Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The ADD Challenged Writer, part two

Last week I discussed different ideas to help those of us writers who have trouble sitting still for long periods of time. This time I'd like to talk about revising.

I've found in my own work that it's helpful to do a quick revision as soon as I finish the first draft. The reason for this is that I have most of the details of the story fresh in mind, but I can easily find glaring offenses. Typos and such start to jump out and I begin to see consistency problems. Usually these are in the form of scenes that overlap time periods. For example, Character A in Chapter 12 just finished a hard day of fighting crime and is ready for the weekend because it's now Friday night. Chapter 13 brings us back to character B who's plotting his next crime. He decides he'll need to go shopping tomorrow so he'll be ready for the weekend... Oops. It's still Thursday night in Chapter 13. I've got to change something.

Errors of consistency don't jump off the page and announce themselves. Instead, I find myself halting at the end of a page, thinking something's wrong. What did I just read? What didn't fit? I go back and re-read, analyzing the problem. Then I can refer back to my notes, possibly write out a new timeline, and get things rolling again. In this manner I get through the book in a day or three and fix most of the major issues. That way, when I come back I should be able to focus more on the details.

The other thing about my writing method is that I write my first draft bare-bones. I set the scene with very little description. Sometimes I skip character description altogether. This allows me to plow through the draft and have the entire story on paper while it's all fresh and exciting. Many of my books have been written in a period of about six weeks. That's a comfortable time frame for me, but that doesn't mean the book is done. Far from it. It just means I finished quickly and should have a fairly consistent, well-flowing draft. I now have the foundation upon which my novel will be constructed.

It also means that I won't have to delete 30,000 words on my first revision because I had to replace a chapter or two and move stuff around. I know that many writers finish their first draft at over 100,000 words and have to pare that down by at least ten percent. I haven't ever had this experience, and I hope I never do. I've always loathed books with an excess of descriptive prose, so I certainly don't see myself ever writing one.

Now, when I come back and do my revisions, I have a much clearer identification of the characters and scenes, and a better feel for the story. Now is the time to begin fleshing things out. I expand on dialogue and description. I often replace exposition with dialogue. I flesh out the details of setting: the weather, the smell of the air, the sounds...

After the first revision I like to set my story aside for a month or two. The longer, the better. I give myself time to forget, so that when I come back to the story, the words won't be so familiar. It's not quite like being a first-time reader, but it's a lot closer, and this method allows you to find issues with sentence and paragraph structure that you would not have noticed before. I guarantee it. However, some writers argue that this much revision will rob your book of character; that it will steal your voice and bury it in highly refined and uninteresting prose. I admit that this can be a problem, but much less so if you're aware of it and you use your editorial cursor sparingly. In fact, sometimes I find certain characters developing in such a way as I revise that I end up adding to their unique voice. I realize that they wouldn't have said something, or that they would have said it differently. In my opinion, this process is definitely worth it. Your mileage may vary.

And finally, never take Beta readers for granted. Good Beta readers are RARE. Did I mention they're RARE? Yeah, and they're also HARD TO FIND. Don't give them a draft. Don't even think about it. Revise your book. Weed out all of the above mentioned problems. Get it to the point that you wouldn't be afraid to show it to a New York editor, and then let them read it. There are many reasons for this, but the biggest is this: They only read it for the first time once. After that, they might as well be you. Once a reader is familiar with the work, they can't offer unbiased help. They can only do that once (if that, and if they can, you'd better appreciate the heck out of what they've done for you!).

I've found a couple other links dealing with this theme that present some unique ideas on the topic. When you're done here, you might want to take a look at:

The ADD Writer: Making Distraction Work for You
Confessions of an ADD Writer

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The ADD Challenged Writer

This is going to be the first in a series of posts on the subject of fiction writing for the attention-challenged. I need to start by saying that I've never been officially diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, or any of the related diagnoses, but it does run in my family and I have observed some of the symptoms in myself. Obviously, the symptoms have not inhibited me from living a normal life and pursuing my dreams, so I'm not complaining or claiming some sort of disability . In fact, I've read that in our fast-paced digital world we're constantly bombarded by high frequency radiation, hazardous chemicals, and incessant stimuli, and we're all developing some of these symptoms. I wouldn't' be surprised at all to find out this is true. In any case, some of you may find these suggestions helpful even if you don't have ADD.

One of my personal challenges is sitting still. For a writer, that's a problem. If you can't sit in a chair for twenty minutes (much less eight hours), how are you supposed to type out a 90,000 word novel? Well, part of my strategy has been to minimize the actual chair-time necessary. This is the way I do it:

Whenever I'm brainstorming a new concept, I grab a notebook. (I stock up on notebooks every few months when they go on sale. I usually get a dozen or two at the price of about $.20 each.This way, I don't have to worry about wasting them if an idea ends up going nowhere.) I give my concept a working title and write this on the cover. Then I start taking notes. I keep the notebook with me everywhere I go for several weeks. During this time, I explore the premise of the story. I examine the main characters and their situation. I build the world. I take pages and pages of notes. They are sporadic and confusing at times, because I write my thoughts down when inspiration comes, but I can generally figure out what I was thinking after reading the first sentence of a paragraph. In this manner, I develop the characters and story to the point that I'm ready to start writing. Sometimes I go back and reorganize my notes to help me get the timeline and events straight in my head. Often, halfway through a novel I go back through my notes and do this again, because some things have invariably changed along the way.

