Monthly Archives: May 2015

If you can tell a story around a campfire you can write

I have no illusions about my writing. I am not a great writer, though if you want to disagree I shall not object. Like most Indie authors who write e-novels and short stories, I have flaws. But I have read novels from writers who have an actual publisher and agent, and I wonder how they got published.

I contend that writing advice is often more analytical after the fact. What I mean is that the advice about structure and plot usually give examples to dissect, to show how it was done. That is fine, but how many writers actually sit down and write a structural outline, with character arcs, denouements, epiphanies, and all the other literary  analytics.

Of course there are writers that do and my congratulations to all of you, but it seems backward. If you have sat around a campfire and told a story, you are actually writing as you speak. The story you tell has its own built in structure, its own twist, its own climax. When you sit down at the keyboard, instead of keeping all that advice in your mind; advice that can clutter, confuse and cause writer insanity, consider telling a story by narrating in your mind.

Imagine you are telling a story. Listen to your voice, forget grammar, forget everything and just tell your story.  You don’t need long, complex sentences with heavy use of adverbs and colorful description. Trying to impress will backfire. When you hear the phrase ‘a writer’s voice’ it is more than writers style and technique; it can also have something to do with how the author speaks with his voice.

In a good documentary film the narrator can captivate you with his words as he tells the story. That is what story telling is. Narration. You can even speak your words aloud as you pound out keystrokes. I don’t because I am already nuts, but I do listen to my words as I type. I narrate a story (Including dialogue of course). I don’t write it.

I bet you can do the same.

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Is attending a writers conference worth the cost

The PNW writers conference is in Seattle July 16-19. Living not far from Seattle, but far enough that I would have to stay in Seattle for the four days, I thought I would look into the events to see if it was worth attending.

Of main interest are the agents. I counted twenty-one on the conference website that would be there. Math is not my strong suit, but the point is that getting a chance to pitch to an agent would be a great experience, and some writers have landed an agent at a writers conference.  There are five blocks of thirteen agents. Each block lasts 90 minutes and you have four minutes to make your pitch to as many agents as possible. Two blocks on Friday. The other three are on Saturday, the first at 8 AM is not for me. Isn’t that the middle of the night? It is suggested that you sign up for a block when you register.

The first day, the opening program from 9 am to 11 am is about success stories. No better way to get you revved up than to listen to someone’s success to make you think, why not me? Why not indeed. There are many sessions throughout the conference with all the topics you can imagine. What is covered you can find in writers blogs, writers magazines, and of course helpful books on writing. I am sure the live interaction and meeting people will be helpful, but is there a topic we writers have not read about or studied already?

There are also speakers and if you want to attend this event only, then the cost is $70 per speaking event- if I read correctly.  The speakers on different nights are Andre Dubus 111, J.A. Jance, Nancy Kress, Elizabeth Boyle, Kevin O’Brien, and Gerri Russell. One night there will be an autograph party with over 60 award winning and New York Times best selling authors in attendance.

Is this conference for writers looking to break into the published ranks, or is it a promotion for authors to gain more exposure? Just asking.

Of course there is a cost. If you are a member it is $495 for members and $595 for non members-like me. That does not include three nights of lodging or food. That means I am spending a lot of money, perhaps close to $1,000. I could stay with family in a city to the north, but the commute on I-5 is miserable. It can take an hour to go 17 miles. And that on a good day.

I would be spending the money primarily to pitch to agents. The other programs I can live without. In the end I will stay home and work on my e-novels. It is too much money for me, I am just riff-raff. What is needed is a cheap conference for Indies and e-writers. Maybe it can be held in a café where we can Wi-Fi together. Just thinking.

Here is the link to the conference I will be missing: http://www.pnwa.org/event/60thAnniversay

 

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The novels dwindling word count and what that means

When I first started writing I read somewhere that a novel was considered to be from 80,000 to 100,000 words. My first e-novel fit nicely in that range-after I cut over 20,000 words or so. But the book, “Loonies in the Dugout” was a good one. At least I and one reviewer thought so.

Later I read that 100,000 words was too high. Does that mean 100,000 words of good writing should be dismissed. I am not talking about my book, but any novel of such length. Then it changed again. Of late I have been reading that a novel should be between 60,000 and 80, 000, and that the low end is preferred.

