Here I am, once again, with questions about writing, and I saved some of the best–and longest–for last, all from my friend Tanya, she of the video I released just the other day. If there is anyone who knows me as a writer it’s her, because she’s been with me from the start of when I began writing once again. That means she also knows what questions to ask.
And those questions are:
What does your writing process look like? Do you have any writing habits that might be considered strange or unusual? Just how important are names in your books? What is your LEAST favorite part of the whole writing/publishing process? Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder to write than others? Have you always enjoyed writing and if so, what were some of the earliest things you remember putting pen to paper about? Do you tend to write your stories in order or do you skip around?
A lot of questions, so let me address them one at a time.
What does your writing process look like?
I spend a lot of time thinking about what I’m going to write, then I start gathering data for my story–if it’s necessary–and once that’s all finished, I plot things out and start writing. While I’m writing I’m constantly thinking about what’s just around the corner in the story, and I’m working out future scenes in my head as I going through whatever I’m working on currently. I also do that because with a large enough work–like this last novel–you find that some things didn’t work, some things need more explanation, and sometimes you just gotta add or remove scenes to have the story work. I try to write every night, and I try to get in between five hundred and a thousand words a night. Five hundred words doesn’t sound like much, but if you keep at it every day, it adds up.
Do you have any writing habits that might be considered strange or unusual?
Other that monthly sacrifices to Cthulhu, no. I enjoy listening to music when I’m writing (as I’m doing right now, listing to a Genesis concert from Zurich, Switzerland, recorded during their Wind and Wuthering tour in 1977), but there aren’t any other unusual habits I have when I’m working on a story. Though I suppose one could say that once I start a story I dedicate myself to finishing it and not working on or getting sidetracked by other stories that may pop into my head. If that happens they go into the idea file and I move on. Remember, kids: stay focused on what’s before you, and stop with the “But this other story came up and I just had to work on it!” If that’s the case, then the first story was never meant to be. And if you get distracted by a third story after you start that second, don’t quit your day job.
Just how important are names in your books?
They’re important. As I’ve pointed out in another post, I work on my names until I get them right, and I’ve worked on stories before (Her Demonic Majesty being one) where I had a character and I just had the hardest time writing about that person because I wasn’t diggin’ the name. But once I know who “they” are, then I’m good to go and I get into them greatly. Sometimes I get into a character’s name so much that whenever I hear it outside the story, I sort of flash on my character and wonder what they should do next.
What is your LEAST favorite part of the whole writing/publishing process?
Promotion is, for me, the worse. That’s because I’m really not good at selling myself, and I always feel like I’m pushing my crap onto other people if I’m trying to get them interested in my stories. Even though it’s the only way to get any exposure in these days of self publishing, I hate it. And once you’ve seen another writer spamming every thread they can access with invitations to read their story, you feel like you don’t want to bother people with your requests. Truly, I suck at this.
Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder to write than others?
A lot of people would imagine romance scenes are hard to write, but I’m actually go with those–I enjoy writing them, because if handled right, romantic scenes are great for character building. Just look at Annie and Kerry and see how they grew in their romance. (And, no, That Girl does not exist here. Nope. Not at all. Move along.)
The scenes I have the most difficulty writing are action scenes, and here’s the reason why. These days, action has become associated with visual presentations seen on movies and television. We now have an expectation of how action is suppose to play out, and directors and special effects people know exactly how those are to look.
The only thing is, action on the screen is difficult to play out on the written page. There are only so many adjectives one can apply to action before you start repeating yourself, or end up looking ridiculous. And if you watch closely, some action scenes in movies play out forever: it’s like they slipped into a Whovian Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey ball of stuff, and what should be over in two minutes gone on for twenty.
My action scenes tend to be short and quick, because if you were paying attention, the three main action scenes that were in The Foundation Chronicles: A For Advanced–Kerry fighting the Abomination; Annie and Kerry against the homunculi in Self Defense class; and the Battle of Link Bridge–went fairly fast. Well, two of the three, but we’ll get to that . . . The reason they went fast is either due to some heavy-ass magic flying about–the Link Bridge battle–or one opponent was outclassed by the other–Kerry and the Abomination. In the second example Kerry quickly came to the conclusion that if he hung around trying to fight this thing he was gonna die, and did what he could to get the creature off Emma and to come after him thinking he could somehow outrun the beast. In the first example you saw that magic fights were a little like modern day aircraft or submarine battles: if you get through the defenses and hit, you’ll score a kill. As I showed, the Link Bridge Battle was over in forty seconds, and most everyone was in bad shape after that little soiree–even the winners needed a quick evac.
The exception to this rule was Annie and Kerry fighting the homunculi scene–or as I lovingly titled it, The Walking Tests. That went on for about nine thousand words, due to the set up, the preamble of one coven getting their butts kicked, and after the fight hearing about how the test may have been set up, and our two combatants wandering off to clean up. The actually battle seemed to take some time, only because there was some butt saving, and some talking, and most talking, and finally–well, once the kids figured out how to dust those loser homunculi walkers, it was over quickly. If I had to put a timer on the action, I’d say Annie and Kerry were on the mat no more than a couple of minutes at most–and that took four thousand words.
