Feature Friday: Using Writing to Fight or Flame Hate

Chess Board - TwitterI’ve grown quite nervous over the last few days. Apparently you humans are off killing each other and it has something to do with the color of your skin (although mentioning that it has anything to do with skin color– or claiming that is doesn’t– is cause for more heated debate). Since my skin has a multitude of colors, I’m a bit concerned that some of this hatred may spill over.

Z7 Profile PicHowever, even outside my own concerns, I’m concerned about this country I’m currently hiding in.  There’s so much anger and hate. Worse, everyone is using their words to make it worse.

Writers, like it or not, have a responsibility with words in the same way that a doctor has responsibility with healing. We could use our words to hurt. We can use them to fan the flames until we rival Chicago after Old Lady Leary or Pompeii after the volcano blew. I’ve seen many examples of flame fanning lately. Tweets that call out a group of people for their color, occupation, or just being associated with other people who said something. Facebook posts that use ugly names for anyone who doesn’t believe in the exact content of the post.

It’s disheartening.

Writers should be able to use their words so much more effectively than the normal mortal. However, we should also know when to refrain from using our words, which seems to be a skill the normal mortal does not possess. We should save our words to say things in a way that, yes, may ignite a fire, but not ignite hate.

The Buddha, who was apparently a great writer of some note, said “Better than a thousand hollow words, is one that brings peace”.  Yet I see hollow words everywhere and very few words that call for peace.

Robin Sharma, who lives somewhere in the land of frozen poutine, said, “Words can inspire. And words can destroy. Choose yours wisely.”

So I am putting a challenge out there for all who write words, but especially for those who call themselves writers: Use your words to bring peace. Use them to inspire. When you think about posting something angry, write it into a book. You can edit a book before your readers ever see it, but the words we share on social media are there before we have time to think to take them back.

“But I can just delete it.”

True, you can. Someone did that last night. The words were recorded and used to spread hate anyway. By posting the words angry and then thinking, the writer did even more damage.

I’m not a perfect Figment (although I am close, so humility comes hard for me). If you ever see me posting hatred or anger, please call me on it. It would be nice if you did it politely, since we’re trying to not spread hate, but do it anyway. Hold me accountable for my words.

After all, I am a writer. My words have power.

 

Feature Friday: I Need a Hero/ Villain/ Sidekick.

Chess Board - TwitterThere’s been some discussion going about my social media regarding villains. I don’t write villains. I’ve never written a villain (no, not even Ellie the Evil Queen is a villain).

Here’s why: a good villain isn’t a villain; they are the foil to your hero. A good villain, in another book, might be your hero.

I also don’t write sidekicks. Sidekicks have their own story going on. That story is every bit as important as the heroes story. Just don’t tell the hero. Sidekicks tend to be a lot lower on the ego scale than heroes.

Take a look at your WIP. If you’re writing a romance, you may not have a villain, but you’ll still have a foil to your main character. Look carefully at your villain/antagonist, love interest(s), and sidekicks.

  • Do they have a backstory? It doesn’t need to be in the story, but you need to know a little bit about them.
  • Do you know their personality type or motivations? If Myers-Briggs is too much, do a simple zodiac bit or a character archetype. Then do a little twist so the character isn’t just a stock character. (I hate stock characters.)
  • If you’ve ever played at tabletop gaming, you probably know the D&D versions of characters. There’s race, class, and alignment to get you going. Race is the same for most non-fantasy/sf books, but what “class” is your character? What about alignment? (I like alignment best; it tells a lot about a character.) If you don’t know a thing about it,  here’s some help. Or you can have fun with these memes.

All of this works for your main character, too, in case he or she feels too flat.

One last thing I have fun doing that only fantasy writers really seem to do is creating a genealogy chart. Must be the geek in me, but there’s something fun about knowing a little bit of a character’s backstory. Christopher, from Veneri Verbum and Beta Beware, is an only child of a single mother. I know what happened to Dad, but the rest of the world never will. Still, it affects who Christopher is. On the other hand, The Bobian (The Annals of Bobian) has a full-fledged family and is the only boy, stuffed in the middle. Yep, that affects his personality. Grandparents will have a role in later books.

So, look at your characters. How well-rounded are they? Could they use a little tweaking?

Bonus: Archetypes in literature and media

Feature Friday: Time to Commit

Chess Board - TwitterI can tell you all sorts of secrets for getting your book written. Once you have it written, I can give you all sorts of tips for getting it to market. However, until you’ve actually committed yourself to doing it, it’s not going to happen.

“Well, of course I’m committed. I keep reading your lousy blog for advice, don’t I?”

That just means you’re committed to learning how to do it. You haven’t committed to doing it.

“Okay, semantic-laden Figment, how do I commit to doing it?”

Set a deadline.

I’ve heard all the excuses (really). Don’t bring me your excuses. I’ve used them myself and probably made them funnier (because, well, I’m funny). There are no excuses.

You can work to a deadline, even if you’re a creative.

You can write a full-length novel, even if you’re the busiest person ever.

The only reasons you can’t finish a book by your self-imposed deadline are either that you were too ambitious or you quit.

We don’t do quitters. You can modify your deadline if life happens or you can suck it up for a little while and pretend you don’t have a choice, but you don’t quit. Clear?

Now, let’s work on the ambitious part.

In order to set your deadline, you have to know how many days per week you are going to write, how many hours (or minutes) a day you can commit to writing, and how long your book is going to be.

“But I don’t know that! This is hard!”

It does involve math, so I’ll try to simplify it.

Do an exercise for me right now. No, not later. If you have the five minutes it takes to read this post, you have the five minutes it takes to do the exercise:

Write for five minutes about a talking tree.

