NaNoWrimo is underway!

Hey you writers out there! How’s it going so far? Have you been writing every day? Did the prep help? What are you struggling with?

I’m up to 18k words and starting to hit the hard stuff. At first, I was mostly rewriting old chapters, but now I’ve got some original stuff I need to include and I think it will slow me down.   🐢

Remember, the goal is to write. Hitting your target number, writing every day, doing word sprints – those are just tools. Find your own style and make it work for you. Good luck!

SR

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Author Interview – Simon Petrie

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You might remember that back in August 2017 I told you about a space mystery than I really enjoyed. Now I have a follow up post about the author, Simon Petrie. I asked him about the story, set on one of Saturn’s moons, about his main character, and about his writing process.

Simon, where did you get the inspiration for this story?

I’ve written quite a lot of SF stories set on Titan; Matters Arising is the tenth and also the longest. I’ve always been interested in the mixture of SF and mystery, and I fancied the idea of making one of my Titan stories a mystery. Matters Arising was the result. It started, I suppose, with the image of a person deliberately breaching their own spacesuit, and then I needed to answer for myself the question of why someone might feel compelled to do such a thing. Once I had that answer, the story almost wrote itself.
I’m not always kind to my characters, and there’s a certain satisfaction to be had in giving a character an imaginative death. The idea of someone dying from a ruptured spacesuit is, I suppose, one of SF’s tropes, but such events in fiction usually dwell on the fatal and grotesque effects of exposure to vacuum. A ‘spacesuit containment failure’ on Titan, with its thick, cold, poisonous atmosphere, would be quite a different kind of horrible death, and I wanted to write that.

Where did you get the title of the story and the name – Guerline Scarfe – for your detective?

The title, Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body, suggested itself as the sort of dry, longwinded title that a bureaucrat would use to disguise something unpleasant. In my mind’s eye, it was the title Guerline gave to her report on the incident. And it has at least a double meaning in the context of the story – I’m always a sucker for a double meaning, so once I’d realised that, the title was fixed.
Guerline Scarfe’s name fell together somewhat haphazardly. I collect names – both first names and family names – that seem interesting and somewhat unusual, and try to find intriguing combinations. In this case, I had her surname sorted well before her first name. I actually wrote the first draft with a very different first name for her, but then decided it was too similar to the name of the main character in another Titan story; and since I couldn’t be sure she wouldn’t meet this other character in a new story, I figured I should change her name before it was set in stone.

This story is set in the solar system. If you had a chance, would you travel in space? Would you live in space?

I’d quite like to live in space, in a colony on the Moon or an asteroid or on Titan, but I’m actually not mad keen about travelling through space – even if I passed the physical for spaceflight (which I suspect I wouldn’t), there’s a lot that can go wrong with rocketry and I’m a somewhat anxious traveller. I’m still profoundly envious of those who do get to spend time in space, even if (at the moment) that seems to mean only low Earth orbit.
(And, while still Earthbound, I console myself with the thought that zero-gravity plumbing is not for the faint of heart.)

How long do you think it will be until we send humans off our planet again? What country do you think will do it first?

I’m pretty useless at predictions like this, but I think it’ll be between ten and fifteen years before we see humans on the Moon again. As to who manages it, my three guesses would be India, China, or a corporation like SpaceX.

How long have you been writing? Is this your first book finished?

I’ve been writing fiction seriously for eleven years now, but there had also been spells of writing quite a long way further back than that. Matters Arising isn’t my first book, but it’s the first of my books that’s only one story – I have a couple of SF short story collections out (Rare Unsigned Copy and Difficult Second Album), as well as a novella double (Flight 404 / The Hunt for Red Leicester). All of those are out through Peggy Bright Books, but a lot of my short fiction has appeared in various magazines or websites before that.

What’s been your biggest writing challenge? How did you overcome it or deal with it?

My biggest writing challenge has been finishing a novel, and I haven’t yet overcome that. I’ve written several novellas and lots of short stories, and my written work is getting longer. Matters Arising is my longest story yet, and its follow-up is looking to be longer than that.
Of writing challenges I have met, most of it has been a matter of having confidence in my ability to write, and learning from feedback – whether from my longsuffering editor, Edwina Harvey, or from my colleagues in the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild, who provide awesome (constructive) criticism.

What writers do you look to for inspiration?

I suppose for Matters Arising, my main inspirations would be Kim Stanley Robinson, whose ‘Mars’ trilogy pretty much sets the benchmark for solar-system-based SF, and writers like Isaac Asimov and Larry Niven who pioneered the SF/detective subgenre. (I’m really looking forward to Alastair Reynolds’ new SF/detective novel, too, which is due out in a couple of months.) But I’m trying to absorb some of the techniques of Scandinavian crime writers, who I’ve been reading a lot of lately; and other SF writers that have influenced me at one time or another are Douglas Adams (as well as my ‘serious’ stuff, I also write a fair bit of humorous SF, and I think The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a strong influence there), Iain M Banks, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Amy Thompson.

