Tag Archives: writing

Confession: I’m a Serial Hater

How’s that for a glib, yet cryptic title? Let me explain a little more.

I walk into a used bookstore, which like most bibliophiles, is similar to walking into an opium den. Oh sure, you tell the people waiting in the car that you’re just running in for a moment, but they know better and wander off for some coffee, or a tour in the Peace Corps. Meanwhile, I wander through the dim shelves, looking for a stack of yellowing, dog-earred volumes to trade some hard-earned lucre for. I go to fantasy/sci-fi and start pulling books out. Hmm, this one looks interesting. Interesting title, nice cover art. I glance down at the bottom of the cover. Book 1 of

That’s it. Deal-breaker.

I’m not going to say it’s a hard and fast rule, but I must confess that I am deeply biased against novel series. I’ll call it a prejudice since then I don’t have to justify it. Of course, in the above scenario of the used bookstore, the much more frustrating situation is finding Book 4 of– with no sight of Book 3, 2, or 1 anywhere. That’s not the writer’s fault, but here are some other grievances I have with book series.

Most of our books. I'm sure some of them are series.

Most of our books. I’m sure some of them are series.

1. The series never finishes.

This doesn’t happen much, but every now and then, the volumes keep coming and coming, introducing more and more plots and characters and not wrapping up enough of the old ones. This was my complaint with Wheel of Time. Hopefully, this won’t be the case with the Game of Thrones books but that is also one reason I will probably never read them.

2. The first book really isn’t that good.

Let me clarify for a moment. I don’t have any problem with book series that all take place in the same world, but are separate stories, even if they are loosely related to each other. That’s fine. Books like the Discworld novels and the Chronicles of Narnia are series but they are also standalone novels, for the most part. My problem is with series that are all one single story. If the first book isn’t that good, I feel torn between giving up and never finding out the ending, and shelling out more money just to know what happened. It’s like selling me the first quarter of a novel, and unlike Jimmy Norman, the master behind Dysfunctional Literacy, I finish books. It’s a compulsion with me, even if I don’t like them (even this compulsion is more of an ideal; there are plenty of books I never finish).

3. You get the feeling the writer is only continuing the series for money.

I don’t have any specific examples of this, but I’m sure you’ve read them. There are still things that happen, conflicts occur, characters do things, but the books start to lose some of the driving force of the first one. It’s not necessarily bad writing, but you get the feeling that it’s also not really necessary.

4. The series is an artificial construct.

This is a publishing trick more than a writing one. Korea is especially bad at it, for some reason. I have the Lord of the Rings in four languages and the Korean one was by far the most expensive. That’s because while the other languages sell it in three books, the Korean version has seven volumes, meaning it’s 7/3’s more expensive. It is technically 6 books in one (plus the appendices) but there’s no point in selling it that way, except for money.

When I was young, I bought a middle grade fantasy series called Winds of Light. It had six volumes, even though each was only 130 pages or so. That was fine, except about six months after I bought the whole series, they came out with a single volume edition for about a third of the price of all six volumes. Maybe that was when my series hatred started.  Maybe I should go see a literary psychologist.

(Note: just to preemptively point out my hypocrisy, I am planning to write a novel series in about ten years or so. I only mention it now since everything online is eternal and I just know someone will dig up this post in 15 years when my serial novels are on the bestseller list. I just like to be prepared.)

Okay, I’ve ranted enough. How do you feel about serial novels? Let me know in the comments. (If, by the way, you write serial novels for a living, feel free to curse me out or send me a free sample of your books to try to sway my mind on the matter.)


Big Writing versus Small Writing

Big writing small writing

This idea came to me a few days ago as a way of thinking of different aspects of writing. I was thinking of H.P. Lovecraft as a matter of fact and considering whether he was a good writer or not. He is considered one of the masters of early cosmic horror, continuing on from Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce and William Hope Hodgson and one of the inspirations for modern horror. He was clearly hugely influential and was a master of huge, sweeping themes. On the other hand, his writing is filled with long, baroque descriptions and almost no dialogue. So, was he a good writer?

I concluded that he was good at big writing but not as good as small writing. Here was my thinking.

Big writing relates to the story, themes, action, and the characters. All the things you would say if you were asked what the story was about, and other Wh- questions.

Small writing has to do with the actual words the writer uses. It’s the description, the dialogue, the word choice. This is what comes out when you quote something from a story.

