Exercise 1 part 1 – Being Gorgeous

I’ve been working through Ursula K. Le Guin’s excellent Steering the Craft: A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story. I’m on chapter 3 now and I highly recommend it. I’ll be posting my responses to the short exercises she proposes here. Always glad for feedback or comments! (And if you feel inspired to join in – even better!!)

“Chapter 1: The Sound of Your Writing
Part 1: Being Gorgeous – Write a paragraph to a page of narrative that’s meant to be read aloud. Use onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, rhythmic effects, made-up words or names, dialect – any kind of sound effect you like – but NOT rhyme or meter.”  – Steering the Craft, Page 8.

Right after high school I volunteered at our municipal zoo – I used to conduct evening tours for groups spending the night. We’d leave the group at the “sleepover safari pavilion” and then had to walk to our cars through the empty zoo…

Nighttime at the Zoo

Nighttime is the absolute best time in a zoo. And I’m not talking about one of those nights the zoo simply stays open late. No! The magic only conjures forth when the zoo is closed. One has the space and time to enjoy the sights and sounds of an assemblage of animals found nowhere else on Earth. The silhouettes of dozens of different animals against the darkening sky or illuminated by the warm red glow of their heat lamps. The monkeys lean against the chain link fences of their enclosures, tufts of tawny tails sticking through at odd angles: they pause in grooming the silky black hair of their babies and take a good long look at the sunset smear of pink and orange. The smell of exotic manure – not plain old horse manure – but manure aroma with the hint of something extra. What exactly depends on the ungulate: extra moisture, extra miles down special serpentine guts, extra regurgitations, who knows? The elephants fart with abandon, the decibels of their farts echoing across the empty visitor plazas. Nothing stops you in your tracks like a sustained reverberating bluuuuuurph from an elephant bum.

The bats hid all day, wrapped in their thin leather bathrobes, caring not a fie for the surges of disinterested visitors or the sinister suspirations of strollers squeaking towards the orangutan exhibits. They are now active, lurching wing claw over feet on the ceiling of their cage, tipping their heads back to assess the selection of fruit on offer. Ever see a southern wombat do anything but sleep, Buddha belly rising and falling, stubby toes pointed firmly at the sky? Come to the zoo at night and the wombat will be upright, nose in its food bowl.

The wildlife isn’t all contained either. The peacocks scream eiiiiiiiiiiii triumphantly from their roosts high in the eucalyptus trees. Skunks waddle down the deserted paths with purpose, like assistant zookeepers. “Business to attend to, whot whot!” they seem to say. It is not recommended that you attempt to interrupt them; a blast from a skunk butt will make you not want to be with yourself. No one else will want to be with you either, the sulfurous compound lighting lesson-teaching fire to every mucus membrane it meets. Best to let the wild skunks get to their meetings unhindered; even the great cats, the lions and jaguars and tigers, leave them be, knowing the skunks are the perfect bureaucrats of the nighttime zoo.

When Rewriting is more Efficient than Revising

Although I haven’t officially updated you all on my writing progress for April (that’s next week), I can tell you that I have moved on to the second draft of “The Herb Witch”.

Since I wrote the first draft by hand in a journal, I’m now transcribing it to the old electronic typewriter (PC) and making edits along the way. Here’s why this type of rewrite is more efficient than revising a single draft.

Continue reading “When Rewriting is more Efficient than Revising”

Leaning into the Discovery Draft

I’ve been known to self-edit when I write… a lot. For the first draft of WoEM, I think I wrote and rewrote the first couple of chapters three or four times before I made any real progress on the story.

I’ve been knee-deep in the discovery draft of my short stories for a couple months, and it’s taken a while to convince my brain that it’s only the discovery draft.

So I just wanted to talk about some things to keep in mind as you write a discovery draft. Continue reading “Leaning into the Discovery Draft”

How Do You Organize Your World-Building Canon?

