Category Archives: On Writing

Resources for Writers – Reddit

I have read mentions of ‘Reddit’ for so long that I should know what it’s about, but I don’t. I’ve always been too busy, or lazy, to find out. This fabulous article is going to change all that:

Social Media is the place to ask questions and make connections. As a writer, many of the magazines I publish in or authors/editors I meet are via connections on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. One platform that I also visit for this purpose is Reddit.

Not only does it give an insight to the platform itself, it provides a list of ‘sub-reddits’ [think groups] that could be invaluable, especially for science fiction writers like me. 🙂

Here’s the link to the article:

https://nowastedink.com/2019/04/05/20-useful-subreddits-for-sff-writers-by-wendy-van-camp/

My thanks to Chris the Story Reading Ape for posting about the article.

Well, it’s Saturday here in Oz, so happy weekend all!

Meeks


Active verbs, their use, and their limits

via Active verbs, their use, and their limits

Please click the link above to read the entire article. It is literally the best discussion of active verbs I’ve ever read. More importantly, it’s probably the only discussion of their limits I’ve ever read as well. All too often, fads replace craft on social media. ‘Show-don’t-Tell’ I’m looking at you!

In my not-so-humble opinion, the secret to good writing is to get the balance right. Non-stop action becomes boring after a while because there is no contrast. In visual terms, think of an image painted in nothing but black, charcoal and dark blue. Non-stop navel gazing suffers from the same affliction, as do sentences constructed of nothing but ‘action’ verbs.

The English language is incredibly rich, both in terms of vocabulary and grammatical forms. They’re all there to be used…when appropriate. A good craftsman would never throw away a perfectly good tool just because it’s no longer ‘popular’. The real trick is to become that good craftsman. 🙂

I don’t reblog often, but when I do, it’s usually a post or an article that I want to remember. Because it’s important. This one definitely falls into that category. 😀

cheers

Meeks


Learning to write fiction…

I wrote this piece for myself, back in November of 2010, almost exactly three years before I finally published Vokhtah. I was struggling and trying to work out why [Vokhtah began as a story for Nanowrimo 2004].

Although we all write in different ways, the struggle can often feel the same. I hope this helps someone get over the hump and keep writing.

Insights into writing

The first flash of inspiration is like seeing scenes from a movie that someone has cut and scattered like a moving jigsaw puzzle. Some of these pieces of the movie are quite lengthy and give hints as to character, motivation, culture etc. Others are small and cryptic and give little indication as to where, or even when, they fit into the overall flow of the movie. The only things these disjointed scenes have in common is that they are very vivid and give you the feeling that the story will be worth teasing out.

So you start writing. First you try and reproduce in words the visual and emotional events of each scene. Then, as you become more and more immersed in the unfolding story you attempt to connect up the dots. Sometimes these connections pop into your head very easily, in much the same way as bold, distinctive elements of a jigsaw puzzle make it obvious that they should be connected, but most of the time you fill in the gaps with more or less logical possibilities that will allow you to get from one vivid scene to the next.

Unfortunately these logical possibilities are almost always a ‘fudge’. Again, using the jigsaw puzzle analogy it’s like trying to work a puzzle without having a reference picture to tell you what should be there. So you end up connecting up all the blue or bluish bits in the hope that they are all part of the sky. As anyone who has ever struggled with a jigsaw puzzle will know ‘blue bits’ can also belong to pools and ponds and clothing and children’s toys. So these connecting bits are rarely right however they do serve a necessary purpose – they bring the picture into clearer focus and eventually highlight the missing parts of the story in negative.

So you keep on writing in flashes and eventually you end up with a plot, of sorts, and some characters and even, if you are lucky, some motivation and background but it is still very sketchy. Yes, the story hangs together, just barely, but when you re-read it the clunky bits become painfully obvious and the fudges shriek ‘contrived’ and the characters lack depth. As for the background and all those things that add texture and context to a story, they’re just not there. Your first draft is finished but you don’t like it very much. Those first, vivid scenes may be good but overall, the story sucks.