I know some writers are very fastidious regarding their outlines. They like to outline the entire book, chapter by chapter before they start writing. I do not do this. The reason is this: If I already have every single page plotted out, then where's the adventure? If my characters and my story don't surprise me from time to time, then how can I expect to keep my butt in the chair? I'm writing this book as part of an adventure for myself. I'm writing about characters and places that interest me. Why would I kill that by knowing how it all is going to end? Some authors may find this works, especially if they're able to quickly write out a chapter by having it outlined ahead of time, so try it both ways. In my case, I definitely prefer watching things unfold.

The secondary benefit to this method is that by the time I've started writing, I'm committed. I've given myself time to fall out of love with a story. If you've written more than one book, you probably know what I mean. When inspiration first strikes, its easy to think: Yeah, this is it. I'm going to write an entire 90,000 word novel based on this one idea. But you get 35,000 words into it and you start to think maybe the idea wasn't that great. Maybe you should have done something else. Did you just spend several weeks writing a book that you don't even want to finish? I've had this happen, and it's no fun to be 1/3 of the way through a book  when you realize you have to abandon it.

That's it for this first post, because I know none of us want to be sitting still much longer. I will be examining a few more ideas in some upcoming posts, and then I'll try to link them all on one page for future reference. In the meanwhile, I'd love to hear any thoughts or suggestions along these lines.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tinkerer's Daughter Giveaway!

 I'm giving away five paperback copies of The Tinkerer's Daughter on Goodreads (You can find my profile here). I'm new to Goodreads and I'm still not quite sure how everything works, but the contest is scheduled to begin sometime today and proceed through June 5, at which time the Goodreads system will automatically choose five lucky winners. I'll sign the books and send them off, hopefully attracting a few new readers in the process.

I've been told that Goodreads is a great resource for writers. The site is something like a giant reading group, where you can find other readers with similar interests and discuss books you've read. They have millions of members, so the potential is obviously huge.

I still have a hard time getting around the site and I need to spend some time there, but I did notice a few interesting things. As I was researching this contest, I found that there are a few authors 'gaming' the system at Goodreads by putting up contests like this and running them for a solid year. Naturally, there are a lot of readers who join every contest they come across, because who doesn't love a free book? Well, eventually these books accumulate thousands of contestants. Due to this, the Goodreads system puts these books in a special place for 'popular' contests, with the assumption being that if a contest has thousands of entrants, it must be a very popular book. Hmm.

Well, while I suppose this is clever on the part of those authors at a certain level, it does seem to say something about them. In fact, I found a number of comments below these contests complaining about the authors and their manipulations. Ironically, the situation reminds me a lot of the law (which I studied briefly when I was considering law school). Big corporations, politicians, and lawyers make an art of discerning the difference between what's wrong and what's legal. For example, it's wrong to take the hard-earned money of thousands of investors and throw it down the toilet with lousy and risky investment strategies, thereby bankrupting them and devastating the economy. However, it's apparently not illegal.

Back to the subject. I chose a period of about two weeks for my contest. While it might be nice to have a picture of Tinkerer up there for a solid year as an advertisement, I don't see doing it like this. And while I may lose some sales by adhering to the archaic guidelines of ethics and morality, at least I won't be remembered like a Wall Street banker.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Summer of Fantasy

Fantasy movies were few and far between when I was young. Most of them never saw the inside of a theater and were limited in scope and budget to the quality of an average after school special. Superhero movies like Superman came along about once a decade. High Fantasy, with magic and swords and alternate worlds, was practically nonexistent.

My how times have changed.

Before LOTR and Harry Potter, Hollywood's annual budget for good fantasy movies was slightly less than my budget for a deli sandwich. Those films I just mentioned changed everything. (Okay, throw in Spider Man too, but you get the point.) After Hollywood learned there was blockbuster potential in fantasy, things changed fast. We were given as many fantasy and superhero movies as we could handle, and then some. They just keep coming. This summer alone we have Thor (which is getting surprisingly good reviews), the next sequel in the X-Men franchise (shouldn't that be X-People? Better get PC, Hollywood, this is the new millennium) and yet a fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. There will be a new Transformers film this summer, the final Harry Potter installment, plus Green Lantern, Conan the Barbarian, and The Immortals, which appears to be set in ancient Greece and involve a quest for magical weapons. I'm expecting something between 300 and Clash of the Titans (which was also recently remade.) Planet of the Apes is supposed to be coming this summer as well, and then there's a new Sherlock Holmes flick scheduled for release this December.

The list for next year looks just as big, especially if you're a fan of the The Hobbit or The Dark Knight (or Spider Man). As for me, I'm pretty excited. Another summer with Captain Jack Sparrow is just what any fantasy lover needs. I think it's safe to say these are good times if you're a fantasy fan.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Darkling Wind

Is featured on the Indie Books Blog today, along with a brief interview. If you have time, check it out! You can learn more about Darkling and my other books by checking out the "Books" tab above. You will also find links to purchase my books at your favorite retailer. Paperbacks are also available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Here's the blurb for The Darkling Wind: 

Ben always thought his grandfather's bedtime stories about the darklings were make-believe, but now the darklings have invaded his hometown and only Ben can stop them. When a mysterious package arrives containing his grandfather's old journal and a crystal pendant, Ben knows he's found the way to stop the darklings. Unfortunately, the journal is encrypted and Ben is running out of time. With the help of his best friend Sara, Ben must unlock the journal's secrets and find a way to banish the evil darklings before they destroy the town and kill everyone he loves. But does Ben have the strength to face his greatest fears? If he succeeds, he'll have to sacrifice everything just to survive. If he fails, Ben will not only lose everything he loves, he will also become the thing he fears the most.

The Darkling Wind is a novella length (about 150 pages) young adult fantasy novel dealing with themes of loss, death, grief, courage, love, and of course good vs. evil. It's a fairy tale and so much more... give it a shot, I think you may be surprised.