The second half of Stephen King's 'On Writing' should probably be required reading for every aspiring author.  In fact, it's one of those rare writing books that makes me want to go back and re-read chapters again to make sure I see clearly what he is saying...to mix a metaphor.

    The first half of the books is memoir.  If you're a Stephen King fan, it'll be interesting.  I think it does a good job of explaining one of the big mysteries of Stephen King's career: why he writes the stuff he does.  As far as sheer writing skill, Stephen King is amazing.  I think people will be assigned his books to study a century from now.  If he chose to write Fantasy, he'd be another Robert Jordan.  If he he chose to write straight fiction, he'd be up there with John Irving, nudging Tom Wolfe's chair from just below.  But he likes cheesy monsters, dark basements, chills up the spine.  But forget all that, when Stephen King is writing about people, he is at his most engrossing and truthful.

    The second half, though for me, is the meat of the book.  I could go on at length about all the useful stuff in there but I'd practically have to transcribe half the book.  Instead, I'll call out one thing that's valuable and one that's misleading, I think.

  First the good stuff.  One of my real struggles as a writer is knowing what to take out.  I'm terrible at cutting my own work.  I know no one else can do it, only I know what's important to the plot but I get lost staring at a 174k novel and trying to figure out how to cut out 34k of words I literally sweated out sometimes.  King doesn't make it easy but he lit a light.  I can see it, it doesn't illuminate everything but it gives me something to work towards.  It's all about taking out unnecessary words.  Sounds simple, doesn't it?  So is his 'magic formula', I think he'd be ok with me sharing it with you here:   The magic formula is First Draft - 10% = Second Draft.

  Sounds too simple, maybe.  And it doesn't tell enough but then it's a magic formula, you have to figure out how the trick works for yourself but King has several great chapters showing how and what he cuts. That's the most valuable thing I learned from this book.  Now I just need to find a way to apply it to Angel Odyssey.

    That was the sweet, now for the sour.  One of the misleading, maybe even destructive pieces of advice is to not outline.  He advocates just writing, pure right-brain, id-spewing writing. He doesn't worry about his endings and, I hate to say it, that's a big flaw in his writing.  If you've read enough of his books you'll maybe agree with me that Stephen King writes terrible endings. He writes great climaxes but after that...pppffft. Limp.  Listen, every writer is different. Let me emphasize that:  EVERY WRITER IS DIFFERENT.  What works for one won't work for another.  That's the agony and art of writing, discovering what works for you.  There is a lot of good that comes out of that trance-like writing you get when you're in the zone, when your subconscious comes out, (or your Muse or whatever you want to call it) and the words flow. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, follow that feeling. Don't break it for anything that doesn't involve blood or fire.  But for many writers, structure is important.  Knowing your ending is important.  Outlining your novel can solve a heck of a lot of plot problems and I speak from experience there.

    But that's just me.  The book is wonderful, it belongs on your bookshelf.  In fact, a 10th anniversary edition was just released.  Buy it.

    Tonight is IM gaming night, so little work will get done but I am fiddling with some ideas for short stories and my next novel. I just need to start outlining. 
 
 
Sorry about the extended downtime.  I had some site issues and the an exciting trip to the emergency room.  (Got a good story idea out of it, though)  

I have finished my prologue.  It's rough and that's ok.  I sent it off to one of my critique groups for feedback.  I probably should sit on it, then edit the crap out of it and only then send it off for critiquing.  But I don't have a lot emotionally wrapped up in the piece.  It came out at 5700 words, goes between Jael and Jacob's POV.  If I keep it, I should trim it down to 5k (or less...I'm wondering if I should keep the Jacob POV stuff).  

I also have a few book reviews on writing I'd like to pass along.  Tomorrow, Stephen King's On Writing.  For now though, I'm still alive, still writing and I'll still be updating this as close to every weekday as I can manage.
 
 
  Sorry about yesterday...and today...and frankly this week in general.  I just started my new job at Amazon testing the Kindle application.  It is all kinds of awesome but it means a new work schedule and a different rhythm to my writing.
  This week I'm going to focus on reading some books on writing.  I should have some thoughts and comments on them as time allows.  Next week I should be back at it, writing after work.  I may even try to do some writing on the bus, if that is possible.
  So, bear with me and I'll keep you informed.
  Oh, one tidbit of news: I have my appointment scheduled for a panel critique of my first chapter of Angel Odyssey.  At Norwescon, there is a writer's workshop.  This year I submitted something for critique.
  There are four people giving me feedback, not all are professional writers but most are.  This is my chance to hear what people who've done this for a living (mostly) think about my first 20 or so pages.
  So I have that to look forward to next month. 
  I do plan on listening to them but at the same time, I kind of want to send my work out before I hear what they have to say.  Might be foolish, who knows, but I have to trust my own writing instincts first and foremost.  That said, I'll be interested to hear if they have any suggestions for improvement.
 