As I write “Survivor”, my not-officially-titled duology, I keep thinking about how I might be able to organize my world-building canon better.

Most of what I’ve written in my fantasy universe has been in The Warden of Everfeld stories, of which I have one novel published and one in draft. “Survivor” is the first story that does not overlap WoEM, but shares some of its history and geography with those novels. And I want to make sure that what I write in one doesn’t contradict the other.

So, how do you organize your world-building canon? Continue reading “How Do You Organize Your World-Building Canon?”

Writing a Novel vs. Writing a Short Story

For the first time in my authorly endeavors, I have two major works in progress… in progress.

I’m 60k words into The Warden of Everfeld: Legacy, a sequel-ish novel of 180-200k words that I know I’m not finishing this year.

Simultaneously, I’m 6k words into a duology/novella of about 60k words that I damn well better finish this year.

And after much deliberation and introspection, I can confirm: writing a short story is different from writing a novel. Continue reading “Writing a Novel vs. Writing a Short Story”

On Being an Expert in Your Own Writing Style

Expertise is a weird concept. It can’t really be quantified, but it’s used to qualify pretty every facet of life, at least in terms of a person’s performance in a particular role, or with a particular skill.

When I was unemployed, I gave a lot of thought to my own expertise, mostly related to my professional career, but also my writing career. It might be difficult to identify your own expertise in anything. That kind of label is likely bestowed upon you by others. Anyone can call themselves an expert in something, but when someone else calls you an expert — that’s a good sign you’re headed in the right direction.

Expert storytellers, expert editors, expert linguists or “wordsmiths”. These are the types of qualifiers used to describe respected authors. It may seem strange to refer to yourself as such — I definitely do not feel like I’ve earned any of these — but you should at least be an expert in your own writing.

Know Your Writing Style

Once you’ve written more than one story, with different characters, different settings, maybe in a different world, you start to notice your own writing quirks.

If you’re writing your first story, it may be hard to identify your writing style. You’re just trying to get words onto paper and figure out how to build a narrative. And that’s okay.

But I think here are still some ways you can reflect on your writing and pick out your style — and enhance it. Think about the following patterns in your writing style.

  1. How do you describe characters?
  2. How do you describe settings?
  3. Is your dialogue short and direct, or long and flowery?
  4. Do your characters use a lot of mannerisms or facial expressions when they talk?
  5. Are your scenes broken up by chunks of more expository or narrative writing?
  6. Are your chapters or sections a consistent length, or does each one vary by more than a few pages?

Become the Expert in Your Style

There are no right or wrong answers to any of the above questions, but thinking about as you write can help you pick out your tendencies.

For instance, I tend to start character descriptions at the eyes, at least when the characters are standing near each other. I like reading people’s eyes when I talk to them, trying to understand their mood or their mindset, and I’ve projected that interest into a lot of my characters.

I also tend to use two ways of describing setting: I either use the POV character’s senses to “see” their immediate surroundings, or I take a broader view, almost looking down on the character from above to provide more of an atmospheric description.

Once you understand your tendencies, you can start to vary them so your writing doesn’t become stale or predictable. This can also just make your writing more interesting to you. After all, there are only so many ways to describe a forest.

I like to describe my characters’ facial expressions and mannerisms as they speak to liven up the dialogue. However, I’ve found that short, direct dialogue with little description can be used to pick up the pace of the story.

Understanding that initial tendency and trying to change it up depending on the situation has helped me create urgency in scenes that require it, or slow down and lean on more detailed conversations that really enliven the characters.

During your revision or editing sessions, try to pay a bit of attention to these types of questions and understand your own habits as a writer. You may decide to alternate your style depending on the scene, the character, or the story. If you’re happy with what you find and want to reinforce a certain pattern, then that’s great, too.

As long as you’re becoming an expertise in your writing style, it will feel natural to your readers.

