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Writing Masters: Jim Butcher

 

I was reading some articles about writing, and it suggested googling one of your favorite authors, plus the word writing. I googled “Jim Butcher Writing”, without the quotations.

Google page: http://www.epublishabook.com/2014/06/09/writetip-elements-subplot-writers-writing-amwriting/

 

Product DetailsProduct Details

 

He writes both High fantasy and urban fantasy, but his tips apply to any genre

 

 

 

 

Some awesome pages that came up:

 

Jim’s LiveJournal

He hasn’t been on this for years, and the later posts are sporadic, but he talks about how he plots and writes

http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/

 

This is a blog that lists direct links to Jim’s writing articles

http://blog.karenwoodward.org/2012/10/jim-butcher-on-writing.html

http://blog.karenwoodward.org/2012/06/jim-butcher-how-to-write-story.html

 

Google Docs that someone collated Jim’s tips (Can be saved as a document)

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1a0ll3XxM5bRyv3xHpNfuRld4q5-9bKpW-K4_LLWESak/edit?hl=en_US

 

Interviews

http://clarionfoundation.wordpress.com/2011/07/26/interview-with-jim-butcher-author-of-the-dresden-files/

http://www.wizardsharry.com/dresden5.html

 

How Jim got Published

http://www.jim-butcher.com/jim

 

Q4U: What authors would you like to see writing tips from?

 

Hope you find these helpful : )

~ Amber

Writer research…AKA–getting to live other people’s lives…

What do you think of  when you hear the words ‘writer’ and ‘research’?  When I first began to seriously pay attention to the necessary skills inheritant to a writer, I had this vague image in my head of an investigative reporter in a fedora and topcoat skulking around dark corners, spying on nefarious types.  Unfortunately that’s not the way it really is. My reference library of actual books has increased exponentially over the years with such titles as: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology, The Search for ‘The Manchurian Candidate’, Monsters and Demons, Letters of Enoch, Navaho Indian Myths, Conflict, Action & Suspense, The Scene of a Crime,The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures, Werewolves, The Book of Everything Feckin’ Irish, and so on.

It’s varied enough, the titles are housed in my  bedroom closet so the impressionable minds in the house have limited access.  Trying to explain to a teacher why my sons understand how to tell a were from a shifter and what weapon is easily modified to take out hearts is not a conversation I want to repeat.

But, as much information as you can gain from various books from a wide range of subject experts, nothing beats expierecing it for yourself or talking to those who’ve already been there and done that. Granted, for Urban Fantasy, finding a reliable source who’s fought off a werewolf or back a slavering vamp down is a bit hard to find, but there are ways around such things.  For example, in SHADOW’S MOON, most of my research circled around wild wolves and their behaviors.  Not because the story is packed with information, but because I needed my characters reactions to read true to their animal natures.  Conversations with my brother in law who enjoys spending time dressed like a tree, helped me consider how a human hunter’s mind could work in conjunction with a wild predator’s intellect.  Viola! Alpha werewolf in human skin.

In my current work, I’m pulling on other sources. Sources Knight and I have known for years, and we’re lucky enough to still have in our life considering their chosen lifestyle revolves around repeated tours overseas to keep me and mine safe.  Not to say I’m not pouring through various texts on military tactics or the psychology of special forces, but those can’t show me the depth of courage and honor it really takes to face something that most of us (thank goodness) never have to face.  Not only has our friend been a great resource in the creation of my characters, but the more I talk to him, the more I realize how lucky we are to have him in our lives.

Despite my anti-social, watch from the sidelines typical reserve, I’m discovering just how much more beneficial it is to go and start a conversation with those in my life.  All those personalities, all those stories, it’s a treasure trove out there.  Each person has stories that boggle the mind, each of them have something to contribute  to my growing mental library of character motivation, scene creation and plot devices.  More than books, there is no better research tool than the world we live in, because more time than naught, it’s the unexpected realities that make heart pounding adventures we writers depend on.

