Sunday, April 18, 2021

Fiction—Outline Haters, Try This

I was a total discovery writer when I began writing and since then have moved toward more pre-drafting preparation in my process. RR Martin says that writers are gardeners (discovery writers) or architects ( outliners) in their approach to the process of writers. 


But there is a continuum and many (most) writers will be a bit of both. I think of myself as a bit of both but recently I’ve learned things go better for me if I plan more before I start writing.


Here’s a tip: One kind of outlining in called points-on-a-map. It means that you start with four or five or ten points that you work out you will have in your novel. The last point will be your ending. Then you fill in the places in-between with whatever helps you get between each point. I’ve done a very limited version of this in the past. Maybe three or four sort of vague points.


NOW I do more.


Here’s what I advise. If you just think of your outline as made up of points you’re going to work through it makes the process a bit stagnant and inconsequential.


What I do now is try to think of these points as points I really want to get to. Imagine you come up with five places you really want to see on your trip across America. Maybe there’s something you want to do at some of these places or someone you want to visit or something you want to experience in some unique way. 


In other words make the points places you really want to get to.


Make your main points exciting and important to your story and it will help you with the filling in part. Just taking this approach, seeing the outline from this angle, can help you come up with interesting points of plot as you work through your outline and manuscript.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Use language as the camera

 I’ve heard this before from many writers but I heard it most recently from Joyce Carol Oates and the way she expressed it—and also the fact that I think her writing is often very introspective and rich as one of those buttery voiced singers—made me start thinking about how creating a picture with words for the set design of a scene is actually really important: not just for descriptive particulars but also for choosing details of a character and of what happens in the scene. It can also help with showing more and telling less.


SO here’s what she said—paraphrase—

the writer should see the scene she is writing as if she’s off to the side and has a camera. But the camera is language. Use your camera to describe what’s happening.


For me doing this has made me think more and express more about how characters move and what the place they’re moving in looks like and feels like. It also has led to my finding what they’re thinking and feeling more accurately in that moment. Use it to ground your camera, but think of it as being made of language, and show the reader you scene.

Saturday, March 20, 2021


 This little tip has really helped me, especially on first drafts: Set a timer for 25 minutes. Try to be ready to go before you press the begin timer button. Then focus and keep working for that 25 minutes. Then take a 5-10 minute break. Do whatever—a little exercise, check email, surf around, go watch TV, talk to the dog, let the dog out—and then sit back down and write for another 25 minutes. Stay focused during that time. Don't answer the phone or check email etc...When you're writing, write. At the end of the 25 minutes take another 5-10 minute break. DO whatever you want. Then write another 25 minutes. 

Even if you only do 2 or 3 sessions ,you will get a lot of words on screen.  Give it a try. Hope it helps.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Irrefutable fiction writing advice

 Irrefutable fiction writing advice: I know what you're going to say— there is no such thing. It's true  that writing fiction is a very individual undertaking. Each writer must find his or her own method for writing a novel. This starts right from the start when you make choices on pre-writing and on daily approach and so on and so forth and forth and forth. It is important that you experiment with different methods if you're new to writing to find what works for you. Find what works and work it.

BUT I DO HAVE SOME IRREFUTABLE WRITING ADVICE FOR YOU: Write from wherever you are. When I'm at home, I write at home. When I'm somewhere else, I write somewhere else. Trying to write from where you are not will just lead to disappointment.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Mix it Up—genre blending/ignorance is not bliss.

You can most certainly mix genres—and yes I consider literary a genre. Come on—it appeals to a certain audience and that audience has expectations when they read. It's a genre. Two general things before I give my specific example: you should be aware of the expectations of a reader of urban fantasy or literary or science fiction or YA or whatever and know that you'll need to fulfill some of those expectations to connect with your reader. However, the ways you fulfill some of those expectations can be completely new and different and surprising. In fact, I believe some genre readers will love your story for these creative directions. People do like to be surprised. That's one thing. Another is you can blend genres in ways that give your writing a distinct whatever—tone, set of characters, setting, language, story...You can also play against genre once you know what the expectations are—though obviously you have to take care with this. All I'm really saying is something pretty simple: knowing and understanding what the expectations are of the genre you are writing in gives you a better understanding of yourself as a writer. Break any rule you like. But knowing when you're breaking one seems a better strategy than settling for ignorance is bliss. It so often isn't. Think Custer's Last Stand. Just saying.

A little on my first novel in series: A True Story from a Parallel Universe

Setting a novel in a parallel universe sounds like the story is bound for science fiction but if it is bound that way it takes a hard right long before it gets there and heads straight for urban fantasy. And when I say straight I mean in a typical (for me) zig and zag. Did I know this at conception? Can’t remember. Let’s say yes though just to make it sound better, which writers do a lot.


