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.

One Way To Follow An Impulse Chain Before Your Plot Becomes BLAM-KABLOOIE Complicated!

On following impulse chains in your plot.

Impulse chains: links of behaviors, thoughts, and actions that flow naturally out of a pre-existing character, circumstance, and emotion.

Characters want things; they are in specific settings, and they begin any story with some kind of emotion. Once you place a character in a setting with an emotion, you have an obligation (to the reader, as well as to yourself) to follow the natural impulse chain each character exhibits.

Structurally flawed, troubled fiction results from the writer not following the natural impulse chain forged from the character, circumstances, and initial emotion.

Broken Impulse Chain (Bad Writing):

Brian loaded his blaster. Damn mushy old alien-mongers! He sighed, and turned towards the holopiece of his wife and children back home on the colony. I’ll never get there in one piece if these marauders keep shattering my ship, he reflected morosely.

There was a loud clank as the enemy ship latched on; Brian heard the whine of the hull being cut through. He ground his teeth. I’ll get those aliens!

Intact Impulse Chain (Good Writing):

Brian checked the tracking display; the space pirates were almost on top of him. I’ll have to fight them off again. He cut the engines, and drew his blaster from his hip. His wife’s waving arms blinked up at him from the holopiece. Brian reached through the images of his two children for the loaded battery he kept behind the display. He shoved away the thought of the colony, and home.

Kill the aliens, kill the aliens; the phrase went through his brain on a crazy loop. He loaded his blaster with the fresh battery, and set the dial to Organic Disintegration.

A heavy clank thundered through his ship; Brian glanced up, his upper lip curling in anger. He heard the whine of the hull being cut through. I’ll have to do repairs again, the bastards. Why can’t they use the upper hatch, like any normal landing party?

Brian went out of the cockpit, and keyed in the blast door code. Heavy lengths of metal rolled over the entrance, as Brian concealed himself in the deep shadow of a storage bay. Heavy feet thumped down into the ship; Brian lifted his blaster, and glanced around the edge of the wall.

Each character you write has an organic chain of impulses that spring from their essence, the circumstances, and the emotion you begin with. Follow the impulse chain to avoid overwrought scene transitions, slipped emotional changes, and distant, rough characterizations.

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.