Musings on the Craft of Writing

Posts tagged “writers

►Preserving the Otherworld – (Contaminants to the Fantasy genre)

We who love fiction share a mixed appetite for varying levels of drama, conflict, intrigue, mystery, action, etc. But why do some of us love Dark Age Fantasy in particular? I think that on the deepest level we choose the Fantasy genre for a specific reason—to step into the “Otherworld,” a premodern, open world that is radically different from our own world. And it’s not simply to have a “different” world than ours—if that were the case then any other genre would do just as well (especially sci-fi).

Fantasy-lovers want a particular feeling—the feeling of mystical, Dark Age Otherness. The typical pictures are some mixture of King Arthur’s Camelot and Tolkien’s Middle Earth, filled with endless forests, dangerous caverns and mystical glades. We want the magic of that old mythology brought to life over and over in the Fantasy tales we read.

Of course, our reading pallets vary on what triggers distaste, but I also think it’s not completely subjective. Some of us hate spicy foods, some love it, but we all pretty much agree that some foods do not belong together. We may love pizza or peanut-butter or oatmeal, but we don’t throw them together in a blender to consume them. We can at least agree that genres should maintain some boundaries, else the very meaning of ‘genre’ falls apart.

And here is my problem with some (especially contemporary) Fantasy—Modernic contamination.

Dark Age Fantasy is much more than simply a primitive technological status. What turns me off as a reader is a Fantasy tale that feels like the world is filled with a million LARPers/SCA members instead of people and societies of this desired Otherworld. They are (hopefully) lacking guns and cars, but the anachronisms do not stop with tools and toys.  Other jarring anachronisms include Fantasy characters who possess our modern psychology and worldview.

Ghosts, spirits, witches, curses and gods should be unquestionably real and dangerous to these people. Fantasy characters should never deconstruct religion or gods; characters in these worlds may be terrified (or even hate) these supernatural elements and creatures, but never sit back in their philosopher’s chair and explain a culture’s “mythological inheritance.”  Skepticism (and atheism) should be alien to these worlds. These characters should feel awe and reverence with the creatures of faerie.

A Fantasy world should feel vast, and largely unexplored. Most importantly, it should feel untamed. The world should not be cleanly mapped out, hex-by-hex. Knowing the world in this detail shrinks it, diminishing its mystery and magic.

And speaking of magic… This is a major toothache. Characters in Fantasy worlds should never take magic lightly. Magic should never be equated with science. Magic isn’t just about the effect it brings. A spell that gives light is not just a substitute for a flashlight.  A spell that wounds someone is not just the counterpart to a gun.  Scrying is not radar detection. The point of a Fantasy setting is to generate this feeling of the Fantasy-Other. Science & modern technology gives us measurements and equations; magic is the tapping into the ineffable—the realm of the faerie. Magic is bound up with mystery and (sometimes) the divine.

So how did these contaminations become common? While it could simply be the passage of time with such a large number of Fantasy authors writing now as opposed to 30 years ago, I think that a huge Fantasy-breaking influence has come from RPGs (and CRPGs) where there is no attempt at generating/preserving the feeling of the Fanasty Otherworld. [This is also a loss to the Fantasy RPG community, who, albeit to a lesser degree than in literature, could pursue this Otherworld-feeling in their gaming sessions.]  Some Fantasy writers (and the readers who buy their books) grew up playing C/RPGs, and do not feel the pull of the old otherworldliness.  In fact, they may have no idea what this entire post is about.

Perhaps, as King wrote, “the world has moved on,” and the days of this “true Fantasy” are ending. I hope not. I know that trends move all over the spectrum. But I think it would be an incredibly large loss if the spirit of Fantasy was lost in the morass of modernity.


►Eavesdropping on a Pubbing Argument

The discussions I’m linking to are long (so long that I printed them off), but for all of us interested in the publishing industry (especially we who are torn about whether we should self-pub or go to the traditional houses), this is well worth our time.