What are some of your best research tools?

-Wicked

 

PS  Join us next week when LIV RANCOURT comes for a visit….

Reality in Fiction

Realty isn’t so simple.  A lot of time is spent on making decisions, neither of which is clearly the “right” one.  Most of the time when someone opens one door, they close another, and there is a certain amount of regret when that door is closed.  Sometimes fiction makes choices far too easy.  There is always a right choice, and once it is made, the characters can live happily ever after.  This lack of reality can sometimes frustrate me.  But at the same time, if I wanted to read something realistic, I would simply read non-fiction.  The question of how much reality to incorporate in fiction is still very important though.  Fiction can’t be completely unrealistic; it needs elements of reality for us to connect with it.  I just feel fiction allows us to touch upon reality without having it banged over our heads.

I write mostly fantasy.  One of things I like best about fantasy is that characters are often placed against nearly impossible odds, but are given tools to fight those odds.  A skinny, little boy can hold incredible power, enough to combat even the most frightening enemy.  Whereas sometimes in our world, no matter how big or small someone is, impossible odds are often crushing.  This means, I guess, that I love happy endings.  I wish they happened more in real life, but I certainly happily anticipate them in the books I read.  I would feel really disappointed to read a book without a happy ending, but I also don’t want the happy ending to come too easily.

So how do you find the right balance between a fantasy world with a happy ending and reality?  In truth, I’m still not entirely sure.  I guess I just feel that if I read the book and believe the characters struggles, the book has enough reality for me.  What about for you?  How do you know when you’ve found the right balance?

Editing Requires Motivation

Lately, I’ve been having trouble focusing on just one thing.  I think, mainly, because I am avoiding my book.  You see, I just recently “finished” the first book in my new series, but as pointed out by some of my group members, there are a couple of big things I need to fix.  These things will require a great deal of patience, and a great deal of editing.

I know it needs to be done, but I’m struggling with doing it.  This is because during Nano I also started on the second book in my series, which is still at that glorious beginning stage when everything is just about writing and creating, not about editing.  I’ve also started working on a couple of short stories.  They were exercises in trying new and different writing styles, and I feel they are valuable projects, if nothing else, to expand my writing abilities.  All of this, however, gets me back to my main issue: I think I might be avoiding my first book.

My first book needs work, as most first drafts do.  I need to sit down with it for a few hours at a time and read it from beginning to end, working out any inconsistencies, timeline issues, character motivations, and even making certain that the relationships work.  This is the part of editing I really don’t enjoy.  I don’t mind combing through a book for grammatical issues, but it is adding these essential things, in just the right amounts, that tends to stress me out.

I know there are probably more organized, less time consuming, ways to go about editing a novel, but this seems to be the only way that works for me… if only I don’t avoid the mountain of work awaiting me.

Remembering the little details…

Yes, I realize I missed my Thursday post with my fellow dwarves. Nope, I have absolutely no excuse. Unless you count the fact that sleep decided it wasn’t being appreciated enough and left me in a snit about two weeks ago.  Damn drama queen.  Now I figure out how to lure it back.  In the meantime, I took over Saturday’s spot on the 7ED site to play catch up.  On my blog, no one will notice…

I promised we’d get back to some basics on writing, so now that Shadow’s Moon is out propositioning some very nice people at the pub houses, let me clue you in on something I knew, but had slammed home recently.  When writing a series, it’s very important to be able to remember the little details.  You know, things like hair color, eye color, height, gender, where someone lives, what their favorite food is, what they drive, who their parents are…the little things.  It’s all those little things that make or break your world over numerous books.

Readers are some of the most intelligent, eagled eyed people out there. If you tell them your character is blonde, blue-eyed, lives in the city, drives a sports car and prefers chocolate over caviar (like who doesn’t?), and then somewhere down the line she’s puttering around in the suburbs, eating caviar and driving a Jeep, there will be issues. I promise you.  So how does a writer keep track of all these little things? Especially as they are constantly refining their worlds and characters?

