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The Help

 

 

 

 

When last we spoke I told you that the new goal was to get help. That goal was identified back in January. One of the best sources of help any writer can find is a really good writers group. Now I googled “writers groups” and Google provided me about 236 million potential hits. I cut that down to a manageable amount by picking a state to focus on and decided whether I wanted an online group. I have tried a few online groups and a couple were okay, but I was really looking for some face to face interaction with people I can get to know and trust. So, I waded through the groups based in Wisconsin and cut the number to five. All were within 35 miles from home and each listing advertised that the group members were trying to get published, a key factor in my decision. With high hopes, I sent out five emails requesting contact and additional information.

Group One Response: The reply email said that she was no longer with the group and that she thought they had folded but I could try to contact a different individual. I received no response from my attempts at the second individual.

Group Two Response: The reply stated that they had over 100 members! and that they were full for people submitting work, but I could come by and offer my opinions. In other words, I could critique other’s work but could not submit anything to get feedback. Reading other work and offering opinions is valuable and can help your own writing, but I was looking for feedback on my work.

Group Three Response:  We are a group of seniors who write for fun and get together and read our work to the group. Better, but not there yet.

Group Four Response: We are a group of writers who are trying to get published. We use writing prompts and then read our work to the group for feedback. Because this group met in very close proximity to me, I decided to attend a few sessions. There are some talented writers in this group with some interesting ideas. However, it was not the critique group I was looking for.

Group Five: On their website, the group indicated that they were a very serious group dedicated to getting everyone in the group published. They were, however, full on membership (10 people). If I was interested in joining, I could apply and if my qualifications were acceptable, they might make an exception, or place me on a waiting list in case a member left the group. I had nothing to lose so I put together a short bio of my writing experience, goals and involvement in other writers groups, and sent it in. I was actually shocked when I received an email requesting some additional information including a sample of my work. Two of their group would critique the sample and provide feedback so I could see what to expect and what was expected of me when I critiqued others. A few days later, I received their “crits” and a writing sample that I was asked to critique. I provided my feedback and was then told that they would present my request, writing sample, and crit to the group for acceptance. There was no guarantee that I would be asked to join at this point. Damn, I’ve been through job interviews that were not this intensive.

As it turned out, I was asked to join and honestly, it has been worth the effort. As advertised, the group is knowledgeable and motivated with eclectic backgrounds and styles which makes for a wide variety of comments on a submission. The crits can be hard at times, but the criticism is directed solely at the writing and not the writer. The result is that I can see a huge improvement in my writing and I have a much better idea as to what my “voice” sounds like. Many of my writing “ticks” (Bad habits) have been identified so I can catch them during revision and as I write future stories. The group”s comments have created a lot of revision work for me, but that is the point of a critique group. I always have the choice to act on their suggestions or not.

I know this is the type of group that I’ve been looking for, and needed to take me to the next level, and ultimately help me prepare my manuscript for submission to an agent. My advice is, If you decide you need a writers group, do whatever you must to find a GOOD one. One that fits your needs.

Goal: Get help. CHECK!

New goal: Finish this revision.

 

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Where did March go?

I am sorry for being delinquent in my postings. Somehow three weeks have disappeared from my life. Once in a while my other life takes control of my writing life. So, it’s time to wrestle control back and get to the important things in life.

There was some good news since I last visited with you. I have started going to a different writer’s group. It’s very well established with serious writers in my genre. I’m still getting comfortable with the new surroundings so I have made no submissions for critique yet. Though, I will be interested to hear what this group has to say. The other writer’s submissions have been keeping me busy with reading. I’ve also been reading some books by local authors.

With stabilization returning to my world, more fun posts will be forthcoming. We’ll start with something on back stories and there will most likely be a MAVEN update. Another post will discuss game apps and the time sink (Distraction) they provide the unwitting writer.

The snow is melting and the temps are balmy (40 degrees). Spring is in the air. Whoo Hoo!

 

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2014 in Other Strangeness

 

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First Drafts

Those of you who follow my blog have seen several posts entitled, The Actress and the Warlock parts I, II, III. It is an experiment that I started after a writing exercise during a writer’s group meeting. For those who are just viewing this blog for the first time, let me give you a little background. I took the character and setting from the writing exercise and am trying to write a complete story using a series of flashes. So far, each flash has run fifteen or thirty minutes. Once the timer goes off, I finish my last thought and go back over the piece to clean up spelling and obvious grammar issues so I don’t look like a complete idiot when I post it. They are VERY rough pieces.

