Friday, December 28, 2012

The Dangers of Having an Opinion

It's the new millenium and if you want to break into this wacky field of publishing new writers must dip their toes into the potential quagmire of Social Media.  It is the cheapest way to get your name out into the world.

It is also the fastest way to put your foot in your mouth, or having painstakenly gained a following, lose it because you are a human being with your own personal values.

The recent shootings in America has rekindled the old gun-control arguments.  I have an opinion on this.  An author I like to read has a differing opinion.  Needless to say, it has affected me and I wonder if I will read any more of this author's works.

This is the risk you take when voicing opinions on Facebook, Twitter, or blogs. Not such a big thing if you are an established author with a sizeable following, but when you are a small fish in a big pond, you might want to reconsider.  Every fan has the potential of selling an author's work to others by word-of-mouth.  Should you lose that fan, well, the opposite might happen.

One might argue this is my fault, that I'm not mature enough and should get over it.

Immature?  Then I should get over all the evil things Hitler did because, after all, he did pull Germany out of economic ruin, right?

Only a moron would bring Hitler into it.  /unfriend

An extreme example, but you get the picture.

I'm not telling anyone what to write on their blogs,  just be careful. Like it or not, at it's heart writing is a business, and like all good businesses, sometimes we have to make concessions to keep the customer happy even if it means biting our tongues now and then.


Congratulations Suzanne, and thanks.

When, at the end of 2011, Suzanne Church first told the SWG her intention of writing a blog post every week, we were skeptical, if not critical. After all, if you are writing a blog post, you aren't writing fiction, right?

But she did it writing some 52 posts in 2012.  Not just token "This is my post" paragraph either, but full blown essays on the topic of writing.  So, on behalf of the Gang, I would like to thank Suzanne for her efforts and congratulate her on a job well done.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Five Ways to Write During the Holidays

The holiday season always throws me off my writing game.

I love to cook. I love to eat. I believe holidays should involve several food comas.

When do I squeeze in writing?

Whenever I can.

Five Ways to Squeeze in Writing During the Holidays:

5. Brainstorm in the shower

No matter what's on the celebration agenda, you have to have at least one shower a day. Why not use that time to brain storm your current writing project?

This week, I plan to brainstorm every day, to come up with a rocking premise for Tesseracts 17.

4. Go for a walk

More specifically, go for a walk and bring your phone. Use the sound note recording feature to write while you're on the walk. You can find time to transcribe the details later.

Remember the food coma? Well if you don't go for the occasional walk, you're going to gain a billion pounds by the end of the holidays.

3. Exploit your captive audience

Last week, I suggested you read your comedy aloud to your guests to see how well the jokes fly. Reading aloud is always a good idea. Sometimes you'll get more ideas about how to edit, and you might even notice the occasional glaring error.

Not that you, or I, have any of those glaring errors. Right? :)

I've been working on a particularly nightmarish story for Night Terrors III and I hope to read it aloud to my guy during the break..

2. Submit a story before 2012 ends

If you're like me, you probably have one story that's ready (or a couple of reads away from ready) to send back out. And you'll feel better about your submission rate if you send out one more before the year is out.

I always find that submitting a story awakens my writing muse, and I almost always want to scribble down a few ideas, or a story start right after. Use this submission exercise to get the juices flowing and meet your hundred word daily quota.

Remember that story I'm going to read aloud and then send along to Night Terrors III? Well their deadline is January 1, 2013. So I'll either sub the story before Dec 31st to increase my submission count, or use it as a first sub for 2013.

And the number one way to make time to write during the holidays:

1. Make writing time your present to yourself

You know the scene. Everyone's ripping open presents and showing off their cool stuff. And if you have kids, they likely want to immediately play with said cool stuff. That's when you cash in one of your time-to-write cards

What are these cards?

Write down the words "I will write uninterrupted for one hour" on ten cue cards/old Christmas cards, or whatever using a BIG BLACK MARKER. Then wrap the cards and place them under the tree, with To: Your Name From: Santa on the gift tag.

Once I'm done posting this blog entry, I'm making up the cards and putting them under my tree.


Trust me, the more time you make for writing, the less guilty you'll feel by the end of the season.

And even if you only use one of those ten cue cards, you'll have the other nine to help you have a fresh start in 2013.

