• Who We Are

  • Schedule

    Mondays ~
    Tuesdays ~ Snarky
    Wednesdays ~ Dreamer
    Thursdays ~ Naughty
    Fridays ~ Dreary
    Saturdays ~
    Sundays ~

    Whenever ~ Smokey, Mighty, Eerie and Wicked

  • Snarky’s Tweets

  • Kinetic’s Tweets

  • Dreamer’s Tweets

  • Wicked’s Tweets

  • Eerie’s Tweets

  • Mighty’s Tweets

Gender and Era Understanding

The Seven Evil Dwarves are a very diverse writing group. It is balanced between four fabulous females and three manly, but short, dwarves—of course. More strikingly, our ages span the twenty something’s, the thirty something’s, the forty something’s, the fifty something’s, and the sixty something.

Why is this important, or even interesting?

It is probably interesting because we are such a close group despite the diversity and age differences.

It is important in a writing group because we want to write our stories so they make sense to everyone.

As an example, at our last critique meeting I submitted a chapter that described a pickup truck as having a 4″ lift kit. The ladies in our group had no idea what I was talking about and wanted to know what it was. After a brief discussion around the table, it was determined that only an ancient male dwarf with an automotive bent would understand the reference. It necessitated the revision of the short phrase to a paragraph long description of a truck, raised higher off the ground so it will clear bigger bumps when driving off road. Now all the readers will be able to visualize the truck. You’ve seen the type of truck I’m getting at. So high off the ground you could almost walk under it.

Other references to period or modern phrases which don’t have general, or wide usage by today’s readers are also caught—usually to the dismay of our older un-named writers.

It turns out many things in our own lives and experiences are not general knowledge for the rest of the world. It is important, therefore, to seek out first readers or critique groups which have the diversity to catch the odd 4″ lift kit.

Happy Writing
Smokey

So How’s that Journaling Working Out?

Well…I have to admit I’m not fully up to speed yet, but I’m working on it. It’s interesting how ideas develop as you talk to yourself on the printed page. Playing what if with pen or pencil is enlightening. When a crap idea pops up, it’s easy enough to either destroy it or ignore it. Scratching lines through it is satisfying.

When the germ of a good idea pops up, it invariably leads to further ideas. Mashing around in ‘idea land’ is much easier than trying to work out the same ideas in your manuscript. It can be a real pain to get 5,000 words down a path and find out it’s not working.

One handy thing I found about keeping a journal is a list of words. Like most writers, I’m constantly coming across words I’d like to use in the future. In the past, I’d always noted the word and committed it to memory. You probably know how well that works. Now, in the back of my current journal, I jot the words down along with various meanings. Haven’t used any yet on my WIP, but I know it will come in handy in the future.

So…journaling is growing on me.

Smokey

I Loved the Book, but the Movie….

How often have we heard this or said it ourselves? The answer is probably almost every time the subject has arisen. The stock reply as to why people prefer the book is usually the lack of the characters inner thoughts, or not being inside their heads.

Fair enough.

I think the reasons go beyond that, however. In recent posts, Wicked has announced her book cover for her soon to be released ‘The Kyn Kronicles-book 1, Shadow’s Edge’, and Eerie has discussed description.

Writers spend a great deal of time scattering description (both character and setting) throughout their stories in the least intrusive manner possible. It’s almost an art in deciding when to spend longer passages describing something or someone without losing the reader. You have to know/intuit when the reader needs more robust description. If you get it wrong, it becomes another dreaded ‘purple passage’.

Wicked’s book cover is great. The problem for the rest of the dwarves is we’ve been reading about her protagonist, Raine, for a few years—book two is almost finished—and we have individually drawn a picture in our minds of Raine. Probably no two of us have drawn the same picture, but all are slightly different than the book cover. It will not be a problem for a reader who purchases the book because they will know what she looks like before they read the story.

No conflict.

Getting back to the book vs. movie, I believe its many small things that prevent us from fully enjoying a movie when we’ve enjoyed the book first. In our minds, we’ve set certain things about the settings/characters based upon the author’s descriptions. When the character looks different than we’d imagined or the castle has fewer towers than were noted in the book, it jars us out of story.

