A Simple Way To Cut Down On Stress While You Write

On overcoming writerly overwhelm.

Often when you are writing, several goals are throbbing in your mind simultaneously. You want your book to be clever; you want it to be well-received. It would be nice if it was one of those magical books that shoots up into best-seller status all on its own. You may be thinking about pacing, and plausibility, and character development all at once.

With so many different goals pressing in on you, it can be difficult to write anything at all.

Take a moment. Think of the story you are working on right now. Think of the top three things you want it to be. Now choose one of those things, and make that your only goal while writing.

You can accomplish that one thing.

Focusing on Everything (Bad Writing):

Horva shattered the bottle by slamming it against the window frame; pieces of translucent purple glass flung against her face, and over her clothes. A pinprick of blood appeared at her chin; she took the broken neck of the bottle, and pushed its jagged teeth against the magic mirror.

A blood-curdling shriek shivered up from the glass. Three pearly drops of spirit blood oozed up from the places where the razor edges of the bottle neck pressed against the surface of the mirror.

“Where’s my brother?” Horva asked. The mirror whined, and quivered. “Tell me!” she shouted, and raised the bottle neck high above her head.

The whining ceased; an image rose up on the mirror’s surface. Horva lowered the broken bottle, and leaned closer.

Focusing on One Thing (Good Writing):

Horva glared at the mirror. She studied the flash of sunlight that caught in the silver whorls around the frame.

My brother said he cut the mirror, she thought. How do you cut a mirror?

“I want you to talk to me,” Horva said. Her voice was calm, but her heartbeat thumped in the veins of her neck. The mirror remained as still and ordinary as any inanimate thing. Horva’s eyes went around the room.

I can’t break it, I can’t smash it, or he won’t come back through, she thought. Her eyes came to rest on a dusty desk. A purple bottle, made of thick glass, and a pair of tin scissors caught her eye. Horva picked up the scissors, and strode to the benign surface of the mirror.

“If you don’t tell me where my brother has gone, I will cut you,” Horva said. The mirror said nothing, did nothing. I have the wrong mirror. A cresting sheen of disdain rolled over her breastbone. She thought of Valor’s face, and of the way he had looked when he had ridden away last. His letter had promised he would return. This mirror knew exactly where he was. It’s the wrong mirror, she thought again.

Horva opened the scissors, and stepped closer to the mirror. The mirror shivered, and then began, in a whispery voice, to laugh.

“Can’t hurt me, can’t cut me with tin,” the mirror taunted softly.

Horva’s breath caught in her throat; her heart began to slip into a high, tight beat. She hesitated, the scissors upheld in her hand, and then turned back towards the heavy desk. She dropped the tin scissors on the dusty surface, and snatched up the neck of the heavy purple bottle. The glass was thick and translucent, and the dust was sticky on the purple surface.

The mirror went very silent when she grasped the bottle; Horva thought that the mirror was afraid of her breaking the bottle against its surface. She went to the window, and smashed the bottle against the corner of the sill.

Purple glass sprayed away from the impact; a dot of blood appeared on Horva’s chin. She ignored the prick of pain, and carried the jagged neck of the heavy bottle towards the magic mirror.

“Where’s my brother?” Horva asked. The mirror was still. Horva pressed the razor-sharp edges of the broken glass against the surface of the mirror, and a sharp, keening wail emanated from the magical object. Drops of shimmering, opalescent blood welled up beneath the points of the glass, and dripped thickly down the surface of the mirror. “Tell me,” Horva said.

“Stop cutting me,” the mirror hissed, in a voice like poisonous acid, “and I’ll show you.”

Horva stepped back, the bottle neck dropping to her side, and the bloody surface of the mirror clouded over, and then began to resolve into a shadowy image.

Limiting your focus, your intent, and your purpose while writing will give you more scope, more material, and a more relaxed process.

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A Crash Course In Suspense

On building emotionally fulfilling suspense.