I’m still not sure where the characters are going to take me and that’s half the fun. But, to help keep some continuity, I went back to the beginning and am taking notes on what I have already written. Three things jumped out at me as I re-read the first drafts.

One, I need to add more sensory interaction, including character tags and traits. This was not really surprising to me. I am trying to write as fast as I can (which is not all that fast) in a limited amount of time. So, the result is the bare bones plot with very little description or back story. I like to take my time and look through character and setting notes to add these details. Giving the reader key sensory details makes the characters and setting come alive.

The second thing that I realized is that I will need to add considerably more tension during the re-write. This did surprise me a little. Maybe it’s because, I see the story in my head and the tension is there. However, because I am writing fast, the tension does not make it to the keyboard as fast as my mind has laid it out.

Lastly, writing in first person POV is different from what I’m used to. This is my first extended experience writing in first person. It’s fun in that I am the protagonist with all of his traits and abilities. However, I have to be careful handling the other characters since I no longer know what they are thinking. I can only respond to their words,  actions and what I already know about them.

I need to hold off starting any re-writing until I finish the first draft. I do need to create some back story on a couple of the characters. They came into being outside my usual method so I have to do some character building based on what I’ve written so far.

So far this has been fun and educational. I originally thought this would be a short story, but it seems like it will go much longer. I will just keep writing the flashes and see where it takes me. I hope you are enjoying this project and I look forward to hearing any feedback you would like to share.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2013 in Thoughts on Writing

 

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When is a Prologue not a Prologue?

Much of my writing time of late has been spent, as it should be, on my current WIP novel, “Smoke and Goblet”. I wrote what I thought would be the opening scene quite a while ago. My writing group critiqued it and I made revisions. Thinking I had a solid opening scene, I moved on to writing other scenes that would round out the first third of the book. Several of these scenes introduced other major characters and gave additional exposition regarding the main conflict. While writing a scene introducing my primary antagonist, I hit a wall. The scene just did not feel right. It read like a flashback based on the preceding scenes.

I went to my storyboard and moved some scenes around. The logical place for this scene was the opening scene. I based this on the flow of ownership of the object that causes the main conflict in the plot and not on which character is introduced first. It just made more sense to me that the reader would want to know how the object got to where the protagonist obtains it. Also, it is a great set up to show just how nasty the antagonist is.

My dilemma came from several writing sources which stated, “Anything before the protagonist is introduced, is a prologue.” These sources further state that, “Prologues, with few exceptions, should be avoided.” Prologues require the author to write two opening scenes which cause the reader to start the story over. A prologue often contains characters other than the main characters of the story, is set in an early time, and/or is located in a different setting. It is a set up that may provide exposition the author can think of no other way to introduce to the reader. I have read novels with and without prologues and I understand what the writing sources were trying to say. I think most stories can do without a prologue quite nicely. That brings me back to the question of this post.

My opening scene introduces my antagonist, his evil personality, and the object which will be the main cause of conflict for the remainder of the story. The second short scene shows how the object changes hands before the protagonist is introduced and obtains the object in the third scene. I do not believe that the first two scenes fit the definition of a prologue as the timeline, antagonist, and conflict are consistent with the rest of the story plot. I’m not adverse to using a prologue. I’m just not sure that is what I’m dealing with.

So…when is a prologue not a prologue? Have you used a prologue in your writing? Did an editor ask you to either add or delete a prologue? What was their reasoning?

 

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My Scene

Several weeks ago I wrote a few posts about a dual-writing exercise that my writer’s group completed. (Dual Writing Exercise) We each started a scene and then another member of the group completed it. (Dual Writing Exercise – Part Deux) It was a fun exercise. However, being a bit of a control freak where my writing is concerned, I thought I would finish my own scene the way it was morphing in my own head. I admit I cheated in that I took longer than 30 minutes to write my ending. But, it was finished in one sitting with very little editing. Rough though it may be, a like the way it played out and can see some interesting future possibilities. So, here is my version of the scene.

The stench of stale beer and bad cigar smoke burned my nose and stung my eyes as I entered waterfront dive called the Broken Tankard. Tears filled my eyes from the smokey irritation. I blinked several times before the room came into focus.