Steve D

Don’t Be Afraid to Write the Story You Want

A lot of blogs and publishing websites will tell you to research your genre and see what concepts or ideas are currently trending in the market. If you can quickly develop a similar concept, write the story, and publish, you could ride the coattails of similar books and sub-genres to a better launch.

That’s a solid strategy for selling books, but I personally do not feel like it’s a great strategy for writing meaningful stories. If you’re writing a concept that is meaningful to you, and it also happens to be trending in the market, that’s great! You’re probably on your way to some good sales numbers.

But I would argue that telling the most meaningful story should come first; sales and marketing come second.

Tell the Story You Want to Tell

Beyond the sales side of it, it can be easy to get wrapped up in your own expectations for your ideal story. You have a great concept in your head, with your main characters and a good sense of where the plot will lead all lined up.

But you can’t start writing… you actually avoid trying to craft that first line. Why? Because the concept is so perfect in your head. Before it touches paper or a computer screen, it doesn’t require revisions or editing. No one can criticize it. You don’t have to worry about disappointing sales numbers or lack of readership. In your head, that story is exactly what you think it could be.

I realized I was doing this recently with a new concept for a two- or three-part short story. I’ve had a lot of ideas to diversify my writing projects and to get smaller things published while I work on WoEL, which will certainly not be ready to publish for at least another year.

One such concept is a multi-part short story that I can publish in parts on KDP, then as a single volume in print. I’ve outlined quite a bit, particularly for my protagonist, and I feel like the concept is solid enough to start writing.

But I have yet to actually start writing. Instead, I was getting ready to start another project, one with much lower stakes. This one would be a running travelogue-style series on Wattpad — just short entries every couple of weeks following one particular character.

I like both of these ideas, and I want to pursue each of them, but I haven’t had any movement on the short story.

Now, what are the key differences between these two ideas?

  • One, the Wattpad series, is very low commitment. I can casually write a new chapter every couple of weeks, publish on the interwebs, hope some people read it, and keep going.
  • The other is a story I want to publish professionally: cover art, revisions, book design… the whole nine yards. Then, I would try to sell these stories online and at conventions next year. That means I have to get it done in a reasonable amount of time.

See the difference?

This short story is the one I really want to write, but it comes with a much greater commitment of my time and energy, and it will be exposed to a wider audience (I hope).

I’ve neglected actually writing it because of the risk it involves. I can’t get it done in time, or people won’t like it, or it won’t sell. I’ve let the fear of those things keep me from writing, but I can’t control any of those things until I actually write the story.

So, it’s easy to get caught up in all the what-ifs involved with writing and publishing a story, but if that idea sticks with you, lingering in the back of your mind for months on end? Leave the fears behind. That’s the story you should be working on. Worry about the rest later.

Steve D

Switching Characters to Spice Up the Storytelling

I’ve had an exceedingly tiresome week, capped off by an exceedingly long commute home today — like, an hour and a half or more. And because I’m writing this on Thursday evening, the week isn’t quite over yet. So let’s listen to some soothing Appalachian-inspired folk.

Writing has also been slow for me, which has been due in part to laziness, but also because I keep spending more time thinking about my short story idea than actually writing WoEL.

Continue reading “Switching Characters to Spice Up the Storytelling”

Exploring the Story – World of Warcraft

I’m not a huge gamer. The most recent systems in our house are a Gamecube, which I’ve had for over 15 years — maybe 20, which is scary — and a PS2, which we just took from my in-laws’ house because my brother-in-law didn’t want it anymore.

However, there are a few games that I will always love to play. The main one, if you hadn’t guessed, is World of Warcraft, an MMORPG that first came out in 2004. I started playing in 2005, and I played off and on until about 2014.

Once again, the drums of Warcraft are beating in my heart, and I’m probably about to start playing again. There are a thousand reasons why I love this game, but the primary one is my love of exploring this world.

Continue reading “Exploring the Story – World of Warcraft”