500 And 1 Words At A Time: Ideas Without Words

Today is not a typical day, but is a day I am familiar with and maybe all writers are familiar with to some extent.

Despite the popular image of a writer sitting in front of whatever and banging away ceaselessly on their magnum opus, the truth is writing is an up and down process. The up is when the ideas and words flow like a river. The down is when something is off, not in a life gets in the way sense, but in a you have the ideas but the words won’t show up or you have the words and no ideas.

How is this possible to have an idea but no words or vice versa? Unfortunately pretty easy.

For example: I have an idea for a singular short story around Chuck. I want to tell more about who Chuck is and what Chuck can do and thinks he can do. In my head, this is a fast paced short with a lot of humor. This is my idea. And the words to create this idea have failed me all day. I have a bunch of sentences that on the surface read well, but when read together do not have the flow I have in mind.

Another example: Worldship Horizon needs an adjustment, the original idea is sound. However, my initial approach went off the rails really fast. Since that time I have had a few ideas to start over or readjust, yet each time I sit down to write, today even, the words don’t match the idea. Funny thing, is that well take a look…

As a blunt nose tender finished pushing the last colony section into place, green lights flashed around the edges. In another section of the worldship, the last troopers marched into lockdown position, armor on, weapons ready, locked down for transport.

****

Maxwell slumped in his command chair, sweat running down his face, sensors clear, warning lights flashed indicating systems damaged or destroyed, but they won their first battle. Over the command net, orders given, status updates, injury reports, and requests formed a familiar background noise, until he removed his helmet allowing the helmet to roll down to the floor.

Fans clicked on the cool breeze felt great. Maxwell sat up…

The first is a complete new start when the Horizon is loading before the launch. Interesting take, but not a direction I think needs too much revisiting. The second puts Maxwell, formerly a foot soldier, into the cockpit of something-a tank, a robot, or something else. Again, an interesting idea, but not where I wanted to work, down the road once I have a better start maybe.

I don’t what other writers do, not necessarily the truth I have read a few books by other authors so I know what they do, and while their solutions work for them they do not work for me. Writing comes and goes, today writing is doing both-I was able to bang this out without incident, but other stuff…

500 and 1 Words At A Time: Story Creation, My Way

From time to time I share with you the inner workings of how this writer works. Most recently in the form of Puddles and Whiskers from rough draft, to edits, to revisions, to the current stage of course corrections, expansions, and general story related stuff. You may not have realized that if you joined in recently. Something I have not shared is how I work my way through creating a story, this is on my mind because of my recent creation Worldship Horizon.

Everything begins with an idea. In this case, Chris asked if I wanted to collaborate on a roleplaying game. I do. Unfortunately, we have a rich history of starting and going nowhere fast. Not wanting to go this route we set on the idea of a space ship doing the Battlestar Galactica/Enterprise/whatever space opera thing. In essence creating a self-contained setting for the game.

I wrote down all of the types of ship in space I knew of, along with examples, and set about coming up with something I had not heard about and interested me. The idea: humanity conquered by an alien race long enough ago that nobody remembers a time of freedom is used by the aliens as a initial colonization fleet. Each worldship has an army of 10,000 troopers, 10,000 colonists, and all of the supplies necessary. Sent to coordinates of a planet the worldship is to establish a colony or conquer the planet and establish a colony. With that in mind, the Horizon is sent off, arriving somewhere else and immediately in danger before anyone has time to figure out that they are not in the right spot.

And that is where the idea ended and I made my writing mistake. I should have written out more before going all serial story. I did not because in my head there were a few scenes and events to write out. Great, because I can piece them together and weave together a coherent narrative while giving out details about the world or world building. That did not or more correctly, has not happened.

Oops. Normally, I write out a ton of material before I show people what I am working on. I write out the idea. I flesh out the with details large and small. I know what the characters, at least the initial batch of them, look like and sound like. I spend a lot of time writing out details that may or may not end up in a story, but are in my head and help shape everything written.

Rereading the initial pages, the intro is what I had in mind, although I see several ways to do the intro better. After the intro things go off the rails or at least into territory that is too familiar sounding to me and my original idea did not have any of that, which makes the familiar feeling all the more distressing.

What do I do? As of now, notes. Back to the drawing board. Keep the idea, that is sound. Everything else we shall see.

 

500 and 1 Words At A Time: I Should Be Writing

Tick Tock.

Tick Tock.

Tick.

Tock.

A day to myself.

Plans to write.

Plans to paint.

Plans to write some more.

…and nothing…

The clock keeps counting down to time to pick up the kids.

Picking up the kids means distractions until they go to bed.

I don’t mind the distractions…except when I had plans to write.

Except I cannot lay the blame for not writing at any exterior distractions. Only on me.