Enter the first edit. For me this usually begins after re-reading page one. I always have trouble with openings, perhaps because the vivid bit that got me started in the first place actually belongs in the middle somewhere instead of at the beginning. Dissatisfied with the opening I try and massage the prose but I am a storyteller rather than an artist who paints with words so this massaging really only accomplishes one thing: it forces me to acknowledge where the problems lie and what vital things are missing.

Now some people read wholly and solely for the story, skipping all the descriptive bits so they can get to the next ‘event’. I have to admit that I’m a bit like that myself however the best books I’ve ever read have been the ones so rich in texture and detail and personality that they force me to slow down. These books make me want to read every word so that I don’t miss any part of the amazing world that is unfolding. These books also make me want to know the characters, find out what makes each one ‘tick’. In these books each character, even the minor ones, has a distinctive, individual voice and feel. The physical appearance of characters in a book are important but nowhere near as important as they would be in a movie because in a book you get to identify them from the inside so how they talk and think, how they express emotions, quirks of body language and far more vital than any mere physical description. When I read I need to identify the characters and identify /with/ them.

Some writers can achieve this depth of characterisation without even appearing to try. Storytellers like me have to work at it and the only way I know how to do it is to see them within the context of their world.

Enter Edit no. 2. This is usually where I start to ask what it is about the character that makes them who and what they are. I start to type notes. Sometimes these notes relate directly to a particular character but often they are little insights into what sort of world organization my story has to have in order for my character to have developed the way they have.

More broad brush strokes – backstory, history, culture, tech, and let’s not forget politics. Out of all these small insights I start to get a much clearer picture of who my characters are and /why/ one developed this way and the other developed in a totally different way.

Again I start fitting the pieces together only to discover that much of this backstory should /not/ be written because the characters themselves take it all for granted and I don’t like stories with a disembodied narrator.

Enter Edit-the-next. I know I want to bring out this textural detail but I want it to come out naturally, to unfold as part of the greater picture rather than as a series of dry lectures. So again I start to edit, this time adding scenes that will allow me to develop both the characters and the background in an intuitive way. Usually this means a massive restructuring of what I’ve written; bringing in new characters, fleshing them out a bit, allowing them to fill in some of the missing bits.

Around about now I realise with a sinking feeling that my simple little story is either going to be one impossibly massive book or…a series. I seem to be fated to write three books more or less at the same time.

Once I realise that I’m dealing with a series I’m hit with the realisation that many scenes I’ve jammed in willy nilly because they had to be told would be far better  placed in book 2 or even book 3.

This is when the storytelling task becomes so daunting, so huge, so much damn work that my mind goes blank. The creative juices stop flowing and I find myself unable to continue.

I take a break. I don’t write anything for a day or two. Then life intrudes and the days become a week. Suddenly a whole month has gone past without me writing a single word, or even /thinking/ about writing. With a sinking feeling I recognize that a fallow period is upon me.

Fast forward six months to a year. I’ve been getting a restless feeling that my life is empty. I know what I’d like to do to fill it but…will the words come? Will I have any better luck this time than the last? Will I find the creativity to finally finish this damn story?

I put it off for weeks and then something will happen that jerks me out of my nice, comfortable, non-creative routine. I get up one morning and find that my subconscious has been doing things without me because, lo and behold, it’s been thinking about some plot problem and found a solution to it. Trembling with reluctant hope I open up the word processor and quickly type up a ‘note’. It could lead to other things but I firmly save and exit. Enough for one day.

This claytons type of writing continues for days until finally, at some point I realise that I now /want/ to commit to writing again and the cycle begins again.

I am no longer confident that this cycle will produce the result I so desperately want but I’m learning to approach writing as a workman rather than as an artist. I commit to putting in ‘x’ amount of effort a day. So long as I write, or research, or edit for an hour or two every day I allow myself to feel satisfied with myself.

This may be a strange way to write but it helps me ward off the desperation and hopelessness I feel when the creative juices are not flowing like Niagara after a flood. I still haven’t finished this damn story but I am chipping away at it. Maybe one day…..

