Thursday, March 29, 2012

Now what do I do?

I had an outline, a somewhat complete cast of characters, a full bag of enthusiasm and a blank Word document. Now what?

It was actually a challenge to start the novel form of Genome. Even though I already had lots of chapters sketched out, I found myself frozen on where to start the damn thing. Start with a prologue? Create a new beginning? Do some background work on the characters? Go make some coffee and fret about it?

I had to start somewhere, so I started at the beginning and just started to 'flesh out' as I went along. I'm still not sure if I did it the way a seasoned writer would but it got me started.

For some reason I decided to work my way all the through the story, not going back or rewriting as I went. I guess it did allow me to work on the 'arc' of the plot several times. But I'm sure it took me a lot longer to do it this way than to work 'sections' as I went. Who knows? I think for the next book I'll try working on interesting parts and then once I'm happy with those go back and kneed the parts together. Again, who knows? Anyone got a 'better' idea?

I was surprised that the more I wrote and rewrote the more I liked the story. It became more and more interesting as I added flesh and character to the cast. Sam and her sister became closer and more believable.  I expanded the geek squad team with new characters and antics. I gave them names and lives all their own instead of just 'the geek squad'.

This was the most fun I had while writing 'Genome'. I was finally past the 'what happens next' stage and into the 'how do I make it better' stage. I actually got to the point where I could remove stuff instead of trying to add more, more, more. Remove it! Out, damn'd spot!

The first time I actually deleted a paragraph it was like slicing off a toe. I immediately replaced it (thank god for Ctrl-Z) and sat there looking at it. Should I? It's a cool paragraph, why would I delete it? What if I never have another good paragraph and I just deleted my last good one?

After some more stupid waffling I finally deleted it, saved the file and turned off the computer before I could change my mind. There. Done. No going back now. Writers are weird people.

Don't be afraid to rewrite and remove. If you don't need it to move the story forward then you don't need it. No matter what Mr. InnerParanoidDude says, you have lots more paragraphs in you.

Trust me.

Keep writing!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cast of Characters

This must finally be real for me because it's late and I'm pooped yet 'I must do a blog post'! Here we go!

Adding the cast of characters to the top of the outline I described in the last post was so worth the little amount effort and time it took to create and maintain it. For the new writer this is one of those 'do this now and you'll reap the benefits forever' things.

I thought I could keep all my imaginary friends in my head at all times, no problem. There are only a couple of them after all. I can summon each as I need them and twirl them about in my mental mirror. Right?

Well, obviously not. Aside from the mistakes I made over the months concerning names, descriptions, etc there is the 'duh' moment of it made it more interesting to me. I used the cast description to continually flesh who and what they were. It made it much more real for me and that translated into better characterizations in the book. It sounds obvious now but I swear at the time I felt writing down the names would be enough. New guy mistake.

Here's a snippet of the outline cast and a few things I added as I went along:

Jack Thomas
mother Joan Thomas
Emily Prescot
father Ken Prescot
uncle  John Prescot
Frankie Paxton
Annie Paxton (Frankie's sister with Scleroderma)
Jacks' car 65 Mustang Convertible
Frankie's car Porche

For my next book I'm going to take this a lot further. I'm going to take the time to 'create' my characters and keep track of everything about them. What do they wear, quirks, family backgrounds, I mean everything. This would have saved me tons of time going back through the book trying to remember what I had already said about the cast.

Why? It really breaks your readers flow to find contradictions and mistakes in something as basic as the characters behavior or looks. Don't let a 'mistake' turn off the reader. Your story deserves to be read and you need to keep the 'oops' out of his/her way.

OK, starting to babble, time to sum up and post.

Maintain a cast of characters at the top of your outline. Refer to it before you start writing each day. After a writing session go back to it and see if you need to update anything.

Happy writing!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Outlining Genome

I wrote Genome, in screenplay form, without outlining first. It was a conscious decision based some reading I had done and the fact I had no idea what I was doing. How hard can it be to 'let the characters tell you what happens' like some of the pundits proclaim?