A swirl of faces turned in my direction and quickly returned to the interests at hand. I walked toward the dark stained bar that ran along the back wall. My boots stuck to the floor as I picked my way through the jungle of tables and occupied chairs. Stains from semi-dried beer, blood, and other noxious fluids covered the floor. I tried to step around the worst of it. But, there were few dry spots to find. Two women stood on the stairs that led to the second floor. Wearing little more than undergarments, they tried to catch the eye of the patrons.

I continued to the bar but refrained from touching it as it was no cleaner than the floor.

“What do you want?” asked a small wiry man from behind the bar. His beady eyes never left mine as he carefully replaced a bottle beneath the bar.

Through the stench of the smoke and beer, I smelled the distinct chocolate aroma of magic coming from the man behind the bar.

“I’m looking for this woman,” I said as I handed him a faded photograph. “I was told she used to work here.”

The man looked at the picture of young woman wearing a wedding dress. She had a crescent-shaped birthmark on her neck. He glanced to the women on the stairs and then handed the picture back to me.

“Maybe I have seen her. Why are you looking for her?”

I stuffed the picture into my shirt pocket and said, “She’s my mother.”

A shriek from behind me drew my attention. I looked over my shoulder and saw a tiny bedraggled sprite take to the air from one of the tables. Across the table sat an equally bedraggled ogre who, until a moment ago, had been playing checkers with the now airborne sprite. The sprite drew what appeared to be a large darning needle from its belt and flew up to attack the huge ogre. Even seated the ogre was nearly seven feet tall.

“Die cheater,” the sprite screamed as it lunged up at the ogre’s face.

            The ogre calmly swatted at the enraged sprite. The ogre’s massive hand struck the sprite and launched it towards the wall. The sprite hit the stone wall with an audible spat. Its crumpled body slid down the wall until it lay unmoving on the sticky floor. No one lifted a finger to help.

            ”Nice place you have here…,” I said as I turned back to the bartender. “…Mom.”

            Standing where the wiry bartender had been, was the woman from the picture. She looked the same even though the picture was a century old. In place of the wedding gown were jeans and a black tank top.

            “I see you still prefer to hide in plain sight,” I said. “Your illusion was nearly flawless.”

            “Simpler is usually better,” she said flatly. Her forehead showed several small furrows as she looked at me.

            “Yeah. You’ve said that a time or two.”

            My mother was a powerful wizard, capable of holding her own with anyone or anything that wandered into her territory. Why she was hiding out in this flophouse was anyone’s guess. Her right hand was still out of sight beneath the bar. That made me a little nervous. She was still alive because she trusted no one. That she held no trust for her only son was not that surprising. I slowly took my hands out so she could see they were empty.

            “Why are you here, boy,” she asked.

            “First, the name you gave me was Derek. I’ve grown accustomed to it over the past one hundred and thirty-four years.”

            Her eyes narrowed slightly and I couldn’t help the slight upturn to the corner of my mouth.

            “Secondly, I have a message from your husband.”

            “So what does your dear old stepdad have to say?”

            “He passed through the Veil two weeks past. He asked me to find you.”

“So you have, out with it. What did he want to tell me, I have work to do?”

“He still loved you. Why I can’t explain.” I shook my head slightly as I continued, “That’s what he wanted me to tell you.”

“The man was a fool,” Mom said.

“That…” I cut her off before she could say anything else. “…is the first thing you’ve said in a hundred years that I agree with. He should have run when he saw you coming. You treated him like shit even though he worshiped the ground you walked on.”

I took a step forward. She responded by leaning back away from the bar and I saw the orb in her right hand.

“Leaving us was the best thing that you ever did. Good-bye, Mother.” I turned and began walking for the door.

“You spoiled brat. Do you think you can come into my territory, insult me, and then just walk out? Turn around you little son of a bitch!”

I waved my hand as if brushing her comment away and kept walking. The next second, a blast of energy washed over me as a wave crashes over a rocky shore. Tables, chairs, and patrons went flying before her spell, crashing into the far wall of the bar. I stopped in mid-stride and turned slowly to face the most powerful wizard on this half of the continent. She stood behind the bar and her eyes were at first, wide but she quickly recovered her composure. Her arm stretched over her head. The orb streamed red and orange flashes between her fingers. She flicked her left hand and I heard the front door slam. She looked at me from head to toe.

“I see your stepfather taught you a few things.”

“One or two.”

“Are you challenging me?” she asked. The light from the orb began to throb with power.

