Outlines Versus Free Writing: Cage Match!

Every writer and proto-writer has an opinion on this subject, so I guess it’s my turn to add my two cents.

I was taught to outline in my Creative Writing class.  Pick a story, decide on some characters, then pin the idea to an outline, like a butterfly fresh from the killing jar.  (Can you see the drift of this piece already?)  That is how “proper” writers do it.  I managed to create stories in that class, got an A, and thought I knew how to write.  (Ha ha.)

Once out of formal education and into the real world of bills, working, grocery shopping, laundry, and managing relationships, I produced weak ideas, half-assed character bios, and rough outlines.  There was little to no actual writing.  I realized I wasn’t a writer.  Life went on.

Then I had a dream so intense I frantically wrote it down.  It was so in-depth it took nearly a week of scribbling during every free moment, ending up with a weird beast of half outline, half chapter summery, and half micro-scenes.  (Yes, three halves equals weird beast. Picture a chimera.)  I had written down interesting dreams in the past, but dream journaling wasn’t a habit, and certainly nothing of this length.  But still, it pulled at me, seduced me, waking me often at 4am–two hours early– so I kept digging, going deeper into the story, the world, the characters.  Weeks tuned into months as I wrestled with its form, including a graphic novel script.  Eventually, I woke from the intense daze, with a organized daily writing regimen, and staring at the first draft of a novel.

Shit.  I am a writer.

It was crap, but the good kind of crap for a writer.  The kind of crap that said it was getting better as I worked with it, relearning lost skills, and adding completely new ones.  There was a good story under all that crap, like a very hard poo-stone, I just had to remove enough stone, sometimes with a sledgehammer.

My earliest hammer was Stephen King’s “On Writing.”  I was given permission to just write, get it down, then see what it was.  Sometimes “proper” writers do that, and make money, too.  No one had ever told me that!  He became my spirit guide–probably making weird faces behind me–as I continued to write daily, and reading as many “How to write” books as I could get my hands on.  The writing regimen was much better than being woken at 4am by dialogue. (Shut up.  Shut up!  SHUT UP!!)

Another early hammer was Terry Brook’s “Sometimes the Magic Works.”  Here was a “proper” writer, with advice on outlining that was so familiar, and comforting, and completely not something that works for me.  But he told me something my teachers never did.  He freely acknowledged that it wasn’t the only way to write.  Writing was the most important thing. The only thing.  His gentle suggestion that outlining after the rough draft was done, to clarify the story–and especially if there was a road block to finishing–was gratefully received.

Somewhere in the mental cage match of Stephen “The Wild Man” King verses Terry “The Organizer” Brooks, I found a balance point.  The raw story, outlined for revision, gives me a handle on the storytelling.  Do I have good, three-dimensional characters?  Is the story hitting the key points of the journey?  Have I provided enough description?  Is there natural themes and symbolism that can be refined?  Did I start with a hook, and end with satisfaction?  If the answer is yes, proceed to next level, clean up and line-editing.

My two cents for new writers?

Does outlining fulfill a need in your brain?  Start there, but don’t stop there.

Do you prefer to be surprised by the story?  Go on that adventure with your characters, but when you get home, take a hard look at the storytelling.

Just write.  Keep writing, in however way your mind finds satisfaction in the act, because writers are idiots.  We are willingly doing homework as a hobby, at least until we are getting paid for it.

 

 

 

Why I Won’t Give A One Star Review

It’s a review, not a critique.

In fact, I don’t give less than a three star review.  Call me crazy if you wish, but a real person is behind that book.  Someone who (hopefully) tried their best.  I am not going to gleefully rip apart their work, just a faceless troll who lives for pain.

I have limited time, and it’s not my job to beta read and critique a published work.  If I liked a book at all, despite any problems, I’ll give it a favorable review and maybe point out something that threw me out of the reading groove.  The rule of thumb I was given while judging works of art was two positive comments for every negative, and it has never steered me wrong.

If it was too deeply flawed, I’ll skip the review.  My silence is my opinion.  My upbringing deeply instilled an ethic of, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything, at all.”