Do It Now:
Make those ten cue cards, wrap them, and get them under the tree. (Of course, if you don't celebrate Christmas, there won't be a tree, but you can still give the present to yourself in a non-Christmas/Christian manner.)

Start thinking about your writing resolutions for 2013.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Dying Is Easy, Comedy Is Hard

I looked up the quote that is the title of this blog, but no one is sure who actually said it first. But it is very true. Comedy is hard.

Hard to explain, hard to write, hard to deliver, and most importantly, it's extremely hard to get right.


Because if it was easy, everyone would be writing comedy.

Types of Comedic Writing

The Pun

Brad Carson, another Stop-Watch Gang member, is a master punster. While puns aren't my standard comedic MO, I do throw one into a story occasionally. If you're going to use a pun, make sure it fits in the story, or it will stick out like a sore thumb!

I would make a pun here, right now, but my thumb's still aching from the last one.

The Recurring Gag

Sometimes a joke will repeat throughout a story. Usually two times, but it can occur more often (although it might then feel "tired" if overused). I used to say to my kids, "Once is funny. Three times is annoying."

For instance, in one of my stories, the main character wakes up in yesterday's clothes and spends the remainder of the story looking rather ragged. Every time he meets an adversary, they usually say to him, "You look like crap." By about the second or third time, it's not funny for the protagonist, but the phrase is funny to the reader.


Think Monty Python.

Then go a step further.

For example:

What if five guys decide to make money by robbing the rich old guy in the neighbourhood? But once they break in, they discover he's a werewolf. And after the old man eats the first robber, his vampire friends arrive for their weekly poker game. And the remaining robbers have to hide in the bathroom (because maybe vampires and werewolves never pee), and then an army of silverfish pour out of the tub and it just so happens one of the robbers is terrified of silverfish, so he runs screaming into the midst of the poker game where the vampires suck him dry.

Okay, that doesn't sound absurd enough (yet). I will have to think about how much more absurd the situation could be. Robot zombie silverfish perhaps? :)

Satire and Sarcasm

Satire and sarcasm are my bread and butter.

In my authorial voice, my characters tend to be smart alecks who make blatant snaps at their friends whenever possible. Probably because I tend to employ sarcasm more often than not in my everyday life.

Sometimes, the best way to write a comedy is to take an overused story (like Cinderella or the Odyssey) and totally make satirical fun of it.

For example:

What if Cinderella is a guy who used to be a boxer and now he scrubs floors in a fish processing plant at night. And when he isn't invited to the ball, maybe he loses his rubber glove and it's found by a the gay millionaire owner of the fish processing conglomeration? Maybe they end up falling in love over a pile of fish guts?

Again, that doesn't sound very funny to me (yet), but sometimes comedy is all about trying new ideas and seeing if they float (Yay!) or sink like boulders (back to editing).

The Old Standard

Some jokes never get old. I've used many a classic, such as, Why did the chicken cross the road? and Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Yes, I had the audacity to use both of the above jokes in my chickens-take-over-the-world story, "Yummy Mutants" which appeared in Oddlands Magazine. As a matter of fact, I used every single chicken joke ever written in that story.

Which leads me to...

Go High or Go Home

If you're going for as funny as you can possibly be, then don't hold back. Add another joke. Then five more. Fill that story to its maximum joke capacity.

For example, in the Mel Brooks movie, Young Frankenstein, Brooks uses just about every comedic trope. The man was a genius at never letting up when it came to packing in as many possible versions of comedy as possible: the sight gag, the running gag, the pun, the cliché, the absurd, the spontaneous, the eclectic, and the satirical.

And Marty Feldman simply cannot be beat in terms of comedic timing.

If you have not seen the movie, make time. See how many of the tropes you can spot.

Once you stop laughing and get back to working on your own comedy, I suggest you read your work-in-progress aloud. To an audience.

If they don't laugh, you have some work to do.

If they do laugh, but in the wrong places, then you have even more work to do.

Like most arts, your comedy will improve with practice.

Make a few edits, then read the new version to a different audience, and hope that you hear more laughs the second time around.

Lather, rinse, repeat. And repeat again.

Repeat a whole ton more.