The words are there, but they are not cooperating. Pen to paper results in a few words and a lot of doodles. Then a call to find something else to do…

Dishes done.

Sweeping done.

Check the mail done.

Check the news done.

And the words come screaming back only to thwart themselves or me, depending upon your point of view, by refusing to set down on the screen or paper. A sentence leads to staring at the screen.

I have three open documents and have opened and closed a dozen more. Each open leads to a close within minutes despite my intentions.

I have four pens on my desk, arranged in a fan shape. The blue clicky-top in the middle, the odd pen out. Someone must have left it within my reach and being the writer, I collected the pen into my writing pens. And none of them want to write. Other than chewing on the ends pens have one purpose, to write, and mine say “no writing out of us today.”

Like a magic 8-ball only in ink.

Three stacks of stapled papers sit on the table and on the floor. Each one a different story I am working on; edits, revisions, questions, and story lines. Each one has been picked up two or three times.

Pen to paper.

Ink scribbles.

A word or two.

A doodle.

Pen to table.

Stack of paper moved to another spot on the table, disturbing the dust or covering my goblin writing buddy. Who stares back accusingly, “You should be writing, but you can’t.”

Laying there next to the writing, my goblin writing buddy, crafted by Barb for my birthday has been there for all writing since then, watching over me, the pens, the papers, and the words.

Today, he too is taking a break.

I want to flip him over so his pink red eyes are not accusing me of not doing my job. I cannot. Not his fault the…whatever is not flowing today. Not going to take out my frustrations on those not responsible.

Funny thing, here I am writing. The free flow of words and ideas about how I have not been able to write or work on writing all day. Nothing goes to plan, it seems. Perhaps goblin writing buddy is doing his job after all. Perhaps returning to a mandatory post a day is having the effect I hoped of keeping me writing even when I am not writing what I planned on writing.

Tick Tock.

Time for me to wrap this up. Maybe, when I get home with the kids the plan will unfold. 🙂

500 and 1 Words At A Time: Distractions

The maintenance man is here looking for the source of a water issue.

Every school district but one is closed around us due to ice.

Snow is falling, blowing, and piling up.

Temperature dropped.

And for the moment, my plans for structured writing have gone out the window.

Structured writing, the act of working on one project with a specific intent, in this case continuing to edit, revise, and expand Puddles and Whiskers. I have notes. I have lots of arrows and slashes across the text. These notes, arrows, and slashes need coaxing to become something more and part of that something more is some quiet and not having to wonder how much longer before I get a call from the school announcing early release due to snow piles and ice.

I can bang out a few hundred words, like this soon to be 500, in no time. However, as I have stated before much of what has been posted due to the nature of the blog I like to keep. Thus, unless otherwise stated, such as Puddles and Whiskers Drybush and Wash Phase X, was created on the fly.

Structured writing requires, for me, a space (I have two of those-one for summer and one for winter); time (I have that); notes (I have those too); and a limited number of distractions (I have those too in spades).

Distractions include, but are not limited to

  • work necessary around the house, such as dishes, cooking, the lawn, or garbage
  • children being louder than “normal”
  • children or other adults interrupting writing time, important questions, information, or fun interruptions are acceptable. Asking me who I think would win in a fight Hulk or whateverothersuperheroofthemoment is not important or fun because the answer never is what the questioner wants to hear
  • loud noises; out here is much quieter than our previous, hell any place we have ever lived before, thus loud noises is pretty broad now, typically the children playing outside my office window
  • maintenance work, I love our maintenance man, he works rain or shine, enjoys his work, takes pride in his work, and has no problem working later than scheduled. However, maintenance work is noisy and that is distracting, especially since I like to know what happened or how the fix is moving along
  • pressing business, there are always things that need to get done…you know the rest

So what do I do when distractions keep me from the structured writing I had planned? Wait, if the distraction is temporary. Usually, this works well, the distraction goes away and resume writing. When the distraction is longer, such as a day of life getting in the way, find some other writing to do, such as a blog post about distractions (practice those writing skills) or find some other way to work on structured writing that requires less cognitive processing, such as finding a section of a story to make new notes upon or find something else to do entirely…no sense wasting a day.

 

 

500 and 1 Words At A Time: Holiday Writing

Ah December holidays.

Bane of most gaming groups. Over my lifetime more gaming groups and campaigns have ended in December than any other month.

Bane of scheduled writing. At least for me December has been the bane of regular writing for me.

Weather. Trips. Shopping. Decorating. Cleaning up the weather, trips, shopping, decorating, and most of all cooking, lots of cooking.

I cannot think of another month in the year where so much happens or leads into the month. Thanksgiving drives right into December where people start thinking of Christmas and New Years. This leads to decorating, shopping, and making plans for visits with friends and family.

