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Tag Archives: Pantsing

Pieces to the puzzle


I have had in mind a slightly different time keeping system based off the sun for my largest project. For some reason I couldn’t see the solution, so I reached out for help from a facebook group I’m in, and the help I got was exactly the piece of the puzzle I had been looking for. Although after I began to play around with using it, something seemed off to me, though I couldn’t place it. My brother in law came over one day to pick up my nieces which were visiting, and I talked to him about it, as I do due to him being interested in this type of stuff and the genre as a whole. He came up with an idea for writing the system I already had, and that’s when the last piece I needed clicked for me.

What that last piece did, was amazing to me. Suddenly things I had been struggling over for months clicked into place, old and new ideas began flowing like crazy, my drive was instantly back. All because of one little idea about a time keeping system. What i realized then, was as my story grew, I had built ideas onto ideas. The time keeping system was one of the first, and my own mental organization set priorities for things to figure out based off chronological fabrication.

I haven’t known this long enough to figure out if I can bypass this priority system that’s been automatically established, but if I figure something out, I’ll make another post about it. Although, it may just possibly be my way of working through such things and I have to adapt my system to it. Time will tell.

 

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World Building vs. Writing


Being new to writing, I’m still learning how to write a full complete structured story, versus snippets of awesome ideas that pop into my head. Trying to find the balance of world building, outlining, creative writing, can be hard. I don’t want to paint myself into a mental corner world building so much so that I can’t creative write when I need to. I thought I had done a lot of world building, so I made myself stop and focus on writing to make sure I didn’t paint myself into that corner.

After trying to write for about a month, with no success, I sat back and went over my recent experiences. What I saw blocking my creative flow was a lack of substance. This confused me at first, so I began looking much more closely at why there was this lack of substance in my minds eye when I had done all the previous world building. That’s when the scope of my story really struck me.

It is going to be an expansive scifi. Epic isn’t really the right word I don’t think, as it doesn’t match the markers which constitute an epic. At least it might not, and there it hit me. I don’t know…all I know is it’s really big, with numerous rich cultures which play off each other in a massive balance.

I couldn’t write the story because I still didn’t know enough about where it takes place. Even though I had what I thought was a lot, there were far too many holes which let the creative mist escape my minds eye. Basically it wasn’t a lot of world building for the scope of the story. So now I’m back at it, making timelines, maps, filling out my wiki, figuring out how the different tech levels effect the cultures the various characters grow up in. How some types of jobs move characters from one culture to the next and how that effects those individuals and the friends they’ve made over the years.

So my lack of knowledge of my world kept my imagination from coalescing into the story I wanted to write. I will still keep an eye on myself to prevent world builders disease, but I’m going to be much less likely to force myself to stop building. I think once I get enough world built I will have so much story that I have to write it. As I am adding more things to my wiki, filling out histories of key organizations, my imagination is going “Oh cool!” and making tiny stories of snippets of time. It’s not enough for me to write, what it is doing is filling those holes where my creative mists were leaking. Once they stop leaking, I’ll start writing.

 

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Pricing your work


I have been listening to a lot of podcasts about the detriment of pricing your books too low. While that makes a huge amount of sense, and I can’t argue with any of it, in fact I agree with all the reasons they give, I have one that trumps it. At least it does for me. The reason is, I grew up poor, with a ravenous appetite for books. So basically I starved my mind. In fact, I got so used to starving it, when I grew up and made plenty of money, I still didn’t buy books because I had already trained myself to not want them. When you want to read as badly as I did, yet can’t, it creates a “keep away from me” attitude. Much like I have now for cigarettes. That’s right, I felt the same way for books as a child as I do for cigarettes now. Doesn’t that sound right to anyone? If it does…you have issues.

Now, the way I feel about books is a mixture of joy and resentment. I will find a great book, and realize the rest of the series is $9.99 per book. Or I will read a great story and realize the rest of the series is $5.99 for the entire series. Writers can now make a good living off of cheaper priced books. I for one will never price my books $9.99 for an e-book. I want the cash strapped people to be able to enjoy my work too. But most importantly, I want young readers to be able to read as much as they want, to not be limited to a book every birthday or christmas.

The E-book market is a change, something that will uproot the known practices and alter the thought processes of consumers. But that will never happen if prices stay the same. E-books are a wonderful new tool, why not use it? Instead what I’m seeing quite often is the publishers from before e-books are trying to maintain the status quo. They are trying to price the e-books the same as the print books even though an e-book is much much cheaper.

I have seen Baen books putting up free e-books from some of their high selling authors, so they are learning and good for them. But the subsequent books are still the same as the print books. Many self publishers have free sales, or even perma-free books to get people reading their stuff. It’s called a funnel.

So for all you new authors out there, let’s change something for the better. Take a lesson from those high selling self publishers and price your books between the status quo and cheap. Remember those what-if kids out there who want nothing more than to get lost in your stories.