Though I have to admit that scene was one of my favorites to write, even if it did take me almost a week . . .
Have you always enjoyed writing and if so, what were some of the earliest things you remember putting pen to paper about?
While I like telling stories, I can’t say I’ve always enjoyed writing. Mostly because, at least in the beginning, one, I have horrible handwriting; two, I can’t spell worth a damn; and three, I couldn’t type. Once I learned to type I only had Point Two holding me back, and spell checkers help out there greatly.
The first story I remember completing was a horror tale that was really about as amateur as they get, complete with creepy, unknown things going bump in the night, and the overused trope of the author (the story was told in first person point of view) continuing to write as the Horror Outta The Basement came to eat his ass–otherwise known as the Apocalyptic Log with the writing making sure everyone read The Last Entry.
At the time I thought I was doing something great, but now it’s not hard to see it was complete crap. I really had no idea what I was doing, and I was totally coping the style of a write whose work I enjoyed. All writers do this (well, almost all), and I learned from that work, because my next two were much better. The second story I wrote was done with original characters, and involved a trio of time travelers realizing the part they had to play in the assassination attempt on President Reagan in 1981. It was the first time I worked with original characters who weren’t just there as part of the scenery, and there was the first inkling of a story starting to play out. (True story: this was written as an assignment for an adult writing night course I was taking. The instructor had wanted something along the lines of four to five pages; I turned in twenty-eight. She made certain to tell the whole class that I’d actually turned in a story, which I found a little embarrassing.)
And my third story was really sort of a fan fiction, as it took place inside a role playing universe that I was running at the time–however, I used all original character (save for two who were really in a position to help drive the plot along), and there was an actual history developed in the course of telling this story, where I was giving background on some of the characters, and even giving them, in the course of the story, motivation for their actions. It was also my first really cinematic story, as I could see scenes playing out as if I was watching this play out on HBO–and given all the swearing and mayhem that occurred in the story, it would have been perfect for HBO before the coming of the show known as A Song of Breasts and Dragons.
The most important thing about the story, however, was the length: it was about forty-five thousand words, which means long before I wrote my first novel, this was my first novel, at least according to the guild lines set down by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. And only a few friend ever heard the whole story: I never posted it on the Internet, I never tried to get it published because I know, as a derivative entity of an existing work with a legitimate copywrite, I couldn’t do anything with the story. I read it at writer’s meetings, and that was that.
None of these works exist any longer. They all resided on the hard drive an old computer that eventually went belly up, and were lost to history. I managed to find a hard copy of almost half of the third story about fifteen years ago (all these things were written in the late 1980s, early 1990s), but even that has vanished. I could, however, rewrite the third story if I had to, because even to this day I remember it well, because, really, you never forget your first.
Do you tend to write your stories in order or do you skip around?
And we finally come to the last question, and the crowd goes wild! Just kidding . . .
I write everything in order, and even I find that a bit strange, because as I have my stories laid out so well, it doesn’t make sense that I start at the beginning, work my way through the middle, and work towards the end, because if I know what’s going into a scene months before I get to it, why not write said scene? Writing software makes this possible, and with all my scenes for my last novel developed before setting down word one, then why not skip around? Why not write about what happened to Annie and Kerry in Kansas City long before they go to the Samhain Dance, or why not write the ending–which I knew before I started writing–and then get the kids together?
Because even though I know what’s going to happen before I get to those scenes, I don’t know what’s going to happen until I get there.
Allow me to explain.
When I laid out A For Advanced I knew the kids would go to Kansas City on a field op for the good guys. And, in a metadata view of the story, I knew certain things would happen there. What I didn’t know were the details, and I didn’t start working on those until I was about ready to write them. This was after I had months to think about that adventure, and even when I started writing, I only knew maybe six events in any kind of detail.
Annie and Kerry talking about France outside the school? Came to me that day before I wrote the scene. Same with the Dreamspace scene; had that idea the night before because I knew it made sense given what they knew. The CDC? Also figured out the day before I wrote the scene, based upon what I knew of the world I’d developed over the last year. And the Magic Show the kids gave in the park only came about due to knowing what they had already done magically, and want I wanted to bring up in a later scene.
In short, I couldn’t have written any of the Kansas City scenes without knowing what my kids had been through before getting there. I mean, I could have, but those scenes would have been completely different, and it’s very likely I may have needed to rewrite them completely to fit with what I’d written if I’d decided to work the whole field op out of order.
There are scenes I could write now for later novels because I know them well–and believe it when I say I would love to sometimes, just to write them out. But I would probably end up rewriting them later, and I hate to do that. It’s best to get to them in the right order so I know that my kids have advanced the way they’re supposed to advance.
Though if I did write out The Polar Express now it would answer one burning question . . .
Ummm, on second thought, I’ll just keep that information to myself for a few more years.
There you have it: twenty-five hundred words telling you a bit more about me as a writer. I hope you found it entertaining.
Because I remembered things that I thought I’d lost. And that’s a good thing.