Monthly Archives: September 2011

A Writer Reads

…but what does reading have to do with writing?

For most of us, we learned to write around the same time we learned to read.  It is likely our ability to read developed more quickly than our ability to write and if we liked reading, we did a lot of it.

I was such a child.  I read everything I could find that interested me, from story books, fairy tales, and fables, to Time-Life books about the planets, dinosaurs, Time, or the Earth.  I even read every word of those Publishers Clearing House envelopes stuffed with prizes and magazines to order.

What I most loved to read, though, were stories.  The Bookmobile stopped across the street from our house every Friday after school for years.  I found the selection limited, though, and began haunting my elementary school library and later the middle and high school libraries.  Once I could drive, I spent many Saturday afternoons browsing the racks at the city library.

Somewhere along the way, after reading the dozens of novels and hundreds of stories, all that reading flipped a switch inside me that illuminated my writer self.  I distinctly remember wanting to write a story for the first time in my early teens.  The story was about an evil janitor with occult powers to punish any kids who played hide and seek in the medical and dental offices near where I lived.  The story concept had some merit, but the writing itself was terrible.

Ever since I finished that short story, though, I’ve thought of myself as a writer.

But what does reading have to do with writing?

The act of writing is putting a story to words so that another reader can experience that story as you intended to tell it.

The more stories and novels an aspiring writer has read, the more proper story structure, format, characterization, description, plot, and theme permeate the subconscious almost like osmosis.

There is a rhythm to storytelling that is not always innate, but can be learned through reading and studying how other writers tell stories.  How do they evoke emotion?  How do they paint images in the reader’s mind?  How often do they address all five senses?  Are characters revealed through thought, dialog, action, or all three?  What word choices to they use?  How is action paced and balanced with reflection?  Are scenes long or short?  How are the best stories begun?  How are the best stories ended?

Much can be learned by simply reading, taking no thought to how the writer did it, but just enjoying the story.  Even more can be gained by actually studying how the writer wrote a passage that resonates with you or impresses you in some way.

By reading a variety of authors, genres, and both new and old stories, you can learn from the example of others.

If you did nothing else but read avidly and write, you would have a head start over those who attempt to write, but don’t read and thus haven’t saturated their minds and souls with the rhythms of story.

As an example, I’m currently reading Brotherhood of the Wolf the second in the Runelords series by David Farland.  I subscribe to his Daily Kick newsletters on writing and publishing topics and find his advice is generally outstanding.  I like the Runelords world and like to see how he writes epic fantasy, especially his earlier books in the late 90s.

I’m also re-reading Character and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card.  I’m trying to deepen my understanding of characterization to improve my current novel in progress, The Lost Tower.

Remember that a writer reads.  Stephen King said in his book On Writing that you really can’t be a writer unless you read a lot.  Good advice from one of the masters.

And with that, what are you currently reading and why?


How to Make a Scene

Often as writers we get lost navigating the forest of our stories because once we enter the woods, we don’t know which direction to go or we have our eye so firmly focused on the distant exit that we can’t see the trees right in front of us.

Yes, this is tired metaphor, but let’s compare these trees to scenes in a story.  The ideal and most interesting path from the beginning of the forest to the end will be lined with trees.  Just like the ideal story will be composed from beginning to end with the appropriate and most interesting scenes.

Sure the forest is full of many other trees that could be followed, but they will lead you away from the ideal story road onto diverse paths that may seem intriguing, but ultimately lead to dead ends.

So, how does one stay on the proper story path?  How do you know which scene trees to follow?

At its most basic, a story is a series of connected scenes, like pearls on a string or trees along a path.  Each scene is a self-contained unit of action that advances the plot, reveals character, creates questions or provides answers, and layers in theme.  A good scene offers one of more of these traits.  A great scene offers all four.

Like the overall story, a scene should have a beginning, middle, and end.

The beginning of the scene should establish the setting (time and place), introduce the characters involved (especially the viewpoint character), and identify a problem, conflict, or question that must be faced.

The middle of the scene should show the characters attempting to resolve the problem, conflict, or question.  They should make progress, have setbacks, move forward, slide backwards, and ultimately things seem to get worse, or at least more complicated.  The characters are tested and stressed in a way that fits the genre, theme and story arc.  Often the middle ends with a dark moment, or crux, where the situation presented at the beginning of the scene has gotten so bad it seems impossible to resolve.

The end of the scene is the resolution.  The characters find a course of action using their unique talents, skills, experiences, or via cooperation to either solve the problem, or fail to solve it.  They either discover something new, or the answer eludes them.  Either way, the building suspense of the scene problem is over as the action concludes.