The book review is not the place for a deep critique.  Unless the author knows and trusts my opinion, it’s just a jumble of hateful words.  I won’t be that person.  I know how to give constructive criticism, and the review is too late.

If you chastise me for unbalancing a system that tries to rate books according to their merit, to you I say, “So What?”  At what point, in this screwed up system, does true fair play come into effect?  Shall I point out the people who admit to not finishing the book?  How is that fair?  Shall I point to the recent trend of ‘catfishing’?  How is that fair?  The person hurt in those situations is the author; dammed if they fight back, dammed if they don’t.

That being said, If I haven’t reviewed YOUR book (there are a few of you, and you know who you are), I’m not being silent and judgey.  I’m being overwhelmed with learning to blog, tweet, beta read, self-edit, navigate Word, my homemade writing course, make a website, figure out formatting, and one… other… thing.

Oh, yeah.  WRITE.  Apply butt to chair, tear thoughts out of my head, organize into words, lather, rinse, & repeat.

Wait.  Is that right?

Anyway, I’ll get you that review, ASAP.  I promise.  🙂

Too Many Books!

Is there such a thing?  YES!

I LOVE all my new writer friends, I really do, but y’all are going to kill me.

I have a massive ‘to read’ book list.  I used to keep it in my head, but I had to put it into a physical list when it started to hurt.  Popular books that everybody talks about.  Classics that should be read by everybody, but especially writers.  Books that I know just enough about to be sure it will change the way I think after I read it, let alone how I write.  “How to” grammar and writing style books that I haven’t gotten to.  (I just discovered Bukowski has one…  !!!)  New books get traditionally published to my favorite genres constantly, and e-books exploded in the last five years.

Since I started writing, walking into the big box-type of book store often causes my eyes to water.  It’s NOT allergies!  SO many books!  TOO many books!  I NEED to read them all, but I have stories to tell, too. How can I ever be found in this monstrous pile of books?

(On a personal note, early notes from my first-round of beta readers are promising. It may not be a huge pile of crap after all.  One of my readers, who has been in a bit of a writer’s block, had to stop… to go write something that has been jangling around in her head.  I gloated when she told me, maybe even snickered.  I don’t mind the delay.  My book affected her.  YES!)

Then I started hanging out on-line with other writers.  Y’all have books I want to read.  Sometimes, LOTS of books.  Then you tell me about more books that you love, and your enthusiasm makes me want to love them, too.  I understand how reviews are the life blood for independent and small press writers.  I want to help.  I can’t seem to pass up the $.99 book deal, and have a few (a lot) squirreled away.  I could happily sit around and read all these wonderful books, books, and more books.

Wait.  Wasn’t I writing something?

 

Fear of… Lists

Reasons I haven’t given my manuscript to my beta reader(s);

  1. I need to go through it one more time, to look for bad grammar that would ruin the reading experience.
  2. I have future slang I need to make sure is the correct slang for each character, and that they are using it correctly.
  3. I need to do a text-to-speech run through, for errors that would ruin the reading experience.
  4. I need to be sure I have firmly decided on the characters names.  “Final answer?”
  5. It’s trash.
  6. It’s smutty trash.
  7. It’s smutty trash that nobody should be forced to read.
  8. Especially if want to be able to look them in the eye, ever again.
  9. I need to take an axe to all the sex scenes.
  10. How many sex scenes does it have?
  11. Should I count the sex scenes?  What would be too many?
  12. How many penis jokes is too many?
  13. I need to do a major revision.
  14. I need to take a chainsaw to all the adjectives and adverbs.
  15. Did I really ‘show’, not ‘tell’?
  16. Did I give enough descriptions?
  17. Did I give too much description?
  18. I need to re-design my blog.
  19. I need to post more on Facebook and Twitter.
  20. I need to set up the Pintrest account.
  21. I still don’t have a web page, and Word Press offers to attach one to your blog.
  22. I need to write my weekly blog, and I’m searching for a topic. The manuscript can wait.
  23. I need to go lay down until my heart calms down. Or lie, or layed… lieded…something.
  24. If someone asks how it is going, say, “It’s a process, and I’m really happy with it.”
  25. Oooh, Cats in Space Quoting Scientists.  LIKE!