You might get sick of the story, but that's okay. Because comedy is hard work, and if you're laughing every time, then you're on the right track.

To use yet another movie reference, Shrek is funny every single time. (The original movie, not the sequels.) The writers took a very long time to ensure they got the comedy right.

Do It Now:
If you've never seen Shrek or Young Frankenstein, then beg, borrow, or buy yourself a copy and watch them ASAP.

Write the first 100 words of a comedic piece. Read it aloud to someone. (It's a holiday, you're bound to have friends and/or family around.) Make notes of the funny parts when they laughed and when they didn't. Edit accordingly.

Friday, December 14, 2012

New cover art by Costi Gurgu

“Inner Diverse” by Nina Munteanu—second book of "The Splintered Universe Trilogy"— is released today by Starfire World Syndicate.

Cover art and design for this second book are by Costi Gurgu.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Writers and These Things Called Blogs

If you're reading this post, then you read blogs. (Or at least you read this one.)


Yes, I'm asking a direct question. Responses to this question can be entered in the comments section. (You might as well scroll down there, anyway, because there's juicy stuff in the Do it Now section this week.)

Still not sure? Well allow me to answer the question.

Why do I, personally, read blogs?

(1) To catch up on my writer friends' lives.

My circle of writer friends live all over this lovely planet. One big cluster in the Toronto area (since Toronto is fairly close to where I live), many scattered across Canada (which is a huge geographical area), several scattered across the United States (because they are our big neighbours to the south), and a few scattered across Australia (because I attended Clarion in Australia).

Since visiting all of these people is financially and logistically impossible, I see them at occasional conventions, and keep up between cons via social media (Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LiveJournal, Blogger, and the like).

Five years ago (pre-Facebook), LiveJournal was more active and I would read my friends' blog posts on a regular basis. Today, I catch snippets via Twitter or Facebook and then search them out via links to their blogs. Back then, having a blog presence was more important for a writer.

Now, most writers have a presence on as many social media as time permits them to update on a regular basis.

What if all of your friends live close by? Or you simply don't want to endure the nuisance which is posting all of your personal crap onto the internet?

Post anyway. Even if the process feels a bit silly, or makes you a tad uncomfortable, or you don't seem to have the time.

Do I have to?

Short answer: Yes!

Which leads me to the second reason I read blogs:

(2) To learn.

If you're a writer then you have information in your head about how this whole writing thing works. You understand on a fundamental level How To:
- put words on paper
- express ideas
- stay motivated
- endure rejection.

I've learned what I know (currently) about my craft from:
- workshops
- books on writing
- writing and receiving critiques
- reading other writers' blogs
- writing.

Notice how reading other writers' blogs is in the list. Writers write about the process. They whine when they're in the middle of the book and full of doubt. They jump for joy when they submit a round of edits to the publisher. They brainstorm when they're toying with a particularly difficult concept.

I find it comforting to share these moments with others. Hearing about their activities gives me hope that I might also experience these joys and frustrations. If not, (or if my experiences are slow in the making) then I can enjoy them vicariously in the mean time.

The old adage: Misery loves company is true. Especially when the majority of your work as a writer is done alone, in a quiet (or loud) place, butt-in-chair, pounding away at a keyboard.

So how else would you love all of that misery-company if not by reading blog posts (or posts on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc.)

Which leads me to the third reason why I read writers' blogs:

(3) As motivation.

During NaNoWriMo, when all of my friends are posting their word counts, I get a little competitive. (Okay, a LOT competitive!)

At the end of the year, as people post their summaries of number of words written, number of stories sold, number of rejections received, etc. I also reflect. And my competitive juices flow like a river in spring.

Reading about how hard other writers work, gets me to thinking about how hard I will need to work to (hopefully) be at least as successful as they are.

Have I convinced you to read blogs?

Have I convinced you to start your own blog?

The cool part is that blogs are free to set up. (And it looks as though Blogger is winning over LiveJournal on the popularity/ease of use front.)

If you are a writer, and you've ever considered starting a blog, there's no time like the present.

You've got 19 days left in 2012 to come up with a good name for the blog and then set it up so that you can begin 2013 as a blogger.

You might not blog much at the beginning. You might not be able to think up a topic every week (or every month, or every day, whatever frequency you decide to aim for).

Keep blogging.