Obviously, a scene is more complex than simply thinking in terms of beginning, middle, and end.  However, by structuring a scene in such a way and building transitions between scenes to connect them, you create a continuous story that flows naturally from beginning to end.

And what more do readers want than a great story that compels them to keep reading to the satisfying conclusion?

I recommend a great book that opened my eyes to the importance of writing complete and effective scenes.  Check out Make A Scene by Jordan Rosenfeld.  Click the image for a link to Amazon.

When you know which scene trees to follow along the forest path, you’ll arrive at the end of a satisfying story journey.

What tricks have you learned about scene writing?


To Tweet or Not to Tweet

…that is the question.

I’ve read some advice recently that suggests that authors who are serious about building a brand and marketing themselves as writers should be doing more than just hosting a web page, running a blog, or even maintaining a fan page on Facebook.

Well what else is there in the great wide world of social media?

Have you heard of Twitter?  That’s a rhetorical question because I’ll wager that few haven’t heard of this recent phenomenon.

I think a more apropos question is:  Do you tweet?

Here’s a quick poll about the use of Twitter out there:

In keeping with the spirit of brevity found in Twitter, I’ll do the same.

Besides frequency of use of Twitter, what do you think about this tool?  Is it a good way to communicate, or is it just another social media thing to keep track of?

What do you think of Twitter?

Thanks in advance….

–Mark


How to Escape Unpublication

…or how I am going to do it.

The first step in escaping unpublication is outlined in the progress update below:

I may have mentioned previously that the working title of my writing group’s anthology is Offerings.  Here’s a brief progress update on this project.

Five stories were submitted for review by the group on August 1 with first draft critiques due on August 17.  Based on those critiques, each writer will make revisions/edits with the goal of completing and submitting a 2nd draft by September 5.

As you can see from the progress bar to the right, my own story “The Last Portal” has almost 90% of the 2nd draft to go this weekend.

Is it obvious what I’ll be doing until the end of Labor Day?

So, a little more about this project and my story to pique some interest.

Offerings will be published electronically in e-book format and will be available on Kindle, Nook, iPad, and any other eReader device on a date in the near future.  I’ll give a more specific date when we get the details settled.

The anthology will contain six stories which are more accurately called novelettes, since each will run at least 10,000 words or approximately 25-30 pages long.  Therefore the finished collection will contain close to 200 pages of stories.

The stories will be of the fantasy genre, with a few being epic fantasy, and at least one being contemporary or urban fantasy.  Each story builds on the common theme of sacrifice and/or the price of freedom.

My own story, “The Last Portal” is an epic fantasy story about sacrifice that currently runs about 15000 words.  I have mentioned before this story is set in the distant past of the same world in which I am writing a fantasy series.  I hope this story can serve as a way to enrich the story world of Laurentia and provide a mythology or history for the characters in the future.

So what is my story about?

A disgraced member of the divine Jadra race is called upon to discover what threatens the Portal that protects their underground civilization from the evil and corruption on the surface.  However,  nothing is as it seems and the threat is far worse than he could have imagined.

Once my story has been fully edited and finalized over the next several weeks, I will post excerpts here for all to preview.

So far, this has been an exciting venture and I look forward to the next steps as we all compete final drafts of our stories and prepare the collection for e-book publication.

Since we are publishing this anthology ourselves, we are handling the editing, formatting, book cover, submission, and accounting ourselves.  It will be interesting how the details unfold and I’ll provide updates on each significant step so you can see the process in action.

With the changing landscape in publishing and the access authors have to directly provide stories to readers, the path ahead seems ready for travel.  Writers no longer need to wait for some distant agent or editor to endorse or accept their work.  If you write at or near a professional level, you can escape unpublication on your own.  You can put your stories directly in the hands of readers who are eager for new stories and discovering new authors.

For far more expert advice than I can provide.  Read the “Think Like a Publisher” blog series on Dean Wesley Smith‘s blog.  He is a publisher, editor, author, and teacher who has written and published over a hundred fictional works.  His advice is golden.

Soon, I’ll be posting about my experiences setting up my own publishing company.

Is anyone else involved in the publication process?  How is it going?  What have you learned?


Scott's Grimoire

MY SPOT OF INK: my ramblings on the ups and downs of writing a fantasy novel (or anything else that grabs my interest - books, food, movies, life)

The Undiscovered Author

A Day in the Life of aspiring Fantasy Author Stephen A. Watkins

Geoff's Ruminations

The thoughts and passions of a hopeful future author.