Sexism Reflected in the Writer’s Mirror

I read an article/blog two weeks ago about Sexism in Fantasy stories that has really bothered me. I left it pinned to the top of my Facebook feed, so I could re-read it a couple of times, while trying to figure out what was bothering me. You can read it there, or I’ll try to post a link…

http://mythcreants.com/blog/five-signs-your-story-is-sexist/?platform=hootsuite    Yes?  No?  Whatever, just go check it out on my Facebook page, I’ll sort it out later.

What bothers me is not just this individual article/blog, but the way so many people are pointing fingers at books, blaming them for perpetuating the ills of modern society.  Even the students of higher learning–the place you go to expand and challenge yourself–have started protesting the books assigned for the course by the teacher. It made them uncomfortable.

The above article/blog continued the finger pointing, and because it hit on one of my favorite genres it caught my attention.  I have read the books it was accusing of sexism, and I had opinions. Opinions somewhat similar to the blogger in some ways, but widely dissimilar in others.  If you really tried to follow this blogger’s suggestions, you would have to not include females in your story at all, for fear of making them too trope-y.  But that would be sexist, so maybe you could make all of your characters females.  But, wait, isn’t that sexist, too?

I guess I don’t like being told to play it safe.  It made me uncomfortable.

Also, allowances weren’t made for the age of some of the books, and it’s unfair to expect writers of past generations to have the same sensitivities as a modern writer.  We are going through a very painful stage of growth as a society, trying to understand the deep hooks of misogyny, and how to pull them out without doing more damage than they are causing.

I admit it, I have hot buttons, too.  (Skinny-shaming is a big one for me.)  A trip through ‘multi-media land’ makes me unhappy on a daily basis, with advertising, memes and all forms of entertainment subtly–and not so subtly–trying to maintain the status quo.  I think the point of no return-to-the-kitchen has been passed, and we must all work together to redefine ourselves as humans, not a specific gender of human.

Meanwhile, let’s explore what makes us uncomfortable.  Discomfort is where you find your internal boundaries.  What direction does your moral compass point?  Is it a fair direction, for EVERYBODY?  Do your boundaries allow humans to be free, or force them to conform to your personal view of the world?  Has a book or other story made you feel uncomfortable?  How did that make you feel about the writer?  Were you angry someone wrote such trash?

Banning books has always been a questionable behavior for me.  You are giving free publicity to something you seem to hate, somehow unaware that you’re working against your actual wants; for people to not read THAT book.

You know… THAT book.  The one with sex, or magic, or rape, or swords, or homosexuality, or dragons, or bondage, or aliens, or death, or drugs, or war, or slavery, or racism, or sexism, or classism, or icky-ism, or something-ism, or we-don’t-talk-about-that-ism.

Often, the words beginning the protest are, “I haven’t read the book, but…”  Please, stop. With those words, you have lost all credibility, and I really don’t care what your uninformed opinion is. Writing and reading are subtle arts, and reading a line or two does not convey the place of those lines IN a story.  If this concept is too advanced for you, maybe you shouldn’t be the one trying to decide what other people can read.

The writer’s mirror reflects our society.  That is its job.  To show you the past, the now, and the future.  What we were, who we are, and what we could be. Some writers show the positive side of society, some the negative, but most seem to show a mix of both. Setting, character, plot, and technique all are tools of the writer trying to tell a story.  I believe every story is telling us something important, and needs to be told.  We need to listen.  We need to be made uncomfortable.  I hope I will make my readers uncomfortable.

For now, I will polish the mirror.

 

Less is More. Less is More? Less is More!

Less is more.

‘How to’ writing articles tell me this…

Authors, famous and not-so-famous, tell me this…

My own brain, for over four decades, tells me this…

When it comes to my writing, why does the thought of ‘less’ make me squirm?