Honestly, I’m never satisfied with writing in only one genre. This first novel in the series, A True story from A Parallel Universe, isn’t really just urban fantasy though it does have a lot of urban fantasy to it. It has a few other elements that zig and zag in the direction of other genres though. In fact, it does actually have a little science fiction—a bit of the old alien coming on down for a little visit to our earth.( By the by, I am always looking for the hardest readers in the world to find, those special ones who read in many genres—though tend toward the speculative—who enjoy a good play on words now and then and other elements of humorous writing. Maverick readers who go their own way—like you. Thankfully, there are a few.)


What I don’t explain directly but do get into a bit  in book 2 of my series is that most of the Supernaturals, that is the creatures and humans with magical abilities, are descendants of gods who have since mostly disappeared. These gods will be recognizable:  Greek , Norse, and Egyptian mostly in origin. They mated with humans and the mix of god and human is what created this race of Supernaturals. The gods came to earth in a very large ship. Did someone say Chariot of the Gods? Never. That cheese is long spoiled. But I will say there will be some interesting backstory that takes center stage in one of the series’ novels down the road.


P.S. If you haven't read my first novel in the series I am giving it away for free on Amazon, January 10.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

 My top bits of advice off the top of my head to new and old writers. Of course writers are so different that only some of these will be applicable to you, but take what helps and leave the rest. 

1. Get a dog (talked about this one before; it is so helpful to walk and think about what you're writing on and dogs are excellent listeners and generous toward any manuscript you provide, especially if you give them treats.)

2. Write every day you can, even if it's only for thirty minutes. Every day you don't write, it's harder to get back to writing. Every day you leave a manuscript, it will take you longer to get back to it.

3. A bit of planning can help you a lot. I've always been a discovery writer but I do a short bit of outlining--like one day before I jump into writing a manuscript. What's my premise. Who's my main character and what does she want and need. What are some scenes? Brainstorm anything and then try to order them just a bit:

What is life like before inciting incident

What is part one of my story? Going after problem.

What is part two of my story? More focused on problem and going after problem

Part four—how's it all come out?

4. Conflict is essential. If you don't have conflict, you won't have a story. Conflict can be internal or external, between characters or character and environment or character and ? But YOU need it. You need it to show and develop your character and so show and develop your story.

5. Have a story. What is your story? Think of it apart from everything else to get a clear idea of what you're trying to tell.

6. Your story has to be about something. I guess I'm talking about theme here. 

7. Revising is vastly different from your first drafts. There's so much about revising: write an outline of each chapter, just two or three sentences. Write character arcs for main characters. When you are revising knowing theme, knowing what your story is about will help you understand what to cut out because it doesn't add to your true story.

8. For me, the focus is always character, language, plot, and setting...and though there are plenty of other areas to deal with I think character is the most important of all—if the reader doesn't care about your character, they don't care about your novel.

I've just uncovered the tip of the iceberg here but maybe it will give you a little something to think about. Write on.

 And more personally, I'm launching my second novel in the series this week. It's on sale for the low, low price of 99¢ today and tomorrow, Jan 1, 2021. Check it out if you are so inclined:

Happy New Year and hope the next year is better for us all.


Thursday, November 5, 2020

(bigger picture on website—

 Here is my cover (I’m really happy with the way it came out) for the second novel in the The Poe Detective Agency series. The novel will be out in December. 


This new novel takes up about six months after the first and it jumps right into a case Detective Romeo Moon is assigned. In this one The Fates, Greek goddesses who determine or transcribe the future, are kidnapped. This is the idea I had and what I started writing. I thought it would be a novella, somewhere between 70 and 90 pages about the kidnapping of the goddesses by another well-known character, Lucifer. I thought it would play with ideas about free will and fate. 


But something happened.


The biggest thing I didn’t see was how important the relationship between Romeo (Poe detective) and Julia (villain) was going to be to the story. At the end of the first novel the two fell in love—that big love with a capital L. They became boyfriend and girlfriend. 


When the second novel begins, they’re in a relationship and have moved in together. I wanted to explore how two people genuinely in love whose lives and occupations were diametrically opposed (one wants to uphold the law and one wants to break it) could survive (or not) in such an environment. The struggle was what interested me. That part of the novel kept growing. I connected that story to the first story and those 70 pages swelled to around 250. The novella grew into a novel.


The title of the novel became The Detective and the Villain in Love because the emotional plot of the novel comes from their relationship and the struggle to save it. It’s the heart of the story. Meanwhile, the case of the kidnapping and Romeo’s and the devil’s battle (the devil wants to change the future and kidnapped the Fates to do so) creates much of the external conflict and action. The two stories eventually intersect.


So first the story started off as a novella. Then the plot divided into two plots that seemed to fit together even though they didn’t, on the surface, seem like they should fit together. This has happened to me before-- two stories work their way into a narrative and the friction  and dynamic between two very different stories merges in an interesting way that drives and deepens the narrative.


I love it when it all comes together. It’s the greatest feeling.