What’s your favorite space movie?

I would’ve been ten or eleven when I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey, which has a perplexing storyline but incredibly realistic space scenes; I enjoyed the original Star Wars; I’m a fan of the first two Alien movies; I was quite impressed by Gravity; and I quite liked The Martian (though I think the book is better than the movie). I don’t think I could pick a favourite out of those.

Will there be more in this series? What are you working on right now?

Yes, there’s definitely more in the ‘Guerline Scarfe’ series, and the next one (which is called A Reappraisal of the Circumstances Resulting in Death) should be out around the middle of 2018. Other than that, there are a couple of Titan short stories I’m trying to finish off, a new ‘Gordon Mamon’ (humorous space-elevator mystery) story, and a novella about human colonisation of an interstellar cloud. There’s no shortage of things to write, it’s just a matter of organising myself …

What would you like readers to take from this story?

That human nature doesn’t change in a different environment, although the consequences might be different.

What advice would you give writers?

Know when to break the rules.
Read widely across different genres, and read deeply in the genre you want to write in.
Write what you want to, not what you think publishers want.
Find a writers’ group, and learn to recognise and accept constructive criticism.
Try to learn from rejection, and don’t get discouraged.

How can readers best stay in touch with you?

I’m pretty backward when it comes to social media, so probably the best way is to use the ‘contact’ page on my WordPress site.

NaNo Prep #3 – Character

World building is great, solid writing is a must, but if your characters don’t stand out, then your book isn’t worth reading. BOOM.

OK, you say, I want to write amazing, three-dimensional characters. Where do I start?

There are a lot of ways to get moving on your characters, but it all comes down to understanding what makes them work. And before you truly understand them, you need to define a few basics. I searched for character worksheets, and came up with this one from writerswrite.com.

Character Profile Worksheet

Basic Statistics

Name:
Age:
Nationality:
Socioeconomic Level as a child:
Socioeconomic Level as an adult:
Hometown:
Current Residence:
Occupation:
Income:
Talents/Skills:
Salary:
Birth order:
Siblings (describe relationship):
Spouse (describe relationship):
Children (describe relationship):
Grandparents (describe relationship):
Grandchildren (describe relationship):
Significant Others (describe relationship):
Relationship skills:

There’s much more at the link, but this is a good place to start. For me, I started with a person in my head and then used the worksheet to help me answer some questions I didn’t think of on my own.

Once you’ve filled out some sheets like this one, it helps to write some scenes with your characters as you’ve written them. These scenes are not meant to be in your book; they’re just writing exercises to get you thinking about how your characters interact. You can search for writing or character exercises – there are a LOT on the internet. Nanowrimo.org has some great links there listed in the forums. This will help you see if your characters have more to tell you than you get from a worksheet.

Again, why are characters so important? Ask yourself, if I read a book with a beautifully detailed world, intricate and well thought out, or a realistic setting I could imagine walking into, a world described by the most amazing writing you’ve ever read or imagined and a truly unique plot that just blows your mind

BUT

peopled exclusively by the most generic, boring characters you’ve read a thousand times over, acting with no discernible motivation….

Would you finish reading the book?

No. Because it wouldn’t matter. If you can’t connect on an emotional level with the action or the setting, then it doesn’t matter. Characters are where we connect to the emotional content of the story. But with flat characters, the struggle in the plot has no immediacy; the writing describes a great world but that’s all. You put down the book and forget to pick it back up again. When you finish it, IF you finish it, you don’t care what happened or how it happened. You just vaguely remember a couple of details and then move on.

So we want characters that readers care about. Part of that is in building a great back story, one that may not ever be seen by readers but will nevertheless shape everything we write. And we want to rewrite until our characters and their struggles become more and more real. Sure, our characters may – will! – surprise us as we start writing, but they shouldn’t BORE us.

Hope this gives you a place to start. November is just a couple of weeks away! Good luck!

NaNo Prep #1 – Are You In?

This is the first in a series of articles I will be doing about prepping for NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. 

Hey, fellow writers! Next month is NaNoWriMo, and whether you’re a first timer or a repeat, there’s one question you have to ask yourself LONG before November 1st if you want to be a success.

Are You In?

Are you in – as in – are you committed? Are you in this project for the long haul? Are you going to write every day, right up until November 30th?

This really matters, because if you’re just casually committed to your book, you’re not going to finish it. Hey, you don’t HAVE to write a book. But if you want to write, you need to really want it. That’s been my problem lately. I’m kinda half-hearted about writing. I want to finish my book, but I want to finish my other projects too.

So for the month of November, I’m committing to writing every day, for at least 30 minutes a day. If that means leaving the house so I can use a computer, then that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to the library, or getting on my tablet, or using a freaking notepad and a pencil. But I’m going to write.

What about you? Are you going to stick with it, even when you feel like you have nothing to say that day and you really want to go do something else? If you really will write every single day, you can absolutely hit 50,000 words by the end of the month. You can finish. We’ll do it together.

 

Novel or Manifesto?