 

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File 13


I’m a perfectionist, but I also hate to throw things away that might be useful later. The perfectionist in me tends to want to discard anything that isn’t useful, the creator in me tends to want to make something useful out of scraps.

Over the years I have learned to find a balance between these two, and thankfully so. In my writing there are times, especially beginning a book, that I will struggle to get started. There isn’t a big mystery here for me, as I wrote last week about requiring more effort to start something moving than to keep it moving.

As I write I build parts of the world I could never have sitting down and outlining, no matter how much time I spend at it. I also have serious trouble outlining very far ahead in a story as the story builds itself in part as I write it. I recognize this, and so I cannot predict accurately enough what should be in the outline, I can only touch on road signs I want to hit along the way.

What I have come to learn the more I write, is that I will not get the first few pages right the first time. Not only do I not have the world developed enough in my head before I write, but I also don’t know what pace the story will have until I begin to write it.

I may plan for a scene to have certain pace, but as I write the previous I will feel a flow in my writing. I do not try to change the flow to match my previous ideals of what I thought should be the pace, I allow the story to show me what pace it should have.

Carvers and sculptors often speak about seeing what the medium holds, and simply revealing that shape. This can be explained as a science of the veteran artist seeing many cracks, thin spots, etc. and their mind forming a shape to accommodate that. But that does not allow for what the artist can’t see. The same can be said for writing.

A writer can’t see all of what a story will be from an outline. And outline is only a surface to sketch what shape you feel should form within the story. Every word a writer writes is akin to every chip of a chisel or cut if a blade. The exact shape will not be known until every word is written.

Luckily we writers aren’t as restricted as sculptors. We can ball up the paper, or delete the bits and bytes of information.

So far every beginning I have done this. At least once pages I have written get sent to file 13. But as I delete these words, I build an understanding of the world I will write in, I feel the beat of the story. And so in short order I find the pulse of the story I will bring to life.

If I held onto a fear of losing what I had created, I would never give it a chance to show me its perfection.

 

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F=ma


Newton’s first law of motion can be written as the formula F=ma. It states that a body at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted on by an outside force.

I tend to apply this to my writing, as it does indeed apply. A new story takes much more time and effort to get started. But a world already written in can be added to without a lot of effort.

An idea by itself is “at rest” in your own imagination. To make that idea into a story that can be shared with others, requires building a world others can relate to. No one thinks exactly like you do or has your exact set of knowledge and experience. So in order to allow someone else to relate to your story as you see it in your minds eye, you have to build a world they can and want to exist in.

Building a world that doesn’t already exist is an art form all it’s own. I great writer will want to make it as close to reality as possible, what that reality is, all depends on the story being told.

A science fiction story could have a different set of physical laws, or delve into fuzzy science positing a “what if” to be discovered in the future. In that world things outside our reality could exist as commonplace.

A science fiction story could also be hard wired into our understanding of the physical limitations, and the world built would need to reflect that.

A fantasy story could contain any number of wondrous imaginings, or it could explore myths and show the wondrous realities they were based on.

Whatever story you tell, the world you build needs to reflect it. Building this world from scratch requires many moving parts. Setting each of these in motion can be simple or require great effort. It takes far more work to move a beach than it does a grain of sand.

The art form lies in breaking every beach down to it’s grains of sand, setting each into motion, then stepping back and seeing the beach again.

What I do is get into the characters skin, as if I were that person, or creature, or robot, animal, insect, whatever it is I’m writing about. I try and see the world through their perceptions of it.

Depending on the world I am building, perceptions will be different, so the character will change. No living thing stays the same, there is constant change, even if it’s just small adjustments. Sometimes a large change is needed to attempt to adapt to the environmental changes, whether they are physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, or external.

To know what a character will do, even a minor one, you need to know who they are first. Would you make a torturous pirate suddenly walk through a field of flowers skipping along holding hands? No, it’s not who they are. Or course you could do something like that in a satirical fashion, but that’s a different story entirely.

I love to read, even though I am a writer, I need my entertainment time as well. I can also be extremely accepting of writers as I give them a chance. One mistake will not make me set a book aside. Even a few mistakes, or method of writing I can discard if the story is good.

What I will not sit and read through is literary Swiss cheese. Put forth the effort to get your beach moving, each grain at a time, and you will catch your own holes. Writing is a job, and some of us greatly enjoy it. If its constant work to you, you are doing something wrong, or you aren’t meant to be a writer.

Once I started writing, I realized things about myself that had been considered unsavory to be a great benefit. Like an extremely active imagination, and a mind that can slip into day dreams as easily a hot knife into warm butter.

Writing for me is work and play time mixed together, I enjoy every bit of it, even the parts that give me the most trouble.

 

Want a more concise and knowledgeable version of this? Writing excuses had an episode nearly 2 years after this post, where they explored newton’s three laws.

11.04: Newton’s Laws of Writing

 

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In your dreams!


Our dreams allow many things to play out. Sometimes a repressed memory, sometimes a current worry, sometimes a fantasy, among many other things.

