Thursday, June 21, 2018

How to Level Up

This week's question is, how do you level up as a writer?  And that's a really good question.  For me, the big answer is by lifting EVERYONE up.  The rising tide raises all boats.

That means being a mentor for up and coming authors.  That means being a champion for new books when they come out.  That means, when you're climbing over the wall, you reach back and take the hand of the person behind you.

So, I strive to do a few things: I try to treat every hopeful professional writer like the thing they are working on is the thing that will be their first sale.  I try to treat every struggling professional like their next thing is their big breakout.  I try to treat everyone I meet in this business like they are about to be the Next Big Thing. 

To me, that's just common courtesy.

Now, I'm sure I've had moments where I've failed this metric.  There's been plenty of times where I've been in my own head and not realized how my actions could be perceived.  Trust, as the line from Twelfth Night goes, that it's something of my negligence, nothing of my purpose.

That's also why it's important to me to pay things forward.  Things like teaching at workshops, or talking to prospective SFF writers at the Writers League of Texas Conference.  These things matter. 
Because nothing helps you level up better than helping others.  So have at it.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Staying Out of those Painted Corners

If you've been paying attention to me and my various babbling on writing, you know I'm a big fan of the outline.  I try to avoid the whole "paint myself in a corner" problem by sorting out the big path of the plot beforehand.  If I know the line of things from A to B to C and so on, I'm less likely to get lost in the weeds in the first place.  Now, that doesn't mean that sometimes things don't work, or I write a bit in one direction and go, "Wait, I need to go back and thread something else in here to be the way out."  

But I know how the whole story hangs together, and that's because I have the outline.  (And the outline of the larger arcs, etc.)  And the outline tends not to have plot cul-de-sacs or corners I paint myself into because it's got a solid structure.

I've talked about the twelve-part outline structure before, and it's the basic scaffolding I use to craft an outline.  Here it is:
  1. Establishment: Show character(s) and initial situation. Here’s where you set up not only who your main character(s) is, but what the rules of the road are.  What is “normal” for your story?  If there is magic, for example, you need to let the reader know here.  Especially in a genre story, you need to make it clear what’s going on.
  2. Incitement: Incident or new information spurs protagonist. This may be interwoven with Establishment, or exist on its own, but the important this is that the something changes to throw us out of the Established “normal” and gets the protagonist acting. 
  3. Challenge: Minor antagonists come into play. You can’t throw the big guns at your protagonist yet.  Either your protagonist isn’t aware of the Big Bad yet, or doesn’t understand the scope of what is happening, or just plain isn’t ready for the big picture yet.
  4. Altercation:  Conflict with minor antagonists.  Give your protagonist a hard-won victory, even if it’s minor or only symbolic.  This lets you show your protagonist as having the competence and drive to deserve being at the center of the story. 
  5. Payback:  Minor antagonists report back to major, allowing a strike back.  That hard-won victory may have felt good, but it isn’t without consequences.  Perhaps it means that your Big Bad just re-evaluated your protagonist, and has elevated the threat level from Nuisance to Problem.
  6. Regrouping: Protagonist reacts to the payback, possibly in an ineffective way; thinks confrontation is over, relaxes.  Here is where your protagonist has another victory, but not the victory they think they’ve had.  This is where they make a mistake, be it underestimating the antagonist, or just sloppy pride.  That deep character flaw you’ve woven into them is set up to bite them back.
  7. Collapse: Protagonist loses stability and safety of base situation.  Everything falls apart.  Whatever your protagonist thought they could count on crumbles under their feet.   
  8. Retreat: Protagonist must leave base situation to escape threat from main antagonist. Deal them that serious blow.  Force their hand.
  9. Recovery: Protagonist establishes a new situation, enough to be stable and safe. You need to give them a chance to lick their wounds, figure out where they stand, and if they can accept that.
  10. Investment: Personal reason forces protagonist back into fray with main antagonist—they won’t choose to walk away.  This is where you make your heroes.  At this stage, a lesser protagonist would cut their losses, admit defeat.  Your protagonist can’t do that.  It’s time to see this to the end.
  11. Confrontation: Goes after main antagonist, partly to reclaim investment. Now you’re at the climax. 
  12. Resolution: Defeat of main antagonist, which can create a new base situation or re-establish stability of original one.
If this is a useful tool for you, by all means, use it.  I developed it because I needed it in my toolbox, and it's been a very helpful thing for me.  If it helps you as well, all the better.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Saving the Mental Energy for the Work

Everyday, my social media feeds are kind of an assault.

Like, the world is a trash fire and there are tweets and links and stories pretty much every hour on the hour (and every minute in between) reminding you that things are horrible and people are garbage.  This is both for the world at large, and in the microcosm of the SFF Community.