Keep writing.

And one day soon, you might find you have a following.

Or not.

What matters is that you try blogging. Even if only for a few days/weeks. Blogger does allow users to delete a blog if you feel as though the exercise wasn't right for you.

You'll never know unless you try.

Do It Now:
Like last week, write down the names of two authors who inspire you. (Yes, get a pen and paper and write them down if you skipped this part last week, or find the piece of paper if you did write them down.)

Now Google the authors to see what sort of presence they have on the web.

If the authors have blogs, read a few entries. If they don't, you might want to check out the following "popular" blogs for writers:

Neil Gaiman's blog. Need I say more?

John Scalzi's blog . Search on "taping bacon to cat" and you will not be disappointed. :)

Jane Espenson's blog archives . Although she is no longer an active blogger, you can find a ton of great writing advice in the archives here.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Finding Your Voice

In my post on Beginnings, I defined voice as:

The tone or feel of a story, portrayed via word choice.

Voice is like the "flavour card" in front of the ice cream selections at Baskin Robbins, a few words that describe to you how the ice cream will taste.

Why is voice so important?

Let's face it...there are only so many stories to tell. Boy meets girl, hero saves the world, person follows existential journey to enlightenment, space ships explode, blah, blah, blah.

I've also heard the three main archetypes of stories described as: (pardon the somewhat sexist word choices)
- Man vs man
- Man vs nature
- Man vs himself

What sets your spaces ships exploding story apart from all of the others is a combination of your unique characters in your unique situation solving your unique twist, and told using your distinctive voice.

How is voice constructed within the prose?

As I said before, with the choice of words, and the order they appear on the page.

Usually, the sections of descriptive prose are the essential elements of the voice.

The description passages in your story are the places where you truly develop your own style or voice. Ultimately, your goal is for a reader to read a passage of your work, and then say, "Wow, that reads like a typical [author name] story."

I don't want to break any copyright laws, so I will provide examples from public domain works.

Easily Recognizable Voices:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,..." Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

Despite the fact that this man breaks my total over-use of the "it was" construct, this opening is considered archetypical of Dickens' style of linguistic creativity mixed with satire.

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,...
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet.

This has to be one of the most famous romantic moments in written history. Shakespeare's style is a mix of the rhythm of speaking in the sixteenth century and his profound poeticism. His prose is rich and unmistakable.

Voice is tough to pin down, but I hope you're getting the idea.

If you review my post on Point of View I discuss how sticking tightly to the Point of View of your protagonist can affect the voice of the story.

If you re-read my post on Editing Dialogue, I point out that each character must have their own distinctive voice. Because character voice is also a crucial element of voice in general, I give you an example:

Dialogue Example:

A space ship explodes. Three characters in your story watch this explosion and each one of them comments on the event.

Person A: Emily, whose mother is on the ship:

"Oh my God! Mom!" Emily bursts into tears.

Person B: Gus, who set the explosives:

"That's how we do it in Bravo company, boys," said Gus.

Person C: Gus's talking robot sidekick, Planki:

Planki beeped, then said, "Sir, I suggest we leave orbit before the galactic police arrive."

In each example, the speaker has a different reaction to the explosion. Emily is crushed, Gus is proud, and Planki is worried.

Good dialogue should have a distinctive voice for each character, so that even if the dialogue tag isn't included, you should be able to tell who is speaking from tone and context.

Regardless of the specifics within dialogue, your voice is your calling card.

I've heard enough editors speak on panels at conventions who all suggested that the voice of the story is what piques their interest enough to purchase that short story or novel for publication.

The only way to truly find your own voice is to write.

And write.

And then write some more.

As you collect stories and plots and passages of description, a pattern will emerge. You will discover that aspect of your own voice, what makes you distinctive.

For most writers, this voice is a bit of a task master, compelling us to write. Often.

So get your butt in that chair and write some words down. And then write some more words. With any luck, your voice will surface.

Do It Now:
Write down the names of two authors who inspire you. (Yes, get a pen and paper and write them down.)

Now write three words to describe each of their voices. (No peeking in one of their novels for clues.)

Now write three words that describe your voice.

Keeping in mind those three words, write 100 words of throw-away fiction that encompass what you consider your voice.

Revel in the joy of naming your voice.