For me it was pretty darn hard. I persisted because I did not want to waffle back and forth worrying about the writing process rather than just writing. I can be distracted too easily. I need to set a path and follow it. Then look back and see if I need to try another path next time.

The retrospective of 'let the plot flow' didn't work so well for me. Granted there were times when I didn't stop writing for several hours because I got a vibe about the character(s) and what they should do next. But most of the time it was grinding, frustrating work to try and squeeze the plot line out them.

I stuck to it and managed to complete the work in less than a year. I lost track of the number of rewrites, tear this out and replace that character and oops that won't work now, sessions I had. You're going to have those anyway but without an outline to help me out, I spent lots of time rereading from the beginning to refresh my memory on 'the story so far'.

I know a large part of the problem was that I was a novice writer and didn't have the writing experience to draw on. The more writing you do the more discipline you develop; no I can't stop now for TV, I have to finish this scene or I'll lose the flow.

So, the first thing I decided to do when writing the novel was to create an outline and the cast of character descriptions from the screenplay. I didn't care how many chapters the outline had, I was more trying to get a feel for the pace of the story. I have my own opinions on 'story arc' and the 'three act structure', but I think for me these guidelines generally seem to work well. The web already has enough links to these concepts, I'll let you find your favorite.

The outline took me about a week to flesh out and it was an eye-opener when I had finished. Calling it 'weak' would have been generous. As I've said, for a screenplay maybe this is acceptable, there is a lot more that happens after your screenplay is 'optioned' and a lot of times it's not done by the original author but someone who specializes in rewrites. That's my excuse and I'm sticking with it.

For a novel I was in bad shape though. I had maybe 13 chapters of definable, cohesive story plot and a sad, incomplete cast of characters. The plot was still ok (not good) but it was pretty boring and the cast was way too small. And there weren't enough 'cool' concepts in the story. Like the sexy AI I really expanded on the novel. 'Pip' (the AI) was in the screenplay but I had not taken the time to make her fun and interesting. And yes, it's a 'she'.

The outline showed me that I needed to add subplots, better visuals, better interaction between the characters, deeper immersion into the story and a lot more dialogue. I even found errors in the screenplay where I changed character names mid-story and then changed them back again. My villain was way too obvious from the beginning as well. I don't think a story has to have a 'trick' at the end or a surprise ending, but I pretty much beat the reader over the head and pointed a neon sign to the bad guy before you even got started. Not good.

I continued to work on the outline for weeks until I felt I had a much better story to tell. I also created a section at the top for the cast of characters, including names, features like hair color, height, what they liked to wear, where they came from, personality 'quirks', etc. That really helped me keep track of my little troop in my mind and it was a ready reference when I forgot or wanted to change something.

Once I had the outline to my liking I started writing. Bear in mind that I was constantly referring to and modifying the outline and characters as I went along. But this was easy now, I had it in front of me at all times.

One of the things I'm going to do next time is find and cut out images of the characters from magazines and add them to my desk wall. I'm a visual guy and I think this will help me identify my cast more easily and keep on track in the story. At least once in the original story I had mixed up two friends by name and by hair style. That kind of thing can kill a readers enthusiasm for your story.

More the cast of characters next, I think.

Long live ePub!

P.S. 'Genome' is available in ePub format at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Links are in the upper left.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Genome reborn

Thankfully I had no idea how difficult it would be to take the screenplay and rewrite it as a novel! If I had known what was coming, I might have reconsidered raising pigs for a living.

At the time, I had written several other screenplays and was 'in the groove', albeit an amateur groove. And I like writing screenplays. I thought it would be a slam dunk. I already had the story line and the dialogue. How hard could it be?