The reason being given is that people want a fast read because of time constraints ;that we live in a society where short and quick is good. Forget a lot of description, forget nuance, forget everything, except getting to the point. We want it now.

My question is, who said?

Who determines how long a novel should be? Who decides that we need to be short and quick? And further, do we read these things as fact and therefore follow along with what we read and see, and what we are told. Or do we make up our own minds. I confess that I will not read Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” because I believe it has too many characters, too much history, and too much time to cover. That is my presumption, though I have no idea if I am accurate or not. But I have no trouble reading long novels such as “Infinite Jest” by David Wallace or “Gravity’s Rainbow” by Thomas Pynchon.

Two points. One is that if the book looks interesting no matter the length or word count, buy it and read it. We should not be told  how long a novel should be, nor should we be told that we must follow along with the short and quick theory. There is plenty of time to set aside to read and absorb a good book.

Second, my novel in progress is at 62, 000 words. I was trying to figure out how to lengthen it to 80,000 words. No easy task because I felt I was near the end, and I did not want to pad the story. Now I know I can write the final chapter and get it published. I was told it was okay.

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Is writing short stories different than novels

I have discovered an odd thing, something I can’t explain, and perhaps it pertains only to my writing.

Recently I have been working on three short stories while I let my novel percolate (I actually witnessed it while it wasn’t looking). Of the two novels I have written I found that I had to cut material, especially in my debut e-novel, “Loonies in the Dugout.” I cut, if I recall correctly, a few thousand words. And no it didn’t hurt. The book is better because of the cuts.

In the three short stories I am working on I find in each case I am adding scenes, adding description, fleshing things out. I have read where many writers have said when writing to get the bones down and don’t look back; that you can add, expand, clarify, and make sense of what you are saying later. That is the case with my short stories. I knew how the story would begin, how it would end, what was needed to get me from A to Z.

When it was finished, it sat while my mind cleared itself. When I returned a couple of weeks later Is aw I needed to add details about the main setting, namely a theatre where the entire story took place. I had not described how the theatre looked and since it was vital to the story I had to make the theatre come alive a bit, to give it color, personality.

In the other two stories I also add to add in order to enhance the mood among other reasons. But this does not happen in writing my e-novels. I did add a final chapter to my second e-novel, but that was due to the original ending being-to me unsatisfying. When I realized why the ending was wrong, I added a chapter which made both the next to last chapter and the novel as a whole much better. But before that I did a lot of cutting in the earlier parts of the story.

I don’t the reason why there is a difference in my approach to writing short stories as opposed to novels, but as long as I rewrite, edit, and make better, it does not matter. The end result is all that matters.

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Gustave Flaubert and the madness of writing

I found the following passage from Flaubert’s letter to Louis Colet in John Updike’s “Picked up Pieces.” I am sure very writer can relate to what Flaubert wrote.

“I love my work with a love that is frenzied and perverted . . . Sometimes, when I am empty, when words don’t come, when I find I haven’t written a single sentence after scribbling whole pages, I collapse on my couch and lie there dazed, bogged in a swamp of despair, hating myself and blaming myself for this demented pride which makes me pant after a chimera. A quarter of an hour later everything changes; my heart is pounding for joy. Last Wednesday I had to get up and fetch my handkerchief; tears were streaming down my face. I had been  moved by my own writing; the emotion I had conceived, the phrase that rendered it, and satisfaction of having found the phrase-all were causing me to experience the most exquisite pleasure.”

Flaubert’s passage  is passionate and though I find phrases like “bogged in a swamp of despair” a bit florid, his point is identifiable to all writers. A writer does become frustrated when he can’t get his wording right, but I have not despaired. I will concede getting bogged down. And like Flaubert I have taken pride finding my writing flowing with the right words, the right phrase. It can be exhilarating. But I didn’t cry with joy. I save crying for Lassie movies.

Something else that caught my attention in Flaubert’s passage was though he was frustrated and in despair with his writing, it took only 15 minutes before his “heart is pounding for joy” (another florid phrase). At the risk of profiling, to go from despair to joy in 15 minutes seems like a manic depressive. I think he is compressing the passion, the mania, the madness of the writing experience.

Whether you are in despair or your heart is pounding for joy (again a Lassie movie) I am sure you writers out there feel closer to the brotherhood of our calling, and closer to old Gustave as well.

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