I haven’t edited this so it’s a bit raw. Apologies in advance.

cheers

Meeks

 

 


Celebrate Nanowrimo 2018 with a free how-to ebook

Here in Australia it’s December 1 already, so Nanowrimo is over for another year. I didn’t even come close to winning Nano this year, but my heartfelt congratulations to all those who did. 50,000 words in 30 days is a great accomplishment, so well done. 🙂

For those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, Nano is still in its final hours, and I imagine a lot of you will be furiously writing to catch that November 30 deadline. I congratulate all of you as well. No one can ever take this achievement away from you, but memories fade, so I suggest that you print the page that contains your 50,000th word and frame it. I did that with my first Nano; the word was ‘gut’. Not exactly poetic but hey…-shrug-

And finally, a word for those who didn’t make it. I know you’re probably feeling pretty disappointed at the moment, but you have to remember that winning Nano is not the end, it’s just the beginning. Your writing doesn’t have to end on November 30. Use what you started as the jumping off point for the story you’ll write all through 2019.

Win or lose, this next bit is for everyone. When your Nano story is polished to perfection, you will probably want to publish it. If you decide to self-publish your work, you will have a number of options:

  1. publish as an ebook
  2. publish as a paperback
  3. publish as both an ebook and a paperback

If you decide to go with options 2 and 3, then I can help. ‘How to Print your Novel with Kindle Direct Publishing‘ is my step-by-step guide to publishing a paperback with KDP. In it you will find information about trim sizes, bleed, PDFs, formatting, Amazon distribution, royalties and heaps more. Each step is illustrated with screenshots and examples, close to 150 of them so even complete beginners can follow the instructions.

To celebrate the end of Nano 2018, I’ve made the ebook version of ‘How to Print your Novel with Kindle Direct Publishing’ free for one day on December 1, 2018. [Click the link to be taken to the Amazon page or click the image of the book on the sidebar].

Due to timezone differences, the guide will become free on Amazon at about 6:00 pm, Australian Eastern time. For Northern Hemisphere writers, it will be free from midnight.

This is what the guide looks like on the Kindle Fire 6:

 

Because the ebook is in colour, and fixed format [so the layout of each page is controlled], you will only be able to use it on the following devices:

If you need the free Kindle Reading app., you can get it from here:

Clicking that link will open the following popup:

From this popup, you can select the device on which you want to use the app. I’ve only done it for the PC, but I think it should be fairly easy for all devices.

So there you have it, my free guide to printing your finished Nano Novel. Even if you don’t intend to publish for some time, download the guide now and save yourself some money. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

 

 

 

 

 

 


Nano2018 – when a Pantster just has to Plot

In a previous post I waxed lyrical about how I’d worked out what made Bountiful so deadly. Flushed with euphoria, I thought I was home and hosed, and that the writing would now flow. Not so much…

Since then, I’ve had to acknowledge that the core of my Nano story this year is actually three-fold:

  1. What made Bountiful so deadly?
  2. How did Beaumont cover it up?
  3. How did James Milgrove, aka the Burning Man, discover the Beaumont cover up?

I thought I had the answer to no. 2, but I soon realised that if I went with that particular solution, no. 3 would be almost impossible to achieve. I say ‘almost’ because I could have fudged the solution. ‘Oh  look, I just found a memo that proves Beaumont were culpable. How lucky is that?’

Just writing those two sentences raises the hackles on the back of my neck because it’s such a cheap trick, and so patently unrealistic. I mean really, with billions of dollars at stake, readers are supposed to believe that Beaumont cares enough to send an assassin to Innerscape, but not enough to burn the evidence?

Fortuitous events do happen, sometimes. Most of the time, however, big events are the result of a cascade of tiny, seemingly unrelated events, and the decisions taken over each one.  And that’s where plotting becomes a necessity.

