a pretty awesome start to a military sci-fi trilogy(yes, I'm biased in that assessment) links and blurb below:

The Vrilkist, an advanced alien race bent on galactic conquest and annihilation, has been eating away at the borders of The Imperial Confederation of Ertho—an empire already plagued by rebel and separatists factions—in an ongoing war. 

The three front conflict has left the empire short on fighters and material while the Vrilkist, in contrast, appear to have unlimited resources and firepower. Desperate, the empire gathers everything it has to launch a last ditch assault on the enemy. Success will buy the empire time to regroup and restock; failure will mean the end of everything. 


Cornelius Coleman, student, pugilist, loner, soon becomes a reluctant player within the larger scheme when he is conscripted to fight in the imperial forces. His journey will begin on Old Earth, but it will end very far away. 



Children of The Forgotten (Full Book/Kindle)

Children of The Forgotten (Full Book/Print)

Don't want to risk anything on the entire book and only want to try a nibble here and there? Here are links to the serialized version:

Children of The Forgotten (Part One)

Children of The Forgotten (Part Two)

Children of The Forgotten (Part Three)

Children of The Forgotten (Part Four)

Thanks everybody and I hope your 2016 is a great one! I will be updating often to keep you all abreast of the progress on Book 2, and keep an eye out for my Star Wars Rant!

JJS

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