Uncomfortable.  Shifting in my seat.  Skin prickling, bra tugging, head itching, socks off, socks on, then off again.  My thoughts, my characters, my brain… It all feels like they are bumping the insides of my head.  Wiggling.  Then thrashing.

‘Less’ becomes a straightjacket.  Thoughts are slamming against the sides of my head with teeth rattling force. The voices must be expressed…  Pure.  Raw.  Unfiltered.

I’ve spent my life taking the path of balance.  All Things In Moderation.  I’ll have a drink, but I’ve never been drunk.  I love rich food, but I am careful to make decent choices in the overall view.  I don’t smoke, but I don’t freak if others do.  I’ve listened to the societies rules about illegal drugs, so I haven’t indulged, but I’ll never ‘nark’.  I’ve tried to see the other side of every issue, be forgiving of other’s weaknesses, and to not to judge other people based on appearance.

I fail, often, but I always stumble my way back to this path of Balance.  Some will read this, and think how boring I must be.  Others may praise me for being a good girl.  I may be both, or nether.  Mostly, I am just trying to not be a Dick, to myself or others.  There are too many Dicks in the world, already.

My writing style, if I have one at this point, is not this well trod path of Balance.  It is not inside my comfort zone.  I am the shy housewife, suddenly pulled from the audience, dressed by a clown, shoved onto the tightrope, flailing… not falling…  Dancing.  Screaming in laughter.  Body moving freely.  Sparkling.

Profanity?  Less is More.  Bullshit!

Sexuality?  Less is More.  Fuck that!

Purple prose?  Less is more.  May the occult hand reach down from the starry heavens and smack you upside your clunky, wooden head!

I’m up on the tightrope and I’m not coming down.  I may be laughed at, ridiculed, or worse… ignored, but I’ll stay true to my writing.  It’s exciting to work without a net after so may years of playing it safe.  MORE IS MORE.

Or, maybe I can find a Balance between the two ideas.

***

On a personal note, The Editing Pit was deeper than I thought, forcing me to re-evaluate my every thought, trying to see if they could be redirected into acceptable forms.  Forms dictated by genre, taste, tradition, and modern society.  A deep enough pit that it swallowed every bit of my passion, leaving me struggling, clawing at the sides, unable to write, edit, or even blog for two weeks.

I did two things while in the pit–other than plastering a smile on my face and answering, “It’s going fine.”  I read for pleasure (a lot) and I took a step back to look at some things that have been nagging at me.  Disturbing things.  Political trends, social injustice, sexism, racism, human rights, etc.  It seems obvious that we are experiencing some major growing pains, as humans, and it’s not pretty.  I worried I would make it worse, since I touch on those things in my book, in a fictional way.

Then, it hit me.  Art, and artists, including writers, are the mirror to society.  Art shows us who we are.  Who we choose to be.  How many people have been changed by art?  By a poem?  By a book?

Some books change us, forever.  One of my first was Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.  I can’t remember a lot about the story, read thirty-something years ago by a teenager, but I remember not having the same shaped brain afterward.  It was an intensely surreal experience, and I was hooked for life on reading.

Have you felt yourself being changed by art?  By a book?  How did it feel?

 

The Editing Pit

 

I think unpublished manuscripts are like the Home of Dreams from the movie “The Money Pit.”  I can picture Tom Hanks laughing like a maniac as more and more time, money and work get funneled into the manuscript.

But, as he was told, again and again, “If the foundation is good, everything else can be fixed.”

Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is proving to be a daunting task, despite it’s deceptively thin appearance.  I’ve made it through the first three sections on sheer goat-headedness.  The elements seem to come in three Flavors for me:

First, rules I understand and already try to use.  (“Yes,” she whispers, as she pumps the air with her fist.)

Second, rules that I am unfamiliar with, but understand and will try to apply to my writing.  (“Hmmm.”  The writer scratches her head thoughtfully, brows crunched together, and tries to appear dignified.)

Third, rules that… can’t… brain.  more examples, plz…  halp…  (The room echoes with the sound of a head hitting a desk, while the soft pat, pat, pat of brain tissue, slowly leaking out of an ear, marks the passage of time.)