Although I call myself a pantster, the truth is that I’m a hybrid who does a lot of research and a lot of plotting to make the base mechanics of the story work. In the case of P7698, that core revolves around the pseudo-science of Bountiful. In the Innerscape trilogy, the core centred on the constraints of the digital world itself. In Vokhtah, it was the whole world vs the biology, culture and history of the Vokh and iVokh.

Science fiction may demand more, in terms of these core mechanics, than some other genres, but I know that the best fantasy results from the same, fastidious attention to detail. Characters have to react to believable events and circumstances or their actions will come across as ‘fake’, and none of us want that. So here I am, a little bit stuck on points 2. and 3. 😦

I gave up the idea of winning Nano almost a week ago, and I can live with that; the element of competition was just a little added extra to keep me going. But getting this stuck is seriously depressing as I know I’m going to have writer’s block until I find solutions that feel real.

Anyone else having this problem?

Meeks


KDP, CreateSpace, Fate and Me

I know the title sounds a bit pretentious, but as I begin yet another round of editing on the KDP how-to, I can’t help feeling that Fate is looking out for me. How else to explain the fact that the IngramSpark review result came back just one day after KDP swallowed CreateSpace whole?

To give you an idea of the timeline, I approved the KDP how-to for publishing by CreateSpace just one day before the announcement of the merger.

On the day of the announcement, I logged back into the KDP website and discovered that I could no longer migrate my CreateSpace books over to KDP manually. The option to do so was gone, completely. The before and after screenshots below highlight the change in the KDP interface.

This is how the KDP interface looked before the merger:

If you clicked the button for ‘No’, you’d be shown the options for uploading new content. If you clicked the button for ‘Yes’, you’d be shown options for migrating your existing paperback from Createspace to KDP.

Now look at the same part of the interface after the merger:

As you can see, the CreateSpace option is gone entirely. I can only assume that KDP has decided to control the entire merger itself. On the one hand, this will make things easier for authors because the whole thing is now out of our hands. On the other hand, excuse the pun, it may also mean that we’re in for an almighty mess as thousands of books are moved from one system to the other, en masse.

Once the dust settles, I strongly recommend that all self-published authors check their books carefully. In particular, make sure that the ‘Print Options’ on the KDP interface correctly reflect the trim size of your book and the cover finish.

The shaded boxes are the default selections. One book I migrated manually had the cover finish shown as ‘Matte’ rather than ‘Glossy’. It was easy to fix, but it pays to be vigilant.

Getting back to my timeline, the change in the KDP interface means that I will have to take out an entire section of my KDP how-to: for the CreateSpace/KDP version, the KDP Textbook Creator version and…for the IngramSpark version.

And here’s where Fate stepped in. The review of the IngramSpark version did not arrive until one day after the announcement of the KDP-CreateSpace merger.

To understand why I’m so happy, you have to understand how the IngramSpark system works. The sequence of steps goes something like this:

  1. You upload your book and cover.
  2. You review a digital version of the book and cover.
  3. You approve the book and cover for review by IngramSpark.
  4. IngramSpark do a technical review of the book and cover and email you a report.
  5. You can then make revisions to the book and cover.
  6. When the book is as perfect as you can make it, you give final approval for the book and cover to be printed.

Note: there is no printed proof with IngramSpark, only the digital proof.

Now here’s the important part. Once you do step 6., any revision, no matter how big or small, will incur a $25 AUD charge.

To bring this point into context, I’ve already uploaded about 4 versions of the KDP how-to interior and at least 2 versions of the cover, all at different times. In dollar terms, that could have cost me $150 AUD. Luckily, I was still at step 4. above when the KDP/CreateSpace merger was announced. That means I can still edit the how-to, free of charge.

Coincidentally, this fortuitous timing also means that I won’t be approving the two original CreateSpace how-to’s for printing by IngramSpark at all [I have them uploaded but was waiting to get all my books approved, printed and shipped at once].

So there you have it, more editing but less frustration thanks to a helping hand from Fate. 🙂

I know a lot of you are self-published authors as well; how are you finding the changes? Pleased that you won’t have to move your books to KDP manually? Or a bit apprehensive?

cheers

Meeks


When is close too close?

