Risk

It seems to be a law of nature, inflexible and inexorable, that those who will not risk cannot win. — John Paul Jones.

Risk

risk and rewardYour main character in a story must risk something–or many things–to grow and resolve the core problem in the plot. In other words, to win. And, when you get right down to it, the reason for the plot, the story, the character, is to win in the end. Right?

Well, unless you are writing a story about losing in the end.

I think the little quote from John Paul Jones above is definitive. If you do not risk, you cannot win. It doesn’t mean you won’t lose, it just means you cannot win. There are no guarantees. That’s why plots with the main character risking something, risking much, can still end up in failure, at least after a first or second try. Of course, we always want the main character to win out in the end, so somehow, he or she learns from previous failure and puts together a winning final solution.

This is the character arc. The plot presents our character with a problem, who attempts a solution. Our character fails, stumbles, falls, but gets up and tries again until successful. Along the way, the character must risk something. Reputation, career, wealth, family, health, love, life, are some things we lay on the table and place our coins of risk on them.

What the character learns through risk and failure drives the character to new risk, new trials and eventually success.

But, most people are risk averse. They fear losing. That applies to businesses and corporations as well as people. During my career in information technology, the greatest roadblock to implementation of new technology or stronger security was the organization’s aversion to, or inability to accept risk. The old technology was something they knew and the security levels in place were comfortable, if not adequate. But, to grow and improve services and capabilities for customers, they had to accept a certain level of risk. This wasn’t always a recipe for success.

Characters

Characters–our people–are similar. They fear risk, change, disruption of their daily life. That disruption the plot puts in front of them shakes them up. Our character wants to continue with their day, meet their friends, do their work and not go gallivanting across the country on a God-sent mission. In Sudden Mission, the angel Gabriel brings the mission to Paul. Paul resists the mission, the message. He struggles with the risk, the size and scope of the mission, and doesn’t have faith in his ability to complete it. He finally accepts, and it boils down to his faith and obedience to God.

The struggle to accept risk doesn’t stop with that first challenge from the plot. A fully fleshed out plot will have challenges all down the road and the main character must continue to accept the challenge, accept the risk and fight on until the end.

Risk it the coinage we use to wager against fate. If we do not risk, we cannot win. If we win, only then can we expect reward. Success is not guaranteed. Anyone who ever played poker can tell you that.

Keep writing.

 

Motivation

journey of a single stepIt’s tough to get motivated sometimes.

But, where do you find motivation when there is so much work in front of you?

During NaNoWriMo, I sat down daily and wrote. I hit my goal number of words or more each day. Every day was different. Some were easy. Some were hard, desperately hard. But, at the end of 30 days I had a complete first draft. NaNoWriMo provided the motivation. A deadline loomed and I had to get the work done.

I lived by deadlines for many years as a journalist working small newspapers. The work had to get done. If you missed the deadline, the story didn’t run, or was incomplete. If you couldn’t make the deadlines, you risked your job, your paycheck. A lot of motivation there. That’s one reason I’ve done well with NaNoWriMo. The deadline kept me focused.

But, now I have the rewrite, edit, revision, and rewrite leg of the job in front of me. This is hard work and a lot of it. There is so much to do it seems overwhelming. It’s hard to get the motivation to sit down and get to work. Where do I start?

First, break it down. Set a schedule and work on one chapter at a time. Or, one scene at a time. Start at the beginning.

Breaking down a job to smaller, bite-sized chunks makes it look less daunting. Get this chapter rewritten. Take a break. Come back and work on the next one. Pretty soon, you’re on the last chapter.

But, that’s just the first pass. Now you print it all out and hand it to your first reader. You can take a break for a while until the suggestions, corrections, and revisions come back from the first reader.

Then it starts all over again.

Revise, revise, revise

As with the first pass, break it down again and start working through it. Chapter by chapter. Scene by scene. This should go more quickly since you now have a second person’s marks and revisions to work against.

When you get to the end this time, you think you’re done. Right? Wrong.

Now you package up the work and get it to an editor. Since I use Scrivener, this means compiling the work to a format an editor can accept. For this, I compile to a manuscript format and export to a Word document (.doc or .docx). This phase gets you ready to submit to a publisher or agent, or self-publish. In the past, my editor would mark up the work and send me two or three chapters at a time. I’d make the corrections, revisions and rewrites as required and send the updated material back.

This process worked well because we took a part of the work and dug in, then moved on to the next part. We didn’t try to tackle the whole thing at once. We still worked through the book more than once.

This can all take several months. Yeah, the first draft took 30 days. But, that was a solid, directed effort, with my internal editor turned off. The rest takes a lot more time.

And, guess what? If you submit to a traditional publisher and get accepted, you’ll work with another editor and revise, revise, revise. Even if you self-publish, you may go through a few more revisions before putting the book up for sale.

Get motivated.

Keep writing.

 

 

Smelly

Something is smelly.

I smell something up thereThings smell. Sometimes the smells are good, sometimes the smells are not good.

In my current work in progress, the main character encounters a lot of different smells as she moves through the story. Riding in the back of a military truck is “hot, loud, and smelly.” Of course, that is pretty generic, so I’ll add some things that mix in to make it smelly. There are other aromas she encounters later that are disgusting or nasty, and some that are just from the terrain she is in.

Like the cat in the picture here, smells connect her to her environment or the action. You probably connect certain smells to memories, like the smell of pine trees and their sap in the early summer at Salmon La Sac in the Cascade Mountains. Or the aroma of fresh-baked bread from grandma’s kitchen when you were young. How about warm cherry pie with a melting scoop of ice cream? Then there is the smell of new-mown hay, onion fields near Ontario, Oregon, or a nearby stockyard.