“But I haven’t done any research.”

If you really can’t figure out what to write about a fantasy talking tree, fill in the gaps with [look this up later]. You can even count it toward your word count total. If you cheat and write nothing but [look this up later] for all five minutes, I will write you into a book as a snot-eating toddler. I promise.

“But I don’t do well under pressure.”

I can’t make you do this, but if you don’t at least try, I have a team of ninja fox memes standing by to steal all your favorite books while you sleep. It’s not pressure. It’s motivation. You want to write a book.

“But…”

Shuttup and write. Er, sorry. Bad manners. Suck it. Write.

Five minutes later.

How many words did you write? Multiply it by 12. (You have permission to use a calculator.) That’s your words per hour.

How long is your book going to be? The minimum for a real novel (regardless of NaNoWriMo teaching people that 50k is a book) is about 60k, and that’s short. Better to shoot for long and be pleasantly surprised when it comes together early. I usually plan for 100k. I am always pleasantly surprised.

How many days per week will you write? I know the maxim to write daily. Throw that out. You should use your writing skills daily, yes, but no one does a job every single day unless they want to burn out. Pick six days or five days or even just three. Just make sure those writing sessions are sacred.

How many hours/ minutes will you write each time? I strongly recommend one-hour blocks when you can, but if you can’t, work with it. You can always do more math (divide your words per hour by 60 for your words per minute) to do the math later. The important part to this step is to know how much time you have for each writing session. This is an appointment! It’s sacred! Only reschedule it if you wouldn’t show up for your day job for the same reason (death in the family, illness, etc.) You do not have to schedule the same amount of time each day, either. It’s just easier if the time periods are similar.

How long will it take you? Here’s the most math for this whole shebang. If you write 1000 words in an hour (approximately 17 words per minute) and you will write a total of 210 minutes per week, you can write 3500 words per week.

Breathe deep. You can do this.

If you are writing a book that you estimate will be 100,000 words, it will take you about 29 weeks to write it. (100,000 divided by 3500 words per week.)

You can write a book, even on a meager 3500 words per week, in a little more than six months.

“Why not make my goal more ambitious?”

Set yourself up for success with this first novel, not failure. I mean, don’t be a baby about it. If you know you can write 5000 words a week, do it. But be realistic. Have a life on the side.

So, the final step for this is to get a calendar. Buy one, make one, go online. But have an actual, physical calendar. Please don’t tell me how awesome your online calendar is. Get a physical one for this. Please.

In ink, schedule out your writing time. You can move it for emergencies, but the ink tells you it’s meant to be important and permanent.

Below your writing time, write how many words you need to hit. Maybe you end up with some overtime. You’ll get faster as you start to figure out that daydreaming doesn’t get you out of school any faster.

Now, every single day that you are scheduled, sit down and write the words until you hit your goal for that day. When you’ve finished, put your total actual words below the words you need to hit.

Don’t stop. Don’t tell yourself it’s bad; it probably is. The point isn’t to be good for this first draft of a first novel. The point is to finish something.

“I hate you.”

That’s the spirit. Warms the cockles of my heart. Now, finish the book.

Then we’ll work on the rest.

So, did you do it? Did you carve out your writing time? Did you have to modify this plan at all?

 

 

 

Feature Friday: Writing the First Chapter

Chess Board - TwitterThere are some who find the last chapter to be the most difficult. There are a few who struggle through the middle. For most, however, the first chapter is the hardest to get out there. There’s good reason for this. The first chapter is what draws, drags, or defers. Either it is so clever that the reader must read; it is acceptable enough that the reader chooses to read; or it is so bad that the reader refuses to read.

But no pressure. Really.

See, the nice things about first chapters (and first lines) is that you have the most time to get them right. You have the entire time you’re writing the book through the editing process through just before publication. That’s a lot of time. (Longer for some, say, whose last name is Martin, than some others.)

“I don’t edit while I’m writing.”  Very smart of you. Really. Just try this with me for one work, though. Edit that first chapter.

Here’s why: if your first chapter does what it should (set up the story), then you have an easier task ahead of you. Instead of dragging the story uphill to get to the first plot point, your first chapter has already set it on the right path.

I’ve discovered I cannot write well until I’m happy with the first chapter. Oh, I can write. I go on putting words to paper anyway. But each time I open that document, I edit the first chapter until something clicks. For some works, this happens before I get out of the second chapter. For others, it may not happen until I’m frantically trying to fix things for publication. But it always happens because it’s important.

What does a first chapter need?

  • The protagonist
  • The antagonist
  • Possibly one or more support characters
  • The setting for the “normal” world (the world in that millisecond before the story starts)
  • The reason why the reader should care about any of this

If, by the end of your first chapter, the reader doesn’t at least know a little bit about your main character, where he is, why they should care about her, etc., you’ve failed.

Yes, I know there are books that manage to get away with breaking the rules. You can break the rules, too, if you know them well enough to do it well. Otherwise, stick to the guidelines. They exist because they work, oddly enough.

So, your homework (and mine) is to go back to your first chapter. Read it first. Just read it. Does it grab you? Does it repulse you? Then go back with whatever form of red pen you use and mark it up. Do you have a lot of unnecessary exposition? Bye-bye! Does your main character go nameless and descriptionless for most of the chapter? Fix it. Do you, being honest, not really care about this chapter? Maybe you need to toss it entirely and start with the second chapter.

Whatever you decide to do, go do your homework. Tear apart the first chapter. Let me know how it works out.

Want More? Try This Blog Post
Learn four possible ways to hook your reader in the opening. Try all four!
http://danmalakin.com/writing-great-story-opening-4-quick-tips-hook-reader/