This will be a post about POV – point-of-view – in writing, so if this kind of thing bores you to tears, look away now. For everyone else, I have a question:

Do you enjoy First Person POV – i.e. the type of story that is all about what ‘I said’, ‘I saw’, ‘I did’, ‘I thought’, ‘I felt’?

The reason I ask is because I’ve never particularly enjoyed First Person POV, but I didn’t actively hate it until I began reading the second book in First Person POV in almost as many days.

The first story I read was actually pretty good. It had a lot of the elements I look for in a good sci-fi story. But it also had a heroine I simply could not ‘like’. She vacillated between ridiculously wimpy not-quite-adult and hardcore, kickarse hero. The motivation was there, but it was almost too much, along the lines of ‘familiarity breeds contempt’.

I like characters that aren’t perfect. I like them to have quirks, weaknesses, flaws. I even like them to be ‘broken’ because then there’s the hope that they will heal and grow. What I don’t like is seeing them from the inside.

I won’t name the story or the protagonist because I’ve suddenly realised that these are criticisms I apply to almost all First Person POV fiction. There have been exceptions [C.J.Cherryh’s Foreigner series is one], but they are rare, imho.

This issue crystalized for me when I started reading the second ‘Me, Me, Me’ story. It was even worse. Just a few chapters in and I couldn’t read any more. Not only did it have editing issues, it had a main character whose motivation can only be described as schizophrenic. This particular character spent virtually the whole first chapter being paranoid, for no real reason. Then she did a complete about face and…

Enough. I doubt that the author concerned will ever read my blog, or this post, but I don’t want to say anything that might identify the story because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Writing is hard. Publishing is harder, and none of us need other authors criticising us in public. That’s why I never leave reviews of books I’ve hated. Sadly, I hate this one.

Moving on. So what do I like?

I like Close Third Person POV – i.e. where we see the character from the outside, but also get some thoughts and feelings.

I also like reading more than one POV – i.e. where we get to see the story through the eyes of two or more characters. Importantly, we get to see the main character[s] through the eyes of other characters.

I know that some of you find multiple POVs distracting, and I can understand that; you’re reading along happily and suddenly, bang, total change of POV, of scene, of story arc etc. Unless you enjoy that particular technique, multiple POVs can be hard work. Nevertheless, don’t you think we get a more truthful version of the main character when we see them through the eyes of others?

I know I’ve been surprised by how others see me, sometimes in a good way, sometimes not. When I’m honest with myself, however, the change of perspective usually makes me grow as a person.

I’m not saying that I lie, to myself or others, but I’ve learned that we all see ourselves through the prism of some sort of bias. Confident people generally see themselves as hero material. Less confident people may focus on their flaws to the exclusion of their good qualities. Outsiders, however, can often see things we are incapable of seeing in ourselves.

Just as I believe this ‘outsider’ view is healthy for real people, I also believe it can work for characters in fiction. I think it helps to balance out the internal distortions of ego, providing a more realistic, and often likable, character.

Coincidentally, this outsider view also allows the author to avoid the necessity of writing that awful mirror scene. You know the one:

‘Look at me. I’m looking at myself in the mirror/pond/reflective glass so I can describe what I look like to you, the reader’.

That technique is a tool, and like any tool, it has its time and place, but like all the other tools in the writer’s bag of tricks, it shouldn’t be abused. And it shouldn’t be…predictable.

Okay, that’s probably more on writing than I’m comfortable with, but I would like to know what everyone else thinks. I really am open to persuasion. 🙂

Agree?

Disagree?

‘Yes but…?

‘You’ve just been reading the wrong books…?’

‘Boooooring…?

cheers

Meeks


IngramSpark cover template builder

Just a very quick post about the covers for IngramSpark.

First, you can find the template builder on the IngramSpark website here:

https://myaccount.ingramspark.com/Portal/Tools/CoverTemplateGenerator

You won’t have to register with IngramSpark to use the cover generator, but you will have to type in an ISBN for the book plus other details like total page count etc:

IngramSpark will send you an email so you can download the template [two choices InDesign or PDF].