Suspense is mostly about seeing something coming before the character is aware of it, and getting excited on behalf of the character.

There are innumerable ways to show the reader ominous happenings are on their way.

Effective Suspense (Good Writing):

The clouds about LuEllen swept apart in strange patterns, as if beaten by conflicting surges of wind. A roar that rumbled like thunder made the ground under her horse tremble. LuEllen’s chestnut mare threw her head up; her forefeet lifted off the ground.

LuEllen leaned into her mare’s neck, and made soothing chucks with her lips; she stroked the shining red neck. Her mare’s eyes were rolling, showing white, and the mare’s hooves rose and fell with anxious thumps into the grass.

A strange, other-worldly rumble, like the keening song of a whale, echoed through the clouds above the shadowed valley; LuEllen looked up, and saw the barest flash of pearly green wings, as big as mountains, cut through the obscuring mist.

LuEllen’s heart skipped a beat. Dragon.

Ineffective Suspense (Bad Writing):

LuEllen turned her chestnut horse into the darkened valley; the clouds were low over the trees, and rain threatened to fall. LuEllen thought she saw a flash of shadow traveling over the long grass. There is no sun to cast a shadow, she thought, and looked up.

“Roar!”

A great big dragon, pearly green in color, soared through the heavy clouds, like a massive whale cutting through water.

Give your reader at least three large clues to the foreshadowed event; let them get tingly inside before the big reveal.

Two Ways Self-Advocacy Helped Me Finish My Old Books

On finishing what you start writing.

When I started writing seriously (as in, towards publication), I quickly accumulated a pile of mostly-finished or partially-executed works. By the time I learned how to finish things, I had *ahem* a lot of things.

So I vowed to finish them all.

Finishing old work is complicated. Sometimes the tone of the writing is so totally entwined with the flawed structure of the book that you can’t edit the book without destroying the essence of the story.

Sometimes, flawed execution carries innocence, charm, and heart within it, and those things are valuable.

A trap that opened up at once in front of me was this: I had committed to finish old things before I wrote new things. Because many of my old things were deeply flawed, I was trying to polish sometimes unworkable writing into something usable.

Here is what helped:

One: I realized, and admitted out loud (to my editor, no less!) that I started every one of those books for a good reason.

Two: I decided to see myself as a worthwhile writer.

Sometimes I was writing for myself, and only for myself; these books I finished swiftly, and put into a folder that I never need to see again. No publishing, deep editing, or re-drafting for these ideas.

Sometimes I was writing an idea that was deeply important to me; if the plot and characters were valuable, I finished the draft and put the book into a “future-work” folder, and have committed to writing a full re-draft in the future.

The final, and invigorating category, were books that were good enough to stand up as they were. This chunk of work has taken by far the most time, but has finally begun to pay off (in finished projects that are publishable).

I don’t think a lot of people are going to read or appreciate Harder Than Rocks until I have a dedicated fan base, and that’s perfectly fine. The book itself is good, and it’s out there. I have another book that is in the final stages for publication now, and then a long series that will be released in quick succession. I am getting started. I am a nobody! And that’s okay!

Sometime in your journey as a writer, you just have to let go and decide that you’re good enough as you are. Most of my old projects are in a queue for re-drafting, but a few of them made the cut, and now I have material in the water, as it were. I am about two weeks away, as of today, from finishing the last piece of material that has a long history. Soon, very soon, I will be able to work on new genre fiction projects.

I am pretty excited.

A Warning Sign You’re Suffering From Culture-Blindness

On a lack of action in your story.

I have had two people read “The Slave from the East,” and the general consensus is a mushy sort of “I want to read more, NOW, but I’m filled with incoherent rage, and I’m irritated at you, Victor.”

After some thought, my first beta reader informed me that it’s frustrating because, in his words, “nothing happens for a long time.”

Culture-Blindness: when a writer has been so saturated in classical literature that they have become desensitized to the average reader’s desire for action.