At times I have trouble falling asleep, so I will make a story for my mind to build in my sleep, assisting a dream state that draws me into sleep. Since I have started writing, I will use this same technique to build stories in my subconscious.

As I plot out different stories, I will write down ideas I come up with that fill in the world. When I feel like I have enough if these ideas, I’ll start an outline. If my outline seems full enough, I’ll start writing.

Now before I continue, let me say, I am a restrained perfectionist. I want everything to be perfect, but I know that’s not how the world works. You cannot have all the answers before you start, otherwise what would be the point of starting the journey to begin with? You will also never make anything without flaws, otherwise there would be no future lessons.

The thing is, no matter how much I try and prepare for writing, I always miss something. Plot holes, character background, world building, characters I didn’t see I needed, there’s always something I’ve missed, and always a lesson to learn.

One thing that has helped me immensely is dreaming. Either REM sleep or day dreaming. Sometimes when I am stuck on a particular scene, I will just start day dreaming like when I was a boy. The big difference is that instead of stories with no rules, as they were when I was a boy, I have rules set for the world I am building, the characters in it, and the story they live through.

Those rules keep the day dream on a certain course, I will keep correcting my imagination with things like ‘That won’t work’, ‘That conflicts what I already have’, etc. sometimes my day dreams produce better material than I already had, so I have to go back through and adjust everything.

But that is fine with me, if it makes the story better, I don’t mind the extra work. When I have the story built in my head, I can write 3000+ words an hour, so a rewrite isn’t a big deal.

Conversely, when I don’t have the story built in my head, I write about 500 words an hour, because I have to continually stop to build the story. I have tried to skip those empty spots, but when I go back I end up rewriting after the spot I skipped. Either the story isn’t flowing right, or the characters made a choice that change who they are, which invalidates the story.

So that’s my advice for the week, if you are stuck in your writing, look for answers, in your dreams.

 

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Outlining


I have touched on this subject before, but I wanted to speak a bit more about outlining. So many people are looking for a “rule book” for writing, a “how to” guide. There isn’t one, it’s as simple as that.

Writing techniques are as unique as writers. I have listened to, and corresponded with, many authors, some of them getting a good selling pace going, some best sellers. All have said the said thing, writing is unique to the writer.

Now I’m not saying that there are no commonalities, that would be a lie. But to say you can do exactly what Stephen king does and it will work for you is just wrong.

Some writers do not feel comfortable without a strict outline. They tend to go off on too many tangents and end up going nowhere. These strict outlines are highly descriptive, much like you would write if you did they opposite of “show don’t tell”.

“X walked into the bar.

X saw Y that had had been looking for.

X walked to Y and hit him.”

This type of outlining is almost writing the scene for you, it stops your mind from wandering, and keeps you to the story you want to tell.

Other authors never have an outline. They have an idea in their heads and just start writing.

“What if there was a planet of super intelligent beavers?”

That is all they need because they want the idea to flow naturally, without any limits to where it will go.

I started off this way, purely Pantsing because I never was good at English classes when it came to the descriptors and rules. Therefore I never learned how to outline like they try and teach you.

I took a what if, and built a story in my mind… Or so I thought. It was actually only part of a story. It had more holes than Swiss cheese. So I set it aside and started looking into what advice successful authors gave.

And guess what? Many don’t use the English class “rules” either, they don’t even remember them. I think one author said he uses what he was taught in english classes as a boy. That’s one out of dozens. When it comes to outlining everyone said they kept tweaking their process until they found what worked best. Many are still tweaking or trying new things in an effort to continually improve.

So I decided to try outlining. At first it was extremely difficult, as I never really understood what an outline really was. Then one author (I really wish I could remember who) said they looked at an outline like a table of contents for an author. Then it clicked, after that it fell into place.

For me, a table of content allowed a reader to either find their place when reading, or find the section they needed in the case of non-fiction. So when I started seeing an outline like my stories table of contents, I had a place to start.

I took the bullet points of the story I had in my head, and wrote them down. Then I played the story out in my mind, and saw where I had major hole I would get caught in, so I revised my outline.

On the latest episode of the SPP #92
(WARNING EXPLICIT CONTENT) Lindsay Buroker talked about her outlining process.

She mentioned when she gets stuck while writing, she does a mini outline for the particular scene she is stuck on. At the time I watched that, I was stuck also.

Now I didn’t write out a mini outline, but I did make one in my head. Suddenly the “writers block” was gone. As with my other outline, I didn’t try and make a strict outline, but the mini outline was more detailed than my original. But then it had to be, it was for a single scene instead of a whole book.

Where I went wrong in my original outline was leaving too big of a space between my bullet points. Now, with that one piece of advice, another lesson is learned.

My process is a combination of many authors advice, little pieces cobbled together to fit my individual style. So my advice this week, don’t be too rigid trying to “do it right”. Take what serves, and leave the rest behind.

Hope this helps all you aspiring authors.

P.S. I added a bunch of links today of places I have found help at. I also added a couple of editors links if you are in the market.

 

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