The answer is…a series bible.

Now, when I started Shadow’s Edge, I had the beginnings of a bible for the series. Of course it was scattered around my office and filing cabinets masquerading as scribbles on notebook paper, more scribbles on post-its (a vital component of any office), even more scribbles on the back of restaurant receipts with coffee stains.  By the time I finished the first book, I managed to gather my loose little notes into one central area. Then I was off to write Shadow’s Soul. When I spent more time trying to verify something about a character of one of the Kyn Houses than actually writing the scene, it was time to put it all together.  But, first I had to finish the book.

So Shadow’s Soul done and out into the world, Shadow’s Moon was well underway and my notes were still an unruly pile in need of some serious discipline. It may have taken a few discussions (read-heated debates) among the Evil 7, but it was glaringly obvious if I wanted to win some of my points, I better have proof that I really did have that character doing that before.  This meant the last two weeks, on top of query letters and synopsis creation (which we’ll try to address next week), I finally buckled down to get all those pesky details in order.

What exactly goes into a Series Bible, you may ask…my answer, after many hours trolling the internet and talking to other writers: Whatever you feel is vital to your world. 

With that lovely open to interpretation answer, I will share what is in mine and you can discard or copy what ever tickles your fancy.

CHARACTER PROFILES:  this includes all the vital stats on your characters–physical, emotional, background, who they’re linked to and how, images (there’s fun to be had doing an internet search entitled: hot brunette males), where they live, what they drive, how the dress, personal ticks/habits, job position, etc. 

LIST OF MINOR CHARACTERS:  I went book by book and anyone I mentioned by name went on this list, along with the notation DEAD if they didn’t survive.  You never know when one of these names comes back and takes over.

WORLD HISTORY:  this includes world rules on how your world works, the history of its creation and they way your current world interacts/ed with others.  In mine, I have a breakdown for each of the four houses of the Kyn, the governing structure, magic rules for each race, some history behind each of them, strengths/weaknesses of each race (physical/emotional), territory division for the Shifters and who runs which packs, glossary.  This is a huge section and you can break it down further if it helps.

PLACES/LOCATIONS:  a list of all the bars, restaurants, businesses, homes that are in each book and how they’re linked to the characters.  Someday I’ll have maps too!

BLURBS: from each book.  Here’s a great way to get a jump on your query, write your own blurb for your book.

SYNOPSIS: from each book, anywhere from 1-5 pages.  You’ll need these.

SERIES ARC:  This is important as it helps you see where each title will fall under your major plot, and how each title will help move it along.

NOVEL PLOTS:  self-explanatory–plots for each book, at least how they start out. They never end up the same.

SHORTS:  this is a list of ideas I will someday brave in my attempts to master the short story.

There is a massive amounts of opinions on what should be in your series bible, plus quite a few free worksheets if you want them, but I found this is what works best for me.  It allows me to keep it all straight and not lose sight of my overall story.

So for those who’ve stuck this out to the end–add your suggestions to what should be in a series bible!

-Wicked

In the Eye of the Beholder

One of the first books I ever read about dragons was Jermey Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville, when I was in early elementary school.  This book still sits on my shelf in a place of honor, for it represents the beginning of my love for dragons.  Since then, I have added many, many more books about dragons to my library, because I am still amazed by these powerful creatures that, for some crazy reason, want to bond and communicate with humans (or at least do so in many books).

Right now, I am reading another book about dragons.  It is inspiring, as it is both creative and beautifully written.  The settings are well-described, and the characters are multi-layered and realistic.  But, I think it is the dragons that have pulled me into this story more than anything else.  There are pieces of this book that are written from their point-of-view, and the depth of both their pride and their agony as they struggle through their new lives is heart wrenching to read.

There are things about this book that make me pause.  It seems to break many of the “rules” about writing that I’ve come to accept very comfortably.  It repeats very, very frequently.  It also describes nearly every scene in great detail, regardless of whether the setting is important or not, or will ever be revisited.  Do these issues take away from the story?  Perhaps a little.  But I am still devouring this incredible story, and in the process, trying to learn and appreciate the things that make this story so remarkable.