The solution for this? The only way I can see is shoot the movie first, then write the book. The author would have all the pictures to describe in the story.

The good news? Most prefer the book!

Agatha Christie’s Notebooks

When I first started writing one of the pieces of conventional wisdom for writers was to keep a journal. Well, I tried–many times in fact. I purchased books on journaling. I purchased blank journals of all descriptions, from the everyday schoolbook to the fancy leather covered works of art.

The results were uniform. I’d write in them for a few days, and then quickly tapper off to nothing.

The reasons?

• I wasn’t happy with my cursive handwriting.
• I tried too hard to make nice sentences.
• I stopped frequently to lookup words.
• What I was writing in the journal provided little help for my current WIP.
• And the worst? I tried writing as though someone else would read my entries.

What a revelation then to read ‘Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks’ by John Curran. The 73 notebooks were discovered after the death of Agatha Christie’s daughter. They are plain school composition workbooks. Her handwriting described as ‘chicken scratches’, and she miss-spelled many words without bothering to look them up. She rarely bothered to write in complete sentences.

What she did do is use the notebooks as a sounding board. She worked out plots, characters, settings, etc., frequently arguing with herself about the merits of various ideas. She used them to work out scene outlines as well as details such as the effects of various poisons.

She apparently never figured anyone would ever read the notebooks, so felt free to let her thoughts roam where they would.

It is interesting to see how her stories developed from a simple fragment/thought to a well plotted, character rich story.

Bottom line?

I’m going to give journaling another shot with some cheap composition books using her approach to thought collecting. And, of course, I’m recommending John Curran’s book to anyone interested in the subject.

If it works out for me, I’ll report back in the future. If it doesn’t…

Smokey Dwarf

Chickens and Eggs

When I first started writing, what plopped down first in my imagination was story, or plot arc. Initially, I would populate the story with off-the-shelf characters and jump into the tale. As one might imagine, this lead to a death-spiral of problems beyond even a gifted writer’s ability to save. What I knew about my main character amounted to the path through the story he or she needed to take. I knew even less about the other main characters. They were just there to fill in the blanks in a cardboard sort of way.

My characterizations were shallow at best and the areas where character motivations crossed were almost entirely lacking. Without those intersecting motivations and goals, my subplots almost didn’t exist.

Fortunately for me, Snarky (our tallest dwarf), referred me to a book by Debra Dixon called GMC, or Goal Motivation and Conflict. During our recent writing retreat up in the mountains, I was able to read and absorb the ideas put forth by Ms. Dixon. To put it bluntly, it was a revelation of the many things I was doing wrong. I had no idea what my heroes wanted out of the story or why they wanted to participate.

Knowing a character’s goals, motivations, and conflicts eases the development of plot. You know there are certain things which must happen in the story. It also helps greatly with foreshadowing and red herrings.

What does this all mean? For one thing, fewer rewrites and going back to plug in information you missed the first time through. It also keeps your characters on track according to their GMC.

Chickens or eggs? Well, what works for me is both. An idea about the plot/story and a lot of character building, then back and forth. It’s an ongoing process.

Perhaps a little slower to get your first draft finished, but a quicker way to get that final draft.

PS: If you’re interested in the book by Debra Dixon, the lowest price I’ve found for it is at: http://www.gryphonbooksforwriters.com/ The cost there is $19.95 and it’s 57.99 at Amazon.

J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien

What do those two have in common? Both are extreme back-story authors. Rowling reportedly has literally hundreds of notebooks filled to the brim with information such as the 700 rules for Quidditch; Tolkien felt the need to develop a complete new language for his tales.

While these two may be on one polar end of the scale, many others have only the merest whiff of their fictional world prior to writing.

Both approaches have been successful. It is up to the individual writer to find what works for them. I personally have found that the more I develop in terms of back story, character studies and general world building, the easier the plotting and actual writing goes.

Why is that?

I think going through the process of developing your characters and world helps suggest the type of story that should be told.

It is not the quickest way to get a manuscript to its first draft stage, but it may be one of the quicker ways to reach a good final draft. Knowing what the terrain is like on the other side of the mountain before you get there allows for proper foreshadowing in the first draft, and will lead to fewer re-writes.

Is all that extra work worth the effort?