You see, writing a screenplay is like painting a hundred different scenes in your head and putting the characters inside to talk to each other. You purposely make the scenes 'broad and open' because your screenplay is more like a sketch than something set in concrete. The director and sometimes the actors actually bring their vision of your project when it's being made into a movie. You're taking a story that's floating in your head and giving the director enough of a peek so that he can get excited and carry it forward. You hope. ;-)

Movies have sound tracks, CGI, camera angles and hundreds of other visual and audio tricks to grab and hold your interest throughout the movie. Dialogue needs to match the movie but again the director and actors will put their own spin on it during shooting. The plot is key.

Writing a novel is quite different. You take the reader by the hand, painstakingly painting images, moods, scenery and most importantly showing who and what your characters are. You have show your reader why the hero is the hero; or is he? You have to set up tensions that rises and falls throughout the book. You give your characters challenges to overcome and dangle rewards for them to claim.

I took some of the advice I had read and set 'Genome' in a town where I grew up; Boulder, Colorado. I used the CU campus and surrounding industrial parks as a setting as well. It really helped give the book a 'real' feeling for me and I hope for the reader. I was part of a start up company in the late 90's located in the Pearl Street Mall area, so I used that knowledge to add to the 'Boulder' feel. And trust me, at that time Boulder had a unique cultural feel.

For the company I created in the book, 'Magnus Somnium', I drew heavily on the feel of a that company; it's people and the feel of the amazing culture we created there. I did in fact wear Hawaiian shirts, cargo shorts and Tevos to work. More importantly, the company culture was very progressive and an absolute blast both personally and professionally.

My point is that I could draw on my experiences and feelings during that time and place to make 'Genome' a little more 'real' for the reader.

We'll get into how I outlined the book next.

Don't wait for me, get started on your book! Writing is good for the soul.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Writing 'Genome'

I don't remember what prompted me to write 'Genome' back in 2006. I know that back then I was always writing down story ideas. I have an assorted stash of ideas 'filed' all over my home office. Some are just scribbles on the back of some printer paper. Others are actual, by God, story outlines!

'Genome' was originally a screenplay about 100 pages long. It took me about a year to write but some of that was learning the 'Movie Magic' software and a lot was just learning how to, well, just write decently.

Writing a screenplay is NOT the same as writing a book, believe me.  Screenplays are all 'scene setup' and then dialogue. You describe the scene in the barest of detail because the director will actually 'create' the environment your characters live in. The dialogue drives the screenplay and it was damn hard to do.

I finished the screenplay, registered it with the LOC (yes, I know, I didn't have to do that for the copyright. I was a noobie, what can I say? ;-), and then sent out query after query. Yep. No one was interested. Again, noobie.

I basically gave up on selling the screenplay and moved on to other projects. Some screenplays, some prose, and I started a few books. Then I took a writing class by the late Harry Preston in Dallas. I had to write a full length book for the class. I was hooked.

But I was still burned out from being ignored by agents and publishers. So when I learned that ePub was a real possibility I decided to convert 'Genome' to a novel.

More on that next.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hunger Games

See, I can be trained. My second post in as many days! To be honest, I am getting some help from friends and family but at least I know what a blog is and what it is for now. Progress!

I'm bit behind the rest of you reading Hunger Games but I've been busy with my own projects.

Ms Collins' story line is crisp and moves a great pace for me. I'm drawn into a world where the gladiator and his arena have returned. The reasons for the games is well established and believable from the beginning. That's a plus for me. Set up a plausible story in the beginning and I can sit back and enjoy the ride.

With any luck I'll finish before the movie comes out!

Hunger Games

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

First Steps

So it's time to step into the cyber muck and find out who else is reading and writing in my favorite genres, Science Fiction and Fantasy.

My reading tastes lean to the harder Sci Fi of Heinlein, Clark, Asimov and Niven. I love the fantasy of authors like Jim Butcher and J.R.R.Tolkien.I grew up exploring the fantastic worlds with these giants created just for me.

My first novel is a mixture of hard science, an AI with a sexy avatar and things that go 'bump' in the graveyard.

'Genome' is available as an ebook on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Barnes and Noble

I'm hard at work on several tablet/mobile games and several other books.