One of the things that I I’ve learned the most about from this books is how powerful perception can be.  This book is written from multiple points of view.  One of my favorite characters describes herself multiple times throughout the book as unattractive and boring.  Another of the characters who interacts with her regularly describes her as almost grotesque and a nuisance.  Then, her path crosses with yet another character, and through his point of view, she is a lively and beautiful creature.  It startled me to realize how, rather than these characters contradicting each other, they are just creating a more realistic character.  Because isn’t beauty always in the eye of the beholder?  Aren’t people more complicated than simply “boring” or “interesting,” depending upon who is judging them?

So, I guess there wasn’t just one thing I learned from reading this novel.  Instead, it is another experience that will hopefully enrich my writing.

Creating Complex Characters

People are complex.

There is the childhood bully, who isn’t a person to you until the day you see his dad hit him.  You hear the neighbors talk, words you, as a child, have never been privy to.  This isn’t the first time he’s been hit; it’s not the first time the police are called.  The neighbors hear the yelling, they see the boy, and the adults understand him and his situation better than us children.  We only saw him as a bully.  I only saw him as a bully, until that day, and then, he became a victim in my eyes.

People are complex.  So, why are characters often so simple?

Character= Personality + Relationships + Motivations + Experiences

People could be broken down in the same formula, but there is more to people, and should be more to characters, than this.  We, as the writers, should understand our characters better than they understand themselves.  They might not know why the possibility of love terrifies them, but we should.  They might not know that even while they are afraid, they have an inner drive, an inner spirit, that keeps them fighting, but we do.  The problem is that many writers reduce their characters to stereotypes, and guess what, characters deserve more.

In young adult books, the main character is usually someone who has lost their parents, or their support system, and must find a way to survive in an unjust world on their own.  But, the books that truly stand out often have just one quality that makes their character so unique, they seem real to us.  And the more unique, the more you are creating a character that will transcend the pages, and become a real person to your readers.  This is why we as authors need to be fair to our characters, and our readers, and move beyond the stereotypes, to breathe life into our characters.

Showing versus Telling #2

Okay, so last week I discussed the importance of showing versus telling, but this week, I wanted to actually create some examples of this writing skill.  Before I do, however, I want to mention that this is something I’m struggling with, something I’m still trying to improve upon.  If you want to take any of my example sentences and “show” them even more, you are welcome to!

Example #1 (Telling): The couple was obviously angry with each other.

Example #2 (Telling and including the narrator’s feelings): I shifted uncomfortably, trying my best to ignore the arguing couple.

Example #3: (Showing): The woman snapped her napkin open, and then dropped it on her lap.  She reached for her fork, but even after several moments, still hadn’t touched her food.  The man ignored her, staring at the massive TV screen above the bar.  I thought perhaps he’d failed to notice the woman fuming across from him, but every time he chugged his beer, his eyes peered at her from the edge of his mug.  Once our eyes met, but I hastily looked away, shifting in my seat until they were no longer in my line of sight.

This is just one example of showing versus telling.  You can see how when an author shows something, the reader is a part of the journey.  They get to experience the couple’s anger, but more than that, they become involved in the story.  One reader may side with the woman, having experienced the frustration of eating a meal with someone who fails to pay attention to them.  While another reader may side with the man, knowing how frustrating it can be to have the passive aggressive behaviors of a dinner companion ruin their meal.  If the author had simply said, “the couple was obviously angry with each other,” the reader would shrug and accept what the author told them.

One reason I find that I often fall into the trap of telling instead of showing is that the moment or detail doesn’t seem important enough to spend too much time on.  But the truth of the matter is that if the detail isn’t important, it shouldn’t be included in my book.  And, there are ways to show a little more without creating a huge paragraph.

Example #1 (Telling): The house was a mess.