(Not everyone, and I do try to make a point of reminding us all of that.)

A lot of times, you pretty much have to make a choice: do you watch the trash fire, or do you do the work?  Which wolf do you feed?

(And that's not even getting into the creative-energy-drain that is other parts of life, family, finances, work, household, etc., etc.)

So how do I keep my head clear so I can work?  Honestly, a lot of willful ignorance.  A lot of deciding NOT to pay attention to the trashfire.  Admittedly, a lot of that comes down to privilege: the worst of the trashfire things are NOT attacks on me or my daily life.  I'm able to ignore it in ways others don't have the luxury to.  And I need to so I can get my work done.

There's enough horrible in the world as it is, people.  Be excellent to each other.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Announcement: Blogging Semi-hiatus

So, some seven years ago I made a decision that made a lot of sense at the time.  I had a website and a blog, but I wasn't doing much of anything with them.  After attending some seminars at DFWCon, I decided I needed to be regular and habitual about blogging, and so I pledged to blog every Monday and Thursday, rain or shine.

And for seven years, I've held to that, even when I've not really had a lot to say.  Partly for the pure discipline of it, and partly to maintain a steady presence on here.  I wanted anyone who came to my website to be able to say, "Hey, this guy is reliable, this guy sticks with what he sets out to do."  I mean, the web is littered with tumbleweed-filled fledgling-author sites where they have a flurry of "I'm totally gonna do this blog thing" posts, and then they drizzle out to nothing. 

But here's the thing: I don't have to prove, to myself or the world at large, that I can reliably work with discipline.  I've got the bonafides: between seven books in three-and-a-half years, two more on the way, and seven years of regular twice-a-week blogs, I've shown that in spades.  Plus regularly posting here is time and energy that takes away from actual writing.  Between what I have on deck and other projects I have planned, I've got enough working that I don't ALSO need to habitually blog for its own sake.  And posting-for-its-own sake was starting to feel like the signal-to-noise ratio was getting low.

So, for the foreseeable future, I won't be posting regularly on Mondays any more.  I will still do Thursdays at SFFSeven and mirror those posts here.  And I'll post when I have something significant to announce, or some topic I really want to talk about, but not to any set schedule. 

If you are looking for things-I-want-to-talk-about-not-to-any-set-schedule, of course, follow my Twitter.  It's fun and I have pictures of food.

Now back to the word mines.  See you all down there.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

It's not where you get your ideas, it's how you fuel your tank

"Where do you get your ideas?" is the question put to authors a lot, and it's fundamentally the wrong question.

The ideas are always out there.  They are almost irrelevant.  If you're looking for them, if you're thinking creatively of how to integrate them to each other, you'll find them.  What matters is how you turn that idea in to a story.

And that goes into how you're keeping your tank full.

By which I mean, as a writer, you should always be taking in input while you're making output.  That doesn't necessarily mean Read All The Books--- but you should be reading, of course-- but any other thing that can fuel your imagination: movies, television, music, art, anything.  That's what's going to give you the little bits that weave together to become new ideas. 

And you need that.  You can't keep driving on an empty tank.  It never works.

Monday, May 28, 2018

More German News



It's been a busy weekend, friends, so I'll just share some quick news.  In a couple months we'll be getting the second German Maradaine novel, DIE CHRONIKEN VON MARADAINE - DIE FEHDE DER MAGIER.  (i.e., A Murder of Mages).  Well, now I can tell you that next February Bastei Lubbe will put out the third, DIE ALCHEMIE DES CHAOS.  And it's got a pretty swank cover.
Beyond that, I've got plenty of work to get to.  Summer is around the corner.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

My current WIP: The Shield of the People

Talking about my current WIP is a bit odd, because it's the sequel to a book that you all haven't read yet.  I mean, I could talk about my favorite bits in THE SHIELD OF THE PEOPLEbut it's lacking context for you. 

One thing I am enjoying in this one-- and to a lesser degree this applies to THE WAY OF THE SHIELD as well-- is a different kind of antagonist.  At least one of them. Namely, I have an antagonist whose goal is something that is a complete anathema to Dayne, but methods that are completely in sync with him.  So Dayne doesn't respect what the antagonist wants to do, but deeply respects the way he's trying to go about it, and therefore the person doing it.

One of the things I like about this series is a lot of the characters are fundamentally good people who are trying to do good things-- but they each have a very different idea of what that means.  That leads to, for me, fascinating situations of the lines between rebellion, revolution and lawlessness, and where those lines fall when, fundamentally, you believe in the system.

A lot of that is what The Maradaine Elite series is about.
That, and cool fight scenes.  Always cool fight scenes.