If you’re like me, and your story runs out of gas at a certain point, or your characters head off in directions unknown, it’s worth looking into.

Just a thought.

A free product–FreeMind–is a mind-mapping software for those who prefer keeping information on their computer rather than hand-written notes and journals.

Recommended Article by Steven James

The current issue of Writer’s Digest (July/August 2011) features four articles dealing with revision. Each article has something to recommend it, but the one I found most interesting, by Steven James, deals with character status.

What?

Characters have status?

To quote Mr. James: “When readers complain that a character is one-dimensional, flat or ‘cardboard,’ they may not realize it, but they’re actually noting that the character—regardless of the social context in which she appears—always has the same degree of status. She might always be angry or ruthless or heroic, but the more uniformly she responds to everyone and everything, the less interesting she’ll be.

People in real life are complex.

Fictional characters need to be, as well.”

Which I take to mean the character can be so predictable in their responses that the reader loses interest. Characters need to have varying status levels. For example: A character may have low status with their boss, but high status as head of family. It is the shifting status that generates interest.

When Clark Kent worked at the daily planet, his status was low. The red cape raised his status to the max.

Think about it, and pick up the article if you get a chance.

Smokey

Armageddon, Dean Koontz and Odd Thomas

Well…we seem to have survived Harold Camping’s prediction of the end of the world. Either that or we’re one of the 200 million he said would survive. In any case, I held off publishing my Saturday rant just in case.

So back to writing. I’m currently trying to get my head around what makes the perfect protagonist. My fellow dwarves would have me believe all heroes should have a dark side. Besides saving fair damsels, they should have a bit of ‘nasty’ in them. Heroes who are nice and sweet provide no interest to readers they say.

Is that true?

Thinking back over many decades of reading—especially epic fantasy as well as other genres—I conclude there is a sliver of truth in current dwarf-think.

By the same token, I can think of many stories (perhaps even a majority) where the protagonist is indeed nice. Nice doesn’t deter the protagonist from killing bad guys, monsters, or other evil beings. Good versus evil can be taken literally in many classic stories.

By way of example, I would use Odd Thomas. Dean Koontz has used Odd Thomas in four books to date. Not once has he been anything other than good. He even spent am entire book as Brother Odd and lived in a monastery.

Is Odd Thomas an interesting character? I, along with millions of other readers, think so. He hangs out with the dead after all…

My conclusion is…when my characters have failed the ‘interesting’ test, it’s not simply because they don’t have a dark side. It’s because I’ve not properly built enough interest into them.

Smokey

Gossip from the Dwarf Cave…

As usual, Saturday and I’m stuck in the Dwarf Cave kitchen. Not a bad place to be–nice and warm with a constant stream of Dwarf gossip provided by the scullery wenches. A couple of the latest tidbits…

Can you believe that? Eerie totally avoided reporting in on Friday the 13th! Who would have guessed? I’m thinking the Swamp Thing is gaining way too much influence over Eerie’s superstitions.

On another front, Wicked seems to be gearing up for an assault on the New York Times bestseller list. She even put up a new authors face book page claiming to be 6’1″ tall. Can you believe that? What sort of dwarf is 6’1″? Everyone knows that’s Raine’s height.

And there you have it dwarf friends. It’s back to cutting up various dead animal parts for a party Eerie’s throwing for his associates from that boggy place.

Research

Here I sit, recovering from the all-nighter watching the Royal Wedding.

Why in the world would I do that? Is it really in Smokey Dwarf’s character to watch weddings?

Not in the normal course of things. The Royal Wedding, however, provided an amazing opportunity to research tidbits sure to be useful in future tales of epic fantasy set in a medieval time zone.

The church service for the royal couple alone provided much insight into the difference between the commoner and the king. The language used and the points made by the Arch Bishop certainly would not have been heard at one of our weddings.

Also of interest for future tales, besides the food, were how some of the costumes were designed and made—especially the uniforms of the groom and his best man.

The church itself provided many ideas for future settings.

So what am I getting at this week? Simply that research opportunities exist everywhere. It’s not always necessary to bury yourself in the dusty archives of the local castle or google yourself into a frenzy. Keep an eye on current events and your favorite news station.

Smokey

PS–That’s my story and I’m so sticking to it… 😉

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