Example #2 (Telling and including the narrator’s feelings): I cringed as I entered the messy home.

Example #3 (Showing): I cringed as a rat scurried between one moldy pizza box and a pile of leftover dishes, and prayed I could leave the sad-excuse for a house soon.

I hope these examples helped to explain showing versus telling a little better.  Taking the time to write this blog, and create my own sentences, definitely helped me to improve in this area.

Showing versus Telling

I observed a group of mothers playing with their toddlers at the park.  In general, I didn’t mind the noise or chaos of the park, but today I could feel my annoyance building as I glared at one of the mothers.  A mother I’d nicknamed “Loudmouth,” because she wouldn’t stop talking.  (Not once.  Not even when the other mothers avoided her gaze and scooted away from her.)

Loudmouth finally asked one of the other mothers a question (perhaps she’d realized that conversations are supposed to be two-sided).  “Your child is so sweet, how old is he?” she asked.

The other mother smiled shyly and responded, “fifteen months.”

“Oh!” she exclaimed.  “MY son could say the alphabet backward and forward by that age.”

I clenched my hand and thought of a string of nasty retorts, but then, Loudmouth’s son started eating sand, and I felt a little better.  Loudmouth ran off to stop her son, and the shy mother sat back, looking calmer than I felt.  Her son, a beautiful little boy with light brown curls, approached his mother.

“Up,” he cooed.

His mother picked him up, smiling down at him.

A third mother, a lady with smudged makeup, grinned.  “Now, that’s a smart boy!”

You might be wondering what this story has to do with writing, but the truth is that it showcases exactly the topic I’ve been struggling with: showing verses telling.  One mother “told” the others that her son was smart, while the other allowed her child to “show” how smart he was.  And as I thought this situation over, I realized the many problems that arise with showing verses telling.

First of all, when you tell someone something, you aren’t allowing them to think or get involved with what is happening.  They are expected to simply take your word.  This would be a terrible thing to experience as a reader, because reading is all about the process of investing yourself in a character.  When you don’t take the journey with the character, however, and are simply told about it, you don’t care as much about what happens to the character.

Second of all, when you tell someone something, it might be harder for them to believe than if they saw what you were talking about.  When you create a book about lamas that take over the world with flesh-eating spit, people might find themselves struggling to believe your plot.  But, if you are able to show everything as it happens through the strength of your writing, your readers aren’t going to doubt what’s happening, they’re not going to have to suspend their disbelief, because they’ve been right there every step of the way.  Why wouldn’t they fear the all-mighty lamas too?

Series Issues

 

Recently, I read a series that came very highly recommended, as well as, part of another series.  I enjoyed both series, but was intrigued by the different ways these two authors created them.

The first author wrote a series that felt almost like a few separate books, with one central character, rather than a series.  As I continued reading books in this series, I realized that every book could stand entirely by itself, which was good in a lot of ways.  But, there was nothing in these books that made me compelled to read the next book.  Once I started reading a book, I always wanted to continue reading it, but I didn’t mind taking long gaps between reading one book and the next.  Still, I felt that creating a series this way would make it difficult to retain readers, unless they were extremely devoted.

The second author wrote a book FILLED with tons of characters and intricate subplots.  I am only a few short pages from finishing this book, but I found the number of characters confusing, and even though I got the sense that a lot of them will be important in the future, many of them seemed to make no real difference in this book.  So, why was I even introduced to them?

I have to believe these characters will be important in future books, but I wonder why I simply wasn’t introduced to them in these books.  Or, at the very least, I wish I hadn’t spent so many pages reading about characters that disappeared in the rest of the book.  But, I did feel compelled to read this book, and I am very excited to read the other books in the series.  I imagine this series has absolutely no problem retaining its readers, because you really want to know what will happen next.  The author does an excellent job creating a lot of questions that leave the reader wanting more.

So, what are your thoughts?  Is it better to introduce multiple characters that leave your readers curious about future books, or save those characters for when they really matter?

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