 
  Yesterday was IM gaming day so not a lot of work got done.  I read a bit more of Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters.  Ugh.  I started skimming, just looking for the Aristotle quotes and pondering them. 
  Something good did come out of that.  Aristotle said (and I'm paraphrasing) that audiences will not reward a story where a good man suffers tragedy or where a very bad man gets rewarded.  He also says that a bad may suffering a tragedy also doesn't work.  So what does that leave?  For a drama, you need a morally compromised man who brings about his downfall due to an error in judgment.  Aristotle considered that to be the most effect plot at working an audience's emotions.
  Now I love villains and I like writing interesting villainous characters.  But I also prefer heroic protagonists who succeed due to their own efforts.  Still, it's an interesting idea.  One I may toy around with.  Smooth Charles is a bad man or at the very least, a morally mixed man. Maybe I should make the next Smooth Charles story more tragic, where Smooth gets done dirty because of a mistake in his own judgment.  It might be a good way to torture a protagonist, something I need to work on.  (I always want to help my characters succeed.  I don't mind wounding them, making them lose or get humiliated but I'm always rooting for them to succeed.  Probably a personal flaw in my character.)
  Anyway, that was good food for thought.  Again, but an annotated version of the Poetics and not that frelling book I'm struggling through.  (Seriously, I normally read hundreds of pages a day and this little flimsy thing is less than a hundred and I STILL haven't been able to force myself to finish it)
  Food for thought even thousands of years later.

 
 
  Big news in the past day or so.  I got my first two rejection letters.  One, from an agent (four months after I sent a terrible writing sample upon invitation) and the other from Pyr.  The former was for Angel Odyssey and the latter was Smooth Running. 
  Honestly, I'm impressed by how fast Pyr got back to me.  It's been almost a year since I sent Smooth Running off to Baen and I still haven't gotten my rejection letter.  So,  thanks to Rene Sears at Pyr for her time and promptness.  I'll have more for you to read soon enough.
  In honor of that rejection letter (email) I went down to Barnes and Noble. Not to buy a book, sadly, but to research other publishers.  And you know what, it's mostly fantasy on the shelves nowadays.  Or urban romance/fantasy whatever.  I saw exactly one publishing house that was enthusiastically embracing the guys with guns genre and that was Warhammer's Black Library.  On the other hand, one of my favorite sci-fi authors, William C. Dietz still had books on the shelf.  It looks like Ace is still around. So I wrote what is likely to be a very amateurish query letter and sent the first ten pages of Smooth Running off to Ace.
  So, yea.  You get rejected, you send the bloody thing back out.  Heck, I may do another line edit of Smooth Running this month.  Its been long enough since I looked at it.
  I started Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters by Michael Tierno.  Oy. Not so good.  Honestly, I suggest buying an annotated version of the Poetics instead of suffering through this book.  It is filled with jargon and the discussions of Aristotle's words are brief at best.  It's short but feel longer, like reading a text book, if you know what I mean.  Not recommended but I do suggest the Poetics themselves.  There is wisdom there about character, plot, structure and theme I just don't like the Tierno filter.
  Finally, I wrote 2500 words of Prologue yesterday and I'm pretty happy with it.  I'll finish it up today and maybe see if my critique group likes it.  Who knows, it may work as a short story.  Hah.  "Short".  Well, we'll see if I can keep it under 5k words.  Wish me luck there.
 
 
  Today I plan on picking up the prologue for Angel Odyssey that I cut and fiddling around with it.  Nothing serious, I just want to have fun and practice writing a bit.  I'm also going to start Arisototle's Poetics for Screenwriters.  I'm not wri

  I finished Donald Maass' book Writing the Breakout Novel yesterday.  I wish I'd read it before I'd begun Angel Odyssey.  I found it inspiring.  You hear a lot from other writers that your book can't just be 'good', that it has to be great.  I believe Lou Anders at Pyr said the same thing. I think this book has a lot of advice about what makes a great novel as opposed to a good novel.  I have been reading it off and on for months but I've been so immersed in Angel Odyssey that, to my shame, I hadn't finished it until yesterday.  Let me pass along a few thoughts that I found valuable from the book: 

  Raise the Stakes.  This is the advice that drove my fourth draft.  Make each plot point larger and more serious.  Rather than going for a drive in the country, have your character be rushing to the hospital.  Then if your character has a car accident, it means more.  Have your characters deliver vital intelligence about a coming invasion.  In my case, I had the bond between Jael and Jacob start killing them.  Now they have to get Jael home and they have to have her healed.  It makes the journey mean more. 

  Make your characters larger than life.  Have them say the things you always wanted to say.  Have them mouth off to an authority figure (I'm not saying there won't be consequences for it but have them do it).  Have them hit on a girl way out of their league.  Have them steal a fighter plane and fly it across the border.  Have them beat the crap out of a pack of teenaged hoodlums harrasing people in the park.  Whatever your daydreams are, do that.  And do it big.

 Have them kick down the door with a shotgun in their hands, have them rescue the girl, have them slap the face of a philandering spouse.  Defy an army.  Die heroically.  Save a life.  Every scene/chapter needs structure.  Every scene, every chapter is your novel in miniature. (this is a new thought for me and something I'm going to work hard on) 
 
Each scene needs to have a: sympathetic character, conflict, complications and a turning point, climax or resolution. 

  Seriously, buy it, read it.
 
 
  Happy March!  Well, we made it through February and it's all down hill from here.  Yep, down hill.  Picking up speed.  Where are the brakes again?
  This month I am awaiting feedback from my trusted first readers but I'm not going to be idle.  I have a close line edit to complete by March 31st.  I also plan on reading some of my books on writing.  Today's book: Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass.  I'll give a summary later but I've found the book to be inspiring.
  I'm also going to be fiddling with my next novel idea.  I'll try the Snowflake method (http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/snowflake.php) and likely write a few scenes.  If they work out, I may expand one into a short story for submission.  We'll see.
  I am also going to fiddle a bit with the prologue and epilogue for Angel Odyssey which got cut for length and for the stubborn conviction of editors I spoke to that no one likes to read prologues.  Rabble.  Still, we'll see if it's any good once the rough draft is done.
  For now, I get to READ for a bit.  Ahhhh.
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