A few years ago, I was talking to a friend and a light bulb landed in my lap. Not a real one – that would have been weird – but an idea I couldn’t ignore. It was, a premise for the book I’m writing, whole as a nut. The idea didn’t magically appear. It came […]

via Crafting a light bulb: Are you writing a novel or a manifesto? — Muscat Tales

Tips on writing a battle

by Ian J Miller If you write historical novels, you may end up having to handle battles, and the question is, how to do it? The simplest way is to focus on one or more persons on the front line. You may be able to write some important character aspect of the protagonist, and […]

via Writing Authentic Battle Scenes — A Writer’s Path

3 Kinds of Feedback

I had my writer’s group last night and I’m still thinking over all the feedback I got. I love how a good critique can make you excited about your book all over again. Anyway, it’s my first time meeting with this group and I noticed something. I’ve decided there are three different types of feedback.

The first is the action-oriented. These folks notice what the character is doing all the time. How are they moving? Where are they in relation to stuff around them? Does your character suddenly have three hands – holding a knife in one hand, a gun in another, and a phone in the other other hand? They notice whether what you’re saying makes physical sense. This is really valuable, because some readers do this too – they put themselves in the book as they read. If your stuff doesn’t make physical sense, these readers will notice. I’m not great at this, so I really appreciate when someone else points this out. It can prevent some embarrassing moments!

The next is detail-oriented. These folks notice every word, every sentence, every punctuation mark. Do you have typos? Did you accidentally type a word twice? Did you use the wrong verb tense? This stuff can be fixed, of course, by a copy editor, but it’s nice to have a heads up before you get that far. (If you get that far.) These are the sort of mistakes that readers notice and wonder why you didn’t have an editor. I’m pretty good at this, but no one is perfect at spotting their own misteaks – err, mistakes.

The last is big-picture-oriented. This is where I generally fall. Do I like the main character? Is the setting well thought out? Am I emotionally invested in the story? This is what I notice as a reader, and it’s what I notice when I critique as well. If this doesn’t work, then I don’t care about how great the action is or if the copy editing is perfect. If I don’t care about the characters, if I can’t imagine the setting, if your plot doesn’t make sense, then I won’t enjoy it. Period.

If you are a writer and you don’t currently belong to a writer’s group, I really recommend that you look for one. Live and in person is best, but online works too. You need someone who tells you what works AND what doesn’t. If they’re just going to tell you everything is great, they aren’t really helping you. And if they tell you everything sucks, you’re just going to give up. Find someone who can give it to you straight but not make you want to hit the delete button.

Good luck, and happy writing!

10 Writing Mistakes That Really Bug Me!

I’ve been reading more indie fiction, and one thing about indie books, they don’t always have great editing. I get it; editors cost money. If you’ve signed with a publishing firm, they pay for all that. But if you’re self-published, you have to pay for it for yourself.

I’m sure it’s hard to come up with the money for that before anyone has even bought a single copy of your book. But it’s money well spent. Having a good editor can be the difference between a book that makes me want finish so I can recommend it to all my friends and one that I am happy to put off reading for something better.

In the spirit of helping, here are 10 writing mistakes that I have noticed that really mark your work as something that could have used an editor.

  1. Typos. These are so obvious, but they are so very annoying. It’s one thing on the internet, but when you’ve released a book? They make it look like a junior high project.
  2. Spelling mistakes. This goes along with the first one, but it has to be said again. This time I’m including the mistakes that spell check doesn’t pick up, but are still wrong.
  3. Forgetting a character’s name. Hello! Make a cheat sheet or something. But calling a character by one name in one page and something else on another page? That’s sloppy.
  4. You’re/your, it’s/its. Contractions are for when you leave a letter out. If you’re (hint) not sure, look it up. Or get that editor to do it for you!
  5. Too many dialogue tags. Oh, and using something besides “said” when you do use one. Occasionally replied, or asked, or complained, is acceptable, but mostly use said. And mostly leave it off. We don’t need it.
  6. Overusing characters’ names. Obviously you have to do it sometimes but there’s a balance. Too much and it becomes awkward and clunky.
  7. Either too much action or too much dialogue or too much interior monologue. The best books have a mix of all three. Readers want action, but they need a slow space to catch their breath, to think and figure stuff out, to bond with the characters, and to figure out what the characters are thinking. But too much of any one of these three elements and the book doesn’t work.
  8. No subplots. That’s a real difference I see between beginning writers (like me, I admit it) and more polished writers. Beginners are focused on just one plot. But that can make a book too predictable. The best writers create depth by adding subplots and characters with back stories that engage the reader.
  9. Black and white writing. Characters that are all good or all bad. People in real life are very seldom like that, so reading about people like that is just boring. Give your characters reasons to behave they way they do and people will love them more.
  10. Not listening to your editor. Once you have paid your editor, or begged your friends or writing group, to read and reread your work, take their advice. I’m not saying everything they say has to be adhered to, but if you ask someone for help, take the help they offer. Make the changes. Even if it means starting over. Your work will be stronger in the end.