I think it’s going to take more than a single read through to get a good grasp of it all, although my worst offences seem to be related to #18.  My style seems to favor two clause sentences, giving my paragraphs a singsong sound.  I’m trying to control the urge, but it just seems to happen before I realize it.  I’m not doing it on purpose, because it can get really tedious. My brain just seems to organize thoughts this way, and sometimes I….   DAMMIT!!

My favorite section so far, Misused Words and Expressions, is full of fun, archaic words.  I feel at home, among these words, and easily grasp his points.  If I was being tested, I would expect a good passing grade, although most of what I would get wrong may be simply outdated.  I’m sure I have never applied the word ‘clever’ to a horse, incorrectly or otherwise.

However, I think the section would be better titled Pet Peeves and Things That Really Piss Me OffI swear I have felt the sting of a ruler on the back of my hand from his tone of writing.  Despite only being in the ‘F’ words, I am already flinching from a smack on the back of the head.  I know it’s coming…

For now, I keep shoveling grammar and style into the manuscript, hoping to turn it into the Dream Novel.  (Don’t laugh!)

My last post referred to a bunch of writing books by author, but not the titles.  It was a presumption on my part that everybody else has read them all, and I was last to the party.  In an effort to help those who haven’t gotten around to them, I will post an extra blog with an annotated bibliography of the books I have found helpful to date.  Look for it in the next week or two.

 

Writer Lost…

 

I finished the beta readers draft of my manuscript about 24 hours ago…

I know what is next, a little tweaking and polishing, fixing the misspelled words that even spellcheck shrugged at, and a half dozen alien slang words.  Then, let it go, into the hands of my trusted beta readers, to tell me what trees I missed while in the forest.  I know, and have been warned, to not cling, to not fiddle it to death.

I feel odd.  Empty and full.  Happy and sad.  Confused and confident.

Word count is 176,427.  Looking at the log, it took 82 non-consecutive days.  Most of the missed days were holidays; even while sick I could put aside some time for it.  The log says I started the rewrite on Oct 9th.  I don’t remember, it just seems like I was always writing it.

My brain feels like it’s a different shape, somehow, even more than when I finished the longhand first draft.  I’m wondering if it could ever go back to the original shape.  Would I want it to?  Will I feel this way after every re-write?  Every future book?

While I’m in this odd state, not ready to edit, not ready to move on to another project, I’m working on the character list/bio and a slang glossary.  May be I’ll look at the synopsis, press blurb, and jacket teaser, too.  One way or another, I will rough edit it and hand it over in a week.  That is my new goal.

Coming soon, the epic Sci-fi Romance, ‘The Contract.’

I hope…

When is a Cock Not a Rooster? A writer’s confusion…

Word count first.  I’m at 126,648 on the Beta draft, and have passed the chapter that could be a cliff hanger if I decide to split the book in two.  I wrote an alternative chapter ending suitable for the cliffhanger, saved it, and continued on the  original manuscript.  I had some zero word days during the week, due to the holiday, but I also had one 5,000 plus word day.

I love those.  They make me feel like a grown-up writer, although I end up a bit spacy by the end of the day, unable to come out of Bookland.

Anyway, adults only from here on.

18 and over please.

Don’t keep reading if you are under 18.  I have already ruined my daughter’s childhood, or so she has told me.  Who knew she would react that way to the word ‘McGuppies’?

I mean it…

When is a Cock not a Rooster?  When it’s a penis, of course.  Did that word make you flinch?  I still does for me, sometimes.  I think it’s strange, how words can make you react so viscerally.  Still, it’s better than some of the historical terms.  If you ever need a laugh, look them up and use them in conversation, maybe even the bed room.  Tallywacker is a favorite.  Try whispering it.

Moist.  That gets a lot of people, but I like it.  Moist cake.  Moist kisses.  Equally decedent.  Equally sought.