“I have no intention of challenging you mother,” I said as I began walking slowly toward her. I had waited a long time for this moment. “I just have a bit of advice for you.”

“And that would be?”

“Stay out of trouble and do not give me cause to return here.”

I stopped a few feet sort of the bar and she began to laugh.

The laughter stopped and her face took on a dangerous look, “And what if I don’t?”

I pulled back my jacket to expose a pin on my shirt the size of a half-dollar. The shape of the pin was that of a silver circle with two interconnected crescent moons within it, the four-moon phases device worn by the wizard king’s marshals.

“I will come back and I will kill you,” I said without emotion.

She stared at the pin in disbelief. Without waiting for her to comment, I turned and walked toward the door. I called on the device as I approached the door and the wards mother had placed there melted away. Then, just for spite, I walked through the door without opening it. As my body coalesced out on the street, I couldn’t help smiling at the thought of my father and stepdad looking down and laughing.

“Thank you. That was almost worth it,” I said aloud.

I stepped into my jeep and headed north out-of-town. A warlock in Taos was stalking a famous actress and the Wizard King liked her movies.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2012 in Actress and the Warlock

 

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The First Person

Most of my reading of late has been by authors, Jim Butcher and Kevin Hearne, who utilize the first person point of view in their urban fantasy series’. I enjoy the intimacy that this POV provides into the protagonist. I feel like I know these characters. I truly feel like I’m in their heads and feeling their pain. Usually, I end up screaming at them, sometimes out loud, that they should do something different because they obviously are too stupid to see what’s coming. My wife tends to look at me with disgust and shake her head when I get too loud. Anyway, I had not given much consideration to writing in first person for my fiction until a few weeks ago. I have written a few first person experiential vignettes but always looked to third person for my fantasy work.

During a writer’s group timed exercise I just started writing in first person. To say it was different would be a gross understatement. I had to keep telling myself to stay out of the secondary character’s heads. My protagonist would have no idea what the other individual was thinking except by watching and listening to other character’s reactions. Why I have not looked at this before is beyond me.

As I began to evaluate the exercise, it dawned on me that first person is a natural vehicle for a fantasy writer. When we fantasize, don’t we tend to put ourselves into the fantastic situation? We don’t know what the outcome will be and we certainly don’t have all the information of the universe at our disposal. We have to react without knowledge of other’s motivations.

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of taking one of my favorite characters, jump into their body, and take it for a spin without regard to what I think I know about their world. I did create it after all.

First, I plan to take my original exercise piece and finish the scene the way it was playing out in my head when I wrote the opening. It is somewhat different from how my fellow writer finished it (see Dual Writing Exercise – Part Deux).

Then, I think Yursi Sonal, my protagonist from a short story and several flash pieces, will become my experiment. Don’t worry, she won’t mind. In my world, she trusts me. 😉 I have another short story idea for her that I will try with first person.

So, before I plunge headlong into this without a care in the world, I have a few questions for those of you who are intimately familiar with this POV. What are some of the major issues that you have struggled with? E.g. Exposition of information the protagonist needs to know, continuity of antagonist’s motivations and actions, internal dialogue, etc. Do you prefer writing is first or third person? Why?

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2012 in Other Strangeness

 

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Reality, what a concept!

I have not spent an entire week at home for nearly two months. Between business travel (Anaheim, CA and New Orleans, LA) and family emergencies (3 trips to Iowa), even my own bed felt foreign when collapsed into it last Wednesday night. I have settled into my new job and the travel should be over for the most part. However the stress surrounding my mother-in-law’s passing will continue for a while until the estate gets settled. So… as things begin to settle down, I should be able to devote more time to my blog and more importantly to my writing in general. I am looking forward to getting back in the saddle. My travel and recent reality checks have fueled my imagination. The French Quarter of New Orleans is a real good place to find inspiration for unusual places and people.

Since I have missed several meetings for both of my writer’s groups, I need to get some material ready for submission. I have a couple new scenes for “Smoke and Goblet”, rattling around in my head that are just dying to get out.

Then there is trying to catch up on all of your postings (several hundred)! I hate missing some of your incredible insights. So it may take me a few days to work through them all.

Some of my upcoming topics will include first person POV, some additional views on the dual-writing exercise from previous posts, my recently remodeled home office (I.e. writing space), another vignette relating to campfires, and anything else that needs to be released.

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2012 in Other Strangeness

 

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