The Story’s The Thing!

ScholarSome ideas die hard.

That is the ailment of the month. A document keeps expanding whenever innovation strikes, as elements of a new novel are jotted down. It’s a yarn built upon twin short stories, both pitched to various publishers but rejected with encouraging remarks. A lack of depth is the usual problem, and that is the much sought solution.

The background for SFF novels often times becomes a double-trap for young authors. Fledgling word-smiths frequently fly by the seat of their pants, relying on strictly their imagination to fill in the blanks. At worst, the results are derivative of that writer’s most recent literary conquest. At best, their concoction is remarkably original but devoid of particulars and technicalities which audiences crave– with proper delivery.

Likewise, the note-taking developer types with their pseudo God-complexes can become so involved with research into each organization, country and character that production slows to a crawl. However should the effort avoid the pitfall of becoming a textbook of fiction, the outcome is often an achievement.

Such truths could sour hopes for the junior scribe. Yet the most memorable books often borrow strongest from true life. Robert E. Howard is said to have once stated, “There is no literary work, to me, half as zestful as rewriting history in the guise of fiction.” J.R.R. Tolkien drew heavy inspiration from Norse mythology including Elves, Dwarves and Der Ring des Nibelungen. And George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire draws inspiration from the War of Roses and, some believe, a few other sources.

Admittedly these facts are a deterrent. There is little pleasure to be derived from the crestfallen countenances of dreamers-turned-skjalds for whom this is the lesson du jour. The fusion of economics, history, politics, culture, religion, psychology and science and/or the occult into a tale is no trick. Such intellectual pack-rats authors can become, for no esoteric knowledge is worthless.

The cynicism is due to timing. National Novel Writing Month has nearly arrived. An event that floods publishers and book delivery platforms with thousands of manuscripts. An event sponsored and encouraged by various groups who financially benefit from the stoked competition that spawns the deluge. An event that sparks the yin and yang of ambivalent emotions; a desire to be encouraged and see folks succeed, yet fearing the earnest zeal of effort that shall be futilely deflected against an uncaring public.

There is the rest of the year to be a scrivener who needs no crutch. For now, the innovations shall brew and storm, a time of rest from the inferno that serves others and not the creator. And December shall be the month when the ink touches the page.

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Business

It’s Wednesday at the new job. The paperwork is done, I got a few minutes before lunch and the second part of my day… when I start doing what I was hired to do. What I want to do.

The last couple of weeks have been filled with personal and professional efforts. As of late, I’ve invested my writing on a new publisher, as Cruentus Libri is taking a break for a while. It sucks, but I gave up on doing the sci-fi stories for a short while as I focus on expanding my ‘writing resume’. The fact is, it’s easier. The little guys feel like they have a better idea of what they want, and often their reduced pay means less competition.

I once got a lesson in the nature of writing competition. I was living in Arlington, Virginia, and one morning, I get on the bus to work. Along the way, I start talking to a girl in the back and she tells me she’s into writing. That was when I mentioned the Black Library submission windows. She got excited, wanting to participate.

Despite not knowing a thing about the nature or details of the 40k universe.

Amateur writers can be hungry like that. Willing to try even if they don’t realize the amount of research they’ll need just to get up to speed, or even knowing anything about a subject. And that’s also why I believe so many professional writers tend to feel and sound so cynical, having done the hard work and effort to research and understand subject matter, as well as fighting through hundreds of other writers and receiving so many rejections.

Not much to do but work at it.

As of late, the game Banner Saga: Factions has really, really been on my mind. It’s a turn based tactical strategy game built around Viking lore and mythos. I’ve really been considering writing a strategy guide (I win more often than I lose), but since that won’t advance my writing career, I won’t. I’ve been thinking there is a teensy bit of money and development to be made on the Indie gaming side and in any gaming series with no existing publishing. The same is true of Fallout and a few other gaming series. I’ve decided to try my hand at gauging some of their interest. But I expect to hear no often.

Unfulfilled Needs

My friend Hilary once told me about wanting a handsome guy with dark hair, who was taller than her. Being around the six foot range herself, that was no small order.

Then one day, we go to a food truck rally. A friend of one of our companions shows up. He’s real tall, easily some 6’5″. Dark features, and reasonably attractive.  I grinned and thought, well you got your wish.

But to our mutual surprise, Hilary whispered to me that she wasn’t interested in him after all. She was kind of shocked herself, because although he hit all her qualifications, he just wasn’t doing it for her. He was outgoing with the girls, that wasn’t the issue. But his personality was boring.

Thinking back, I realize that this man was somewhat cliché. Maybe it was because his physical features hit everything many girls want in a man that he thought he didn’t have to evolve and engage people’s taste more. Good looking but socially lazy, coasting on his genetic fortune.

The point of this story comes from a mental debate I’ve been having with myself for a while. Some publishers will tell you what themes and ideas they’re seeking in an anthology. Others don’t tell you what they need and leave the door open for an awesome story… that just so happens to fit their unmentioned requirements.

I suppose that if publishers told you the themes they wanted more often, they’d end up in a similar situation as Hilary did. They’d get the same, clichéd tale, again and again, that totally fails to satisfy the never mentioned requirement that a story has to be good.