Yeah, I just realized the other day that I should think about making sure things happen in my books.

Culturally-induced Blind Writing:

The caravan stretched down the road like a brilliantly colored snake. The horses and asses were burdened heavily with bags and bundles of goods, and the slaves that walked beside them were covered with dust from the road. The road was a thick ribbon of white dirt here; it stretched behind the caravan like a narrow ribbon, as far as the eye could see. It curved and looped over hills and into the far distance.

Action-oriented Reader-centric Writing:

Sand flew up from the hooves of the horses; the asses grunted in the clouds of white dust, and the heavy bundles strapped over the animals creaked and rustled in the morning sun. The desert shimmered orange and gold on either side of the thick ribbon of white road; the sand stretched around the caravan of slaves like a sea of dry death, brilliant and hot.

Beware intellectual and internalized action; watch out for the warning signs of culture-blindness.

Warning: Not Reading This Book Might Be Bringing On The Apocalypse

On the publication of Harder Than Rocks.

It’s Friday the 20th, and that means Harder Than Rocks is available for purchase! Yay me.

I’m still working on linking the paperback and the Kindle version on Amazon, but that should be resolved in a couple of days.

I printed a proof copy, and the cover was super too-dark to read, so I did some Gimp magic, and printed a new proof. Now it is perfect. Here is the new (and improved) cover, and the blurb. And here is a link to the paperback, and to the Kindle version.

Eighteen-year-old Samuel lives in a rented room in the Tavern Motel, and works at the local pipe factory. When he meets a girl at a bus stop, and she doesn’t call him back, discontent burbles over in Samuel’s heart. Driven by disdain for his poor clothes and his cheap room, Samuel walks away from his life to find something better.

A hit man, a smoking dog, and a room full of dirty onion peels finally bring Samuel face to face with the parts of his life that he thought he had left behind.

harder5x8-v-4-front-only-small

YAAAAYYYYY!!!!!

And happy Friday,

Victor

Two Tips For Creating Your Own Repeated Scenarios

On repeated scenarios in fiction.

When you write the same basic scenario multiple times into your novel, an opportunity for humor and frolic erupts.

  1. Don’t let the scenario be boring.
  2. Do have your characters notice and react to the sameness of the happenings.

Bad Repetition:

 Joe finished combing his hair. A blue insect-bot flew through the open window and tangled into Joe’s auburn locks.

“Tcha!” Joe exclaimed, teasing the bot out of his long hair. The blue insect emitted a groaning hum, and buzzed out of the window.

(flying bugs tangling into hair never repeat again)

Good Repetition:

(later on in the book)

Joe drew his blaster, and flung his luxurious hair behind his shoulder. Just as he took aim, a green, luminescent butterfly-bot alighted on his hair, and opened its shimmering wings softly. The alien mercenaries pointed at the butterfly, and laughed. Joe patted his hair, and the green bot tangled in his fingers.

Joe let out a growl of annoyance, and shot one of the mercenaries in the face.

(and once more, for a final payoff)

“It’s been a long, hard road,” Galen said. Joe smiled, and nodded. With a shivering spin of tiny wings, a bumblebee-bot collided with Joe’s loose hair.

Joe’s smile melted away as he carefully untangled the robot’s wings from his auburn mass of hair.

“Maybe you should braid it or something,” Galen observed. Joe pretended he hadn’t heard this; he extricated the bot, and flung it up into the air.

This is a very silly example, but the point is that when you repeat small things, you build rapport with the reader, and open up the possibility for humor and inside jokes that create comeraderie between the readers of your work.

A Whiz-Bang Approach To Prophecy That Helps You Write Great Wizards!

On personally-motivated foretells, and how they forge compelling fantasy.

Sometimes fantasy has wizards. Often, wizards make creepy or ominous-sounding predictions. Too many times, those predictions are not realistically petty or personal.

Impersonal and removed prophecy (Bad Writing):

Bolindar raised his staff; his milky-white eyes began to glow an unearthly blue, and his tangled beard trembled.