I’ll break it its three main chronological parts:

1) Steve Zacharius (owner of (more…)


►Your Vault is Your Hope

As I’ve said before, being a novel-writer is a lot like pushing Sisyphus’ stone.  We work for months or years on each draft, spend serious cash seeking help to perfect it, and then repeat that process until we believe that manuscript is perfect.  Most do this for the hope of becoming paid, full-time authors.

But intermittently, we writers are smacked with the reality that we’ve been digging in the mines for years… for nothing.  Playing the odds, the vast majority of us will either make a pittance (more…)


►Typing ≠ Writing

typists type

So true.

It feels so good to “actually be ‘writing’” the story.  Although it may sound strange, a danger is hiding here, for the emotional highs we get from “finishing” sections/chapters/books can sometimes hinder the creative process.  We have to be careful to consistently step back, get to the window and stare.

We should repeat this practice throughout the entirety of our projects.  Milling over our stories before, during and after the keyboarding is vital to writing a great novel. Keep musing, charting, planning,  critiquing and, of course, typing.  Novel writing is the sum of those parts.

~Daniel


[Reblog] Top 10 Tips for Writers.

An excellent list from Jacqui Murray for writers to keep in mind.  (Actually, the whole site contains great advice for us.)

~Daniel


►To the Purveyors of 50 Shades of Twilit Shit

Got this jolt from Blake today in a coffee house…

Degrade first the Arts if you’d Mankind Degrade.
Hire Idiots to Paint with cold light & hot shade:
Give high Price for the worst, leave the best in disgrace,
And with Labours of Ignorance fill every place.

-William Blake

(I’ve nothing to add.)

~Daniel


►Sisyphus’ Pen

Want to get rich quick?  Be famous with a life of ease?  Then being an author is a terrible move for you.

    ~~What the outsider think the writer's life is like...

~~What the outsiders think the writer’s life is like…

Virtually all of the money which makes it into a writer’s pocket goes to a tiny fraction of the authors.  For every Stephen King and John Grisham out there, there are thousands of (more…)


[Reblog]- Five Mistakes Killing Self-Published Authors

I have only posted about Self-pubbing once, wherein I talk about the downside to the “Revolution.”  This post by Kristen Lamb is well-considered and well-written.  I encourage all Indie-pubbers out here to read it.

~Daniel


►My Secret, Dark Superpower

(It’s dark because it’s buried under a bunch of junk in the garage.)

OK, I guess the secret’s out now… I do have a superpower.  Thanks a lot, Lois Lane– I mean, Vicki Vale– I mean, Skiffy & Fanty for blowing my cover. The-Tick1

≡ –> Daniel’s Superpower

Enjoy,

Me

~~


►My Novel-Writing Methodology: The Actual Writing

After I have done all that I listed here I finally get to sit down at the keyboard and start typing it.

1)      I am sure to have a “sacred space” for my writing without distractions.  I write in my basement where there is (by design) no Network connection.  (I even went out a few years ago and bought a used laptop with a broken wireless adapter for this purpose.)  I also set the mood for my writing.

2)      I lay out my scene list from my pre-drafting work and start typing.  I have a master folder on each computer wherein I put a folder for that day’s work.  I make a different Word doc for each chapter.    (more…)


►Started Tapping the Keyboard

Happy to have set my brain on fire this weekend.  I have, after 9 weeks of planning a series (a septology), begun Draft One of book one.

This septology is an epic (I loathe how this word has been kidnapped by the equivalent of neo-valley-girls) dark medieval Fantasy series.  I’m hoping that my skills as an author have improved to the point (more…)


►My Novel-Writing Methodology: Pre-Drafting

We all have a method to our novel-writing (even if we’ve never charted it out).  These are the 7 steps I go through before I begin Draft One.

[Note: I have no illusions that this is my creation.  I simply absorbed the ideas of multiple veteran writers and synthesized them into a working model for myself.]