Or, skunk.

Smells help set a scene or help evoke emotions, and can accomplish a lot in just a few words. Smells trigger memories and you can use that to enrich what is happening in your story. They clue your character in to what might be coming, or what might be nearby.

Think about your own memories, especially those triggered by smells. You know the ones. You’re walking down a street, entering a building, strolling by Cinnabon in the mall. A smell hits you and it brings a memory front and center. Is it a pleasant memory? A sad memory? Or, does it just make you hungry?

Some may say that visual or audio experiences are powerful, but don’t forget smells. In Nasty Leftovers, the main characters used mentholated cream smeared in paper masks to help deal with overly strong aromas of rot and filth, the sour stench in the air of the city, and the burning sulfur smell of the hellhounds. Dealing with the smells affected almost everything the main characters did.

Some of smells carry forward into the work in progress, adding continuity and bringing up memories for the main character. Those memories impact her reactions and behaviors as she works through the story.

Right now, I smell a Cinnabon and I think it’s calling my name.

Keep writing.

 

 

Opening Lines

Opening Lines

BugBear BooksThe first chapter and scene of a novel begin with powerful, strong opening lines. These should grab the reader, show some potential conflict, set scene, and introduce the character. And, they should entice the reader to keep reading.

The power went out. Again.

Amy Grossman fumbled on the dresser for a candle and some matches. I should have been prepared, she thought as she lit a candle. The power went out almost every day lately.

I’m working on the opening lines of the third book. The above kind of meets the criteria. Something happens. It involves the main character. It sets the scene, a little. Let’s see. Can we make this better? There is a passive voice clause we need to fix. How’s this look?

The power went out. Again.

Amy Grossman fumbled on the dresser for a candle and some matches. I know better than this. Be prepared, she thought as she lit a candle. The power went out almost every day lately.

But, I think the scene needs some work.

The power went out. Again. Silence. Dark.

Amy Grossman fumbled on the dresser for a candle and some matches. I know better than this. Be prepared, she thought as she lit a candle. The power went out almost every day lately.

Quiet

Ever notice when the power goes out, everything gets very quiet? Yeah. Hums quit humming, buzzes quit buzzing. And, it gets dark. That helps, I think. But, what was Amy doing when the power went out?

The power went out. Again. Silence. Dark.

Amy Grossman dropped her gear bag on the bed and fumbled on the dresser for a candle and some matches. I know better than this. Be prepared, she thought as she lit a candle. The power went out almost every day lately.

Okay, she had a gear bag, so she’s getting ready to leave. She’s in her room, evidently, and there are candles on the dresser. But, she’s frustrated. She needs to do more than just “think” the internal dialog.

The power went out. Again. Silence. Dark.

Amy Grossman dropped her gear bag on the bed and fumbled on the dresser for a candle and some matches. I know better than this. Be prepared, she chastised herself as she lit a candle. The power went out almost every day lately.

So, with active voice and getting the character involved in an active way, I think I have a good start to the first chapter. Well, the first scene, anyway. There are twenty-four chapters to go through now, and here you get a little insight into my writing process. Not to mention getting a preview of the opening lines. Hope you are intrigued.

Keep writing.

 

Short Fiction

Short Fiction

Writing short fiction helps you develop your craft. You learn the structure of a story, how to develop a character, and how to keep a story focused. A short story is usually between 3,000 and 7,500 words. Of course, this depends on your market. Some print and online magazines have their own ideas on short story length and the lengths can vary widely.

On this blog, I’ve posted a short-short story and a short story (See Amy’s Lesson and The Gift). These are not sellable, stand-alone stories that would be picked up by a print or online magazine. I wrote them to help bridge the gap between Nasty Leftovers and the third installment of the Spirit Missions series (in progress) and provide some seasonal stories.

Sometimes, you have to write something short to help develop something longer. Those two short pieces helped me set the stage for the third novel, and helped mature the characters a little. From Sudden Mission to this third novel, the main characters Paul and Amy go from age 14 to almost 18. What happens in the third book needs older characters to make the action and events more believable.

I have other, unrelated short fiction, including one published (New Kid in Neo-Opsis Science Fiction Magazine). Another story I think is promising, but it’s out to a market that doesn’t seem viable any more. I may withdraw and move on.

Strengths

That’s another strength of short fiction. There is a huge market for it, but it is competitive. Write your short fiction, get some beta-readers for it if that helps, and submit to appropriate markets. And, keep submitting. When you get a rejection, don’t take it personally. Look the story over, make any edits or corrections that seem right, and send it back out. One rejection is not a judgement on your story or the quality of your writing. It just means that whoever screened the submissions didn’t think your story fit their needs. Move on.

You get two things from this: 1) thick skin from dealing with rejection and criticism; 2) practice. Keep writing those short pieces. Keep submitting them. The more you write, the better you get. One day, you’ll get a response that has constructive criticism. That’s a good thing. Eventually, you’ll get an offer to publish one of those short pieces. New Kid cleared the bar, and at an award-winning small magazine. But it had been around the market for about a year and collected several rejections before acceptance.

Short fiction is hard work, though. Harder than longer work, like novels. Keep your language precise. Keep your descriptions spare. And, you have to hit the reader with a strong story line. Granted, that helps a novel, too. But, you hone the craft in the short pieces.

I know I spend more time on the three-to-five thousand words of a short story as opposed to the 60+ thousand words of a novel. I play with point of view and voice. First person seems to fit short fiction better. I rewrite the drafts more, edit between submissions, spend more time re-reading it and analyzing it. It’s all part of the process.

Go on, write that short story. Write several. It’s good practice.

Keep writing.