“I foresee a time,” Bolindar said in an echoing voice, “when all who stand here will be consumed in fire and smoke.”

The hall of warriors grew still; the eyes of the captain of the king’s guard fixed themselves steadily on Bolindar, and the queen’s lips pinched into a narrow line.

“There will be many dead,” Bolindar went on, “but before the end, the demons will fall, and only one young prince shall survive, and rise to the throne of a united empire.”

A mutter went through the hall; the empire had been shattered for hundreds of years. The queen’s eyes darted to her three sons, who sat in a neat row behind their father.

Personal and immediate prophecy (Good Writing):

The hall was full of drifting noise and the heat of many bodies; the captain of the king’s guard sat near to the queen, listening to her rapid, quiet words. The three princes kicked each other under a trestle table, and a pair of wolf hounds wrestled over the carcass of a roasted hare.

Bolindar, the local seer and witch-maker, was perched on the edge of a table; he was chewing on a wad of pine gum, and idly twisting his crude wooden staff between his hands. The tip of his staff made a slight grinding noise against the rushes that were beaten against the wooden floor.

A spark of golden light spun up from the tip of the staff, and exploded with a pop in the air, high over the tables in the great hall.

Bolindar blinked, and looked up at the shivering white stars that danced in the remnants of the exploded sparks. The king and queen rose swiftly, and came to Bolindar. The noise in the hall dropped at the pop of the magic, and the eyes of all the warriors turned irresistibly towards the spinning white stars.

“Well?” the king demanded, when he and his wife were standing before Bolindar. Bolindar suppressed a sigh, and examined the gleaming white lights that hung high in the air.

“Does it say anything about the war?” the queen asked. She did not look at her three sons, but her jaw was tense, and her neck was very still.

Bolindar narrowed his eyes, and his lips moved slowly over his pine gum as he studied the fading fragments of light. The noise in the hall gradually picked up, though the eyes of the captain of the guard were turned steadily on Bolindar from across the room.

“It’s going to be pretty bad,” Bolindar said, his jaw working slowly. He frowned at the magic in the air.

“How bad?” the queen demanded. Her husband hushed her, and stared anxiously at Bolindar.

“All but Franz will die,” Bolindar told the queen in a low voice. “And I’m going to have to raise Franz myself,” the seer added, his face twisting into a sour expression. He spat the pine gum into the rushes on his right side.

“Are we going to die?” the king asked in a low voice, glancing at his queen.

“No, I don’t know,”Bolindar said with a shrug, “but your two older boys will be eaten by demons. They’ll be dead soon.” Bolindar’s forehead creased as he glared up at the last pieces of white light. “I’m going to find a white mare,” he said.

“I don’t want to hear about your horse,” the queen hissed, her eyes furious. Bolindar stared at her with a blank expression. The queen blushed, and turned away swiftly. She hurried towards her three little boys.

“She’s going to run away tonight,” Bolindar told the king.

“Did you see that in the magic?” the king asked, turning his eyes to the retreating form of the queen.

“No,” Bolindar said, lifting his shoulders. “I just think that’s pretty obvious. She’ll pack up her sons and run. I guess I’ll have to follow her,” he added with a sigh.

“You won’t follow her,” the king said, his face clouding with anger. “I won’t let her go anywhere.”

Bolindar gave the king a look of some compassion.

“It was nice knowing you,” Bolindar told the king. He extended a hand towards the monarch, but the king looked askance at the seer’s proffered arm. Bolindar took a deep breath, and hopped down from the table. “I have to go look after Franz,” Bolindar told the king, and the seer followed the queen towards the three blond boys.

The king glared after the seer, and then went directly towards the captain of his guard, who was looking, very suddenly, preoccupied.

People who can do magic and see the future have feelings, too. They are just as invested in their own future as any other person, though their perspective on life and death is inevitably affected by their powers. Let your wizards be people first, and magical beings second.