1)      Pure Musing

  1. After getting the seminal idea for the story, I spend time concentrating on it, but (more…)

►Aut Disce Aut Discede

My experience with authors is that story-telling has been part of their lives for as far back as they can recall.  It’s true of me as well.  Authors I have spoken with express the same joy (and need) of writing.  But why are most novels so humdrum?  How is it that we (the authors) can be so exuberant about our stories and yet leave so many who read our stories so lukewarm?   The primary problem, I think, is that we don’t take the writing craft seriously.

When I began my first novel I had a premise which I (and others) fell in love with.  And so I sat down and started writing it.  I was educated, had been writing for school for years, was well-read, etc..  But between the completion of Draft 1 and Draft 2, I did the best thing possible for my writing—I schooled myself.

(more…)


►Self-publishing, or “Revolutions do smell bad”

Over the past couple of years the talk of the “Self-publishing revolution” has spread into all corners of the Interwebs.  Writers are Eugène_Delacroix_-_La_liberté_guidant_le_peuplecelebrating that we are now no longer at the mercy of literary agents or publishing houses (who sometimes seem to make their publishing choices by shaking a Magic 8 Ball).  We also know that nepotism, cronyism and all kinds of other unfair –isms are pushing people up into the “legitimately” published sphere.  The traditional publishing houses used to be indispensable, unless you happened to have a spare $100K lying around to publish and market your book.  Even in the Internet’s early days, the “Vanity publishers” realized that they could buy book-pressers and print for desperate authors.  And now the internet is so powerful that the traditional marketing they used is stuck in the back seat (if not the trunk).  The monopoly is broken.

But here comes the other side…  (more…)


►”A Little to the Left?” (On Choosing Test-Readers)

Conscious of it or not, when we walk into a home we are in a state of mind which determines how we will react to everything inside of it.  When I come into my own home, I’m only affected by anything out of the norm (the more abnormal, the greater my reaction would be).  It’s “home”—I’m not there to critique the chairs, tables, pictures or lighting.  I’m there to relax, work, eat, whatever.  When you go visit friends (more…)


►Muses and Monsters

Novel writing is complicated, but not nearly so complicated as novel writers.  Creativity is a strange animal, and it leads authors in strange directions.  Recently I discovered Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, which is primarily about overcoming resistance and truly chasing the artist’s life.  It’s filled with many excellent insights, and I recommend it.  However, he does spend some time discussing his sincere belief in the ancient Muses and Daimons  and their influence over his own writing.  (In case you don’t know, this is tantamount to saying that you really do believe in Zeus, and that Apollo is really guiding you on a journey.)

apollo_muses

And then last week I came across a Ted Talk where Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) makes similar claims of the guiding force of supernatural agents. Weird?  Well, yeah, but really this is no different than people believing that the “Holy Ghost guides them” in their projects, as some Christian artists assert.

(more…)


►Without which you will fail

Scores of elements can be listed that are prerequisites for someone soaring high in their craft, from ludicrously overpaid sports icons to the world’s deadliest assassins.  There are many essential skills a writer must have in order to produce great work.  The most important one, however, is not all that mystical.  It’s not “inspiration” (however we want to define that).  It’s not witty, flowing prose or enthralling characters.  It’s not complex (but unconvoluted) plots, and it’s as sure as hell not how strongly the writer feels when he writes it.

This single skill, to the disappointment of all of those who believe that lightning will strike and make you a Shakespeare, is simply iron-clad discipline.

True success as an artist means that you’ve accepted that it’s adult-time; artistry of any realm (even being a world-class assassin) means that you must develop serious discipline in order to perfect those 20-30 other serious skills required to succeed. (Being a superb marksman by itself only accounts for a small fraction of the killing business.)  Of course, by ‘succeed’ I do not mean that you got published by a major publishing house and/or sold millions of copies.  That happens with a lot of people who I’d call mediocre (if I am feeling generous).  Nepotism/cronyism/billion dollar religious cults can get any hack to the NYT top 10 list.

(more…)