I’ve always had a problem with the way people use vagina as the word for female genitals.  That is the internal structure.  Shall we just call the penis a ‘shaft’?  The problem is, I’ve never found a word for the female genitals that isn’t used as an insult, or giggle-inducing flowery, and I have LOOKED.   Just don’t get me started on the ridiculously childish V-jay jay.  You are a grown-ass woman, act like it!

Then you have all the words and phrases for the sex act.  So, so many…  Why are we so obsessed?  There are entire dictionaries with timelines, for the more historically minded.  You don’t want to use the wrong slang in your historical romance, do you?  Do You?

Anyway, the writer attempting to write a sex scene has a hard road to follow.  There are only so many words the modern audience will understand, or tolerate, so you go to the Thesaurus, or lift nice words from other writers.

What word gives you a thrill when reading it?  Put it on the list.  Don’t like it?  I have those words, too.  Frankly, I’m only allowing an author the word ‘lave’ once per book before I want to throw the book at their head.  I’ve seen it too many times in the past three years.

So, now you have all the words; medical, flowery, slang, dirty, and everything in-between, but you can only use them so often before they lose meaning or just bore the reader.  Wait, what if there is more than one sex scene?

Depending on the category of words you use, your work is split into different places.  Romance, vanilla, steamy, erotica, hard core, or porn.  There are probably more, but I’m still playing catch-up.

Problem is, nobody will define the categories, or they contradict themselves.  One publisher’s submissions tips I recently read insisted they wanted steamy ménage (specifically, only m/f/m) but ‘no erotica or porn’.  They didn’t want anything that was ‘just sex, outside of a relationship’.  No porn, yeah, but how does that include erotica?  Is there a different meaning to the word ‘erotic’ that I’m missing?

Then there is the question of what would your character actually use, both as spoken words and internal dialogue.  You have to stay true to the story.  Right?  Yeah, I thought so.

Now, you have your reader.  The range from “Urg, they’re kissing, again”, through “Eek, no squishy bits”, to “Meh, too tame.”  Luckily, no one has to admit their guilty secret if they like to read erotica, especially in the age of e-books.  Awkward is the moment you head to the Erotica section of a book store, only to find someone already there.  Doubly awkward if the person is the opposite gender.  “Just passing through…  this clearly marked, hard to get to, right angled corner of the store.”

Hmmm, I seem to have rambled, and we’re not even into the content of a sex scene.  I guess we should pick it up next week.  Keep an eye out for ‘How deep is your love?’ or maybe ‘Just the tip, I promise.’  I haven’t decided.  Enjoy the start to the new year!

 

A Writer’s Apology…

Ok, this is not the blog ‘When is a Cock Not a Rooster’.  With the holiday screeching up on me like a Reaver on meth and Pop Rocks, I’m just doing a word count and a few musings. We will explore the confusing word of erotica next week. Sorry for being a… Rooster Tease?

With day job, parenting, holiday, housework, blah, blah, and blah, writing this week seemed a real struggle.  My daily goal is 2,000 and I was barely doing half last week, then a 22 word day happened.  Exhausted, I decided to take a couple of days off from writing, just to catch up on life. I closed the manuscript, put away the laptop, shelved my reference books, and just did all the other things.  The two days turned into four, catching up seemed to be farther away, but I did get on top of it all.  I decided I could write in the morning.

Morning came.  I wrote.  It was fun. Meditative. Restorative. Soothing.
I hit Word Count Goal in four hours. The next morning I hit it in three.

I didn’t realize how much I had begun to rely on the calm, otherworldly mental state I achieve during my writing.  It anchors me for the rest of the day.  If I had continued to write during those days, would I have been more patient? More balanced? Possibly.

I know it is impossible to consider every day a ‘writing day’, but I think I will be fighting for every one I can get ahold of, for my own sanity, as well as being a better person for my family and friends.  Word count to date is 117,188.  I’m not even going to calculate daily average.  I’m happy with the week for other reasons.

Please, everybody, enjoy the Holiday however you wish, whatever it is that you celebrate.  Hold the moment in time close to your heart.  Find a way to preserve it.  Catch it, forever a memory.  We will not walk this way, again.