If you have children, which I do, distractions increase exponentially. There are regular school days-drop off and pick up; half days which make no sense given the nature of snow days (school gets 7 snow days, often uses double digits, but instead of turning half-days into full days, extends school well into summer); special events such as holiday concerts which when you have children in different grades can mean more than one day spent in a concert; sick days; and blah blah blah…

The gist of the story is that today while you are reading this and I wrote this I spent this time not doing:

  • Shoveling the rest of our really long drive way.
  • Pricing snow blowers for our really long drive way.
  • Reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

Writing more Puddles and Whiskers; I have four pages of notes and questions answered, I need more than five minutes to put it all to paper/screen in a meaningful manner. Fun story, for those following the Puddles and Whiskers story, I found a hole in the story. The hole is small, but stands out now that I found it. An early reference to Eth later turns into information Eth could not provide. Quick fix, rename character and leave Eth in place for rest of story. I’m not into quick fixes when I am in the process of expanding the story, so new character is in the process of getting a larger scene along with several other small scenes.

  • Playing games and interacting with the children or getting them outside with a shovel to assist with the really long drive way (have I mentioned our drive way is really long?)
  • Writing more game material for the companion game to Puddles and Whiskers.
  • Visiting with friends, although the snow filled really long drive way will need to be addressed before this could realistically happen.
  • Making rice dressing for sushi.
  • Making sushi rolls.
  • Cleaning the house.
  • Folding laundry.
  • Cleaning off the deck.
  • Salting just about every surface.
  • Hanging more Christmas lights, although I may not do that because you can read by Christmas light.

I think you get the point. I am hoping that per every other year, the week before Christmas and after New Years all of the distractions and calls for my time evaporate as I would really like to have more time to write.

 

 

500 and 1 Words At A Time: Painting and Writing, Similar Processes (with Puddles and Whiskers)

Writing is similar to painting miniatures, for me at least.

Start with a miniature I like. The idea for a story, short, game, or long work.

Examine the miniature to immediate flaws, fix the flaws. The outline where I determine if the idea is something I want to work on and where the initial large holes are located, such as plot, setting, or characters.

Examine the miniature for details I want to highlight. The idea is workable, what do I want to focus on initially.

Then start painting, first the base coat. Sloppy with no concern other than covering the entire miniature. Rough Rough Draft. Rough Draft. And lastly, rough draft ready for show.

Next, the first pass, applying base colors to each part of the miniature, more detail oriented, keep the colors where I want them, but not overly concerned if small mistakes creep in. First and second editing passes, focused not on the details of language and grammar, but looking for places for expansion, clarity, and deletion.

Next, detail work, fine brushes, correcting the mistakes and working ensure the overall look is what I want. Second and third passes, fixing grammar, punctuation, yet still focused on adding details and clarity.

Next step, washes, designed to create shadows and depths, washes have a tendency to get messy, but a necessary step. Fourth pass, where I take another look at the work, looking for…well everything; language, grammar, clarity, details, flow; how can I make them better.

Dry brushing follows, fill a brush with color, wipe the brush dry until nothing but pigment remains, then wipe the brush over parts of the miniature. Brings out detail and sharpens the shadows and depths created by the wash. Sources identified, time to bring out the details, see what shines. Typically, done through asking questions, such as what does this look like or why are the characters where they are at and then answering them. Some answers end up in the writing, others are for me to keep track of for later.

Finally, true detail work, painstaking work with fine brushes and other tools to bring out all of the detail, to bring the miniature to life. The “final” manuscript. I can look at it no more. Truth being, there is no “final” there is only “done for now.” Unless I turn in a manuscript to someone else, I will go back to the writing at some point. 🙂

With all of that in mind, here is the next stages (Wash and Dry Brush) of Puddles and Whiskers starting from the beginning.

The Present…

BONG!

At the sound of a frying pan bouncing off a skull, everyone in the ramshackle room stopped fighting, for a brief second. Pouncing back from her fallen foe, golden furred Puddles brandished her frying pan above her head, drawing her heavy pistol at the same time and shooting a charging black and red clad mook.

“Give up will ya!” Puddles shouted at the room full of mooks.

Gray and white furred Whiskers knee-slid underneath the sloppy punch of a mook, gutting the mook with his katana. Popping up from the slide, Whiskers flicked his katana clean of blood, and sought another challenger. Whiskers did not have to wait long; knocking smaller mooks aside with swings of a large pipe, a giant over-muscled mook lumbered straight towards Whiskers. Adjusting his grip to a low-position, Whiskers waited for the moment to strike the perfect blow.

BLAM!

BLAM! BLAM!

Three large bloody holes appeared on the over-muscled mook’s chest. For a brief second, the mook looked surprised before falling over. Curved knives drawn, three more mooks jumped over his body to take his place.

“You’re welcome!” Puddles shouted at Whiskers.