Or, in Hilary’s case, they have to have a personality. Guys? Seriously. Personality is the unspoken requirement all girls need. They almost never say it, but the need is there. No one wants to date a mannequin.

So when you see an anthology or submission window, start by asking yourself what has already been done. Many publishers have huge lists of what they don’t want. The same crap that keeps getting rammed into their mailboxes. If you’re not innovating, you’re stagnating. If you’re not evolving, you’re dying.

So find a way to stay sharp. Try something new. Go to another country, study something unorthodox. Learn, research, create. If you’re creating without being creativity, then you’re doing it wrong.

Shut Up Brain… Wait, Don’t!

When I was younger, I had a problem. Maybe it was Attention Deficit Disorder or the like, but I kept having… ideas for stories and characters. It was bad. I had a friend or two who got frustrated with my bouncing around on our mutual creative opportunities.

As of late, that… energy, that constant inspiration, has returned. A name, a country, a single powerful word can sometimes spark an idea that becomes a character, a subplot, or even the start of an entire novel. I tried to go to bed and ended up staying awake, eyes open as an idea for a short story, a good portion of a fantasy novel and a political/crime thriller novel, in some way about India, danced in my head. No. I don’t mean one of these things, I mean three very, very distinct stories that stand out on their own despite a single, unifying theme. And yes, I do intend to write all three.

But ideas aren’t enough.

Growing up, we constantly heard this… heh. I’m sorry. This lie that a “single idea can change the world.” I’m sorry. I know better. I’m older and freshly aware how it’s not just inspiration that gets work published but solid work. Research times three times writing and sticking to it. Followed by proofing, editing and being prepared to rewrite entire swaths of work, if not the entire piece. That last point has certainly happened before and will happen again.

My fear as of late has been two fold.

The first is that the inspiration will go away. Nothing is worse than seeing the golden goose fly away of its own accord, but sometimes that happens. I know it will happen again, be driven off and return in time. While I wouldn’t call these periods without the inspiration writer’s block, it is easier with inspiration than without.

The second, and what I fear far more, is that I get bored of something. That is the worst. If I’m bored writing, then something is very wrong. And that something is going to be reflected in the writing itself. Boredom is the very antithesis of writing because if you’re bored writing it, then it will be boring to read. Which begs the question of whether it was worth writing at all.

And I’ve certainly felt that before. If it’s just a short story then there’s no harm. In the long wrong, a short story isn’t that big a deal. To have boredom strike in the middle of a one-off novel is not good, especially if there has been quite a bit of work invested in it, but I can deal with it so long as it’s not on contract.

But what if boredom strikes in the middle of a novel series?

Now that scares me. I’ve written my first novella and I’ve been drawing out the work for the sequel. And although I feel confident that the sequel will have plenty of interesting aspects going on for it, what if there finally reaches a point in writing a sequel that I get bored?

Hell, who even likes to do sequels unless it’s a story that finally gets at something one wanted to write or do in the first place? How many boring origin stories led to outstanding sequels about what we really wanted to see? But what if it goes on? What could dry one’s interest out like writing about the same characters and dealing with the unresolved plot details that I’ve held off on.

I suppose that’s something I’ll worry about when it gets to that point. But I’ve been bored before. And I have to make a promise to myself not to let my writing sag or try ridiculous, unrealistic twists just to keep in new or fresh. If I just can’t take a character or aspect further, perhaps it’s time to give it out. Keep the original stories and let others play with that intellectual property.

Sometimes, the greatest tales have come not from the people who originally invented a universe or character, but from the people who came after, took the idea like a rugby ball and ran with it.

If I ever forget, remind me.

Non Profit Editing for Certifications

I have not forgotten my last post about what is essentially a non-profit way for editors to earn their credentials. I have been doing some research against the SfEP in order to understand the goals that a potential editor would have to achieve. I am also about to start studying some of the account structures I can do with PayPal in order to handle the financial side of things.

At the moment, I am considering a very small set up on a trial basis of about a month. I would host the editing contacts on my blog as well as the PayPal information. I would manage the submissions alongside the editor, stepping in whenever an editor is unavailable to inform the submitter within two days and refund any money that has been donated. This would provide some third-party moderation.

So in case anyone is interested, the answer is that I am still researching the possibility. And when and if we’re ready, we’ll take a minimum risk dive into it. If it fails, any money donated will just be used for general education purposes. I’ll talk more about this later after the research is nearly finished.

 

Ticks Me Off

Because it's colorful and makes you read this.

Because it's colorful and makes you read this.

“No,” I audibly told myself as I dressed after the shower.

I was thinking about my alternative history horror piece.  I’m exactly 2,353 words into the story. But in my mind, I envisioned three major parts. The problem was when I realized I had used up more than a third of my available word count and I haven’t even started part one.

This draft isn’t wasted. There are plenty of good ideas, names, ranks and researched areas and objects that will be in the final product. There’s still more research to do and improvements to make. But I came out of the shower with an idea of how to go about restarting the story in a way that grabs the reader by the throat.

I’ll start Monday after I work out. I’ll just sit down and write it out from beginning to end.