The template will look like this:

The cover has to fit over the entire coloured area, with particular attention to the text that goes on the spine. Then the WHOLE template plus cover image has to be saved as one, converted to whatever [for me it’s PDF] and that is sent off as the cover file.

Hope that makes sense.

Night all,

Meeks


CreateSpace paperbacks – matte vs glossy

First up, I am amazed at how fast CreateSpace delivered my printed proofs of How to Print your Novel with Kindle Direct Publishing. Seriously, from either the US or the UK to Australia in a week? Thank you!

Unfortunately, the proofs prove exactly why printed proofs of paperbacks are so necessary. This is what I see when I look at the cover on my computer screen:

Note: ignore the back cover text; was a quick and dirty scale down in Corel.

Now, have a look at what the cover looks like with a matte finish:

Note 2: that curly, golden looking thing in the background is the dog’s tail.

As you can see, the matte finish looks, well, awful. Not the fault of CreateSpace. My fault. All my previous covers have been printed with a glossy finish and [except for Vokhtah] they all turned out beautifully. This is one of my glossy how-to’s for comparison:

The black of the background is the same on both the matte and glossy covers. The difference between them, however, is stark.

I’m sure there are some covers that work perfectly with a matte finish, but none of mine do, and I’ll never make this mistake again. 😦

Another design mistake I made was in the choice of ‘tablet’ graphic I used. The outline of the tablet blends into the background way too much. That will have to be changed, tout suite. My only excuse is that it didn’t look that way on my screen. Not sure if that’s because of the calibration of the screen, my ageing eye-sight or just an inevitable outcome when you convert from RGB to CMYK colour modes. Actually, it’s probably a combination of all three.

And now to something that wasn’t my fault. These are smears of, I think, glossy ‘ink’ that have transferred to the matte print:

Not sure how POD technology works, but clearly it’s not quite as ‘clean’ as one would hope. As these books are just proof copies, and I’m going to change the cover slightly anyway, I’m not terribly fussed. But can you imagine how I’d be feeling right now if I’d approved this original cover for IngramSpark?…and now had to pay $25 to fix the problems with the cover?

I think my blood would be boiling, there’d be steam coming out of my ears, and the house would be ringing with four-letter words at max volume… Ahem. Luckily, none of that is happening, thanks to CreateSpace.

Lessons learned:

  • setup paperbacks to be sold on Amazon with CreateSpace,
  • request printed proofs of paperbacks from CreateSpace,
  • do not approve any paperbacks for IngramSpark until you’re sure of the ultimate quality because you’ll be working sight unseen and mistakes are costly.

There is one more lesson I have to learn, and that is to see if the IngramSpark worldwide distribution is as good as it’s cracked up to be. But that’s for another day and another post.

cheers

Meeks

 


Indie Writing – about outlining in reverse

Most Indie writers will be aware of the two extremes of writing technique: pantsting and outlining. Well, I’m kind of a hybrid. Most of the time I write as a ‘pantster’, meaning that I allow my sub-conscious to direct the flow of the story rather than planning it out ahead of time. The trouble is, after a certain point, my stories become rather complex and convoluted, so I do have to think ahead, at least a little.

Nevertheless, my ‘thinking ahead’ still doesn’t constitute an outline. For me, outlining is something that happens after the story is told, not before. And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past three days. I’ve been going through Vokhtah, line by line, noting down all the bits and pieces that make up the story. These include the plot, of course, but also things like timelines, motivation/backstory and the introduction of Vokhtan vocabulary.

All in all, my reverse outlining takes up 19 pages of notations. This is just one of them:

As you can see, its data in the raw, and tomorrow I’ll have to massage it into some sort of order that goes beyond the simple chronology of the story. But that’s for tomorrow. For now, I need a coffee and a walk around the garden with the ‘kids’.

cheers

Meeks

 

 

 


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