Whiskers shot Puddles an irritated glare before returning his attention to the mooks. The perfect moment gone, Whiskers charged the mooks. Sidestepping right at the last second, Whiskers swung his katana upwards, gutting the mook on the right as they passed each other. A half step forward, a downward stroke, followed by a quick slice to the right and the other two mooks fell clutching their wounds.

Silence

…other than their labored breathing, the room was silent. Puddles strolled over trash and dead mooks to Whiskers. Wiping his blade clean on a dead mook, Whiskers faced Puddles, his ears back giving extra body English to his irritation with his longtime partner.

Pointing at the over-muscled mook, “What was that about?”

Puddles shrugged. Her spotted tail waving lazily in an S-pattern that Whisker’s knew so well; her “Oops, did I do that,” when she knew what she had done shrug.

“I couldn’t let you have all the fun,” Puddles said over her shoulder, holstering her pistol while stepping over mooks on her way to the doorway, her tail swishing away as if she did not have a care in the world.

Tail lashing, Whiskers stood for a moment, gripping his katana tightly the holo-etching flaring bright along the blade, before sheathing in one smooth motion. He gave the over-muscled mook one last look before following Puddles out of the room into the refuse and graffiti covered hallway. The floor cocked downward, ceiling tiles hung ready to fall at any moment. Halfway down the hallway, alarms began to sound and the few hallway lights went from white to emergency red.

Ears upright, alert, Puddles looked at the ceiling, “Seems like and odd security system for a gang.”

“Took them long enough,” Whiskers said to Puddles.

“I thought we made more than enough noise,” Puddles replied.

“We?”

“Yes you.”

Whiskers caught Puddles making her infamous, to him, “Who me” gesture; ears forward, eyes wide, and arms held out. He smirked.

“If you weren’t such a push over we wouldn’t be here,” Puddles said while peeking around a corner.

501 Words At A Time: A Story of Patience

Today it hit me. What hit me? Patience or at least the realization that patience with my writing is a skill I have been missing, lacking, or on the low-side. Patience with writing is…necessary.

Recently a friend asked me for some help writing fiction and I gave my usual advice:

Characters: Have compelling characters who have their own motivations and world view. Compelling is based on the writer, what I find a compelling character may not be compelling to another. Regardless compelling characters are easier to write. Characters need to have a motivation not related to the plot, my thought at least. A character who’s motivation is to complete the plot is less interesting to me and has a shorter lifespan than a character who has a motivation outside of the plot and tries to interact with the plot. I.e. a detective who’s only goal is to solve the plot of the week is less interesting to me than a detective with a drinking problem, a desire to become wealthy, and motivational issues who is tossed into the plot of the week and has to deal.

Villains and Obstacles: Villains need to be as compelling and interesting as the characters, in some ways more so. A lackluster villain who the character defeats is not memorable. A villain as rounded as a character is interesting in their own right and makes for compelling/interesting reading. For me, and this is a me thing, villains are plot generators. Villains want something or to do something and some how the characters get involved and that is where the conflict arises…unless your characters go a different direction…nothing wrong with the villain winning because a character moved on, missed something, or life got in the way.

Locations and/or Environment: Put your characters in interesting places. Interesting does not mean unique. Interesting means providing enough details to make the location/environment seem alive and not a backdrop for the characters to act in front of.

Let everything grow: While writing if staying true to a character they will occasionally do something that is not what the writer had in mind or they should. If allowed to go off script, characters grow and become more interesting. This is a hard concept to grasp, as the writer don’t I have complete control? Yes and no. Yes, I put the words down, but there are times when I see a character doing something other than what I was writing and I re-write the scene going with what the character does, even if that puts the character in greater danger or removes them from the story altogether. Life is like that. I like my characters to have those not-so-perfect moments.

Good advice, but I forgot one thing and I did not realize I had forgot it until this morning when working on another revision, patience. Ripping off a story is easy. Going back and crafting that story is hard. All of the skills that go into taking a rough draft and turning that into the next draft, and next, and so on require patience.

A writer needs to have the patience to let the writing unfold. Ripping off a story and working on it later that day or the next is not the same as taking a day or two or even a week before coming back to that story. The difference for me between working on a draft the next day and week is immense. The next day I fill in the blanks I remember I forgot to put to paper. A few days later, I see the holes, I see the errors, I see the places where I can expand for interest, clarity, or remove altogether. Patience.

Waiting is difficult especially with writing where things tend to come in bursts. A burst of writing leads to another and another. Seeing all the words on paper or screen leads to thinking you did something and you did. Now take a few days off from that work. Work on something else or just take a break and read. Then come back. All of that work can be made better because you will have fresh eyes and thoughts will have had time to refresh.

Patience is that missing piece.

Need an example: Check revisions of the stories I have been posting or in a few days come back and I will have a better version of this rip and run up. Patience. 🙂