Of course, to be successful, you need to be good at both. No one wants to read a sweeping epic that reads like Dick and Jane, nor rich, velvety prose, sumptuous and sensuous as a triple layer chocolate cake if there’s no story to it. However, some writers seem to excel at one or the other.

Some notable “big writing” greats:

  • J.R.R. Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings has some great dialogue and description, but it’s the epic feel of it that leaves an impression.
  • J. K. Rowling. Not that her small writing is bad, but wow, it’s the world and big story that has made her a star.
  • Michael Crichton. I really love his books and while he’s not a bad writer, it’s the stories and action that really pulls you in.

Some great “small writing” authors:

  • William Shakespeare. This one is debatable, since he is great all around, but I would argue that his stories are fairly conventional and it is his rapier-sharp dialogue and turns of phrase that have made him a legend.
  • Barbara Kingsolver. I thought of her because I’ve been reading the Poisonwood Bible lately. Just a few sentences and you feel like you are right there with the family in the Congo, breathing in the same air and all.
  • Edgar Allan Poe. It is a joy to me to read his words, like some sort of lexical opiate.

These are a few examples that I thought of off the top of my head. Which writers do you think really excel at “big writing” or “small writing”? Let me know.


2015: The Year of the Green-Walled Tower

Belfry - New Years 1So, it’s not quite New Year’s here yet, but we’re counting down the last few hours and although 2014 has been a pretty good year, I have a really good feeling about 2015. I feel like this is going to be a big year for me and this blog, not because of random fortune, but because I am committed to doing a lot of work.

I don’t usually make resolutions for two reasons: 1) I don’t usually have anything I specifically want to do that I think I can accomplish with a resolution and 2) resolutions are treated very cynically these days. Resolutions seem to have come to mean “well-meaning but naive life changes that will be in effect from January 1-15”. I don’t want that.

However, this year, I have made some resolutions which I am 100% committed to keeping. I’m sure everyone says that so I am making them a matter of public record so I can compare this post with another one a year from now. Keep me honest, people.

New Years Resolution 1

 

New Years Resolution 2

 

New Years Resolution 3

And finally, the most important and most ambitious.

New Years Resolution 4

 

Thank you to all you who read my blog. Expect good things in the year to come. Happy New Year!

Belfry - New Years 2.2

Belfry intro

 


Music to Write by

Last week, my class was working on posters for International Education Week and I put on some music while they were working. I tried to find songs on Youtube that everyone might like or at least things that I liked. After a few songs, I put on Lana del Ray’s Summertime Sadness, which I really love. One of the students, a 20-year-old Venezuelan guy gave me a look, as in “Really? You like this?” I defended myself by teaching them the word eclectic as in “Shut up, I have eclectic tastes in music” and then changed songs.

The fact is, I do love a very wide range of songs that produce some sort of emotional response in me. After all, as a writer I’m trying to evoke an emotional response in the reader, so call it research.

I listen to music when I write since it fuels the creativity pumps deep inside my spirit. Here is a sampling of songs that I really love and that help me in my writing. I can’t guarantee you’ll like all of them and actually, I can pretty much guarantee you won’t like all of them, since what would the odds be of that? (I also like Nightcore-style music, so some of these songs are the Nightcore remix version).

Et Huomaa – Irina

L’autre – Mireille Mathieu

Fear of the Dark – Iron Maiden

Dust in the Wind – Kansas

Popcorn – Hot Butter

Blessed be Your Name – Matt Redman

Courtesy Call – Thousand Foot Krutch

Anima Libera – Emi

Back to Black – Amy Winehouse

Brother Louie – Modern Talking

Jai Ho – Slumdog Millionaire OST

Lady – Styx

Classical Gas – Vanessa Mae

Vampire Kiss (Nightcore version)

Helele – Velile & Safri Duo

Kernkraft 400 – Zombie Nation

Radioactive – Imagine Dragons

And for my friend Miles, who also loves this song:

Kyrie – Mr. Mister

Do you listen to music when you write? What kinds of music helps you write the most?


Courage at the End – Friday Fictioneers

This is my 100th Friday Fictioneers story, which means that I’ve written 10,000 words since I’ve started the Friday Fictioneers. Here’s to 10,000 more. Also, those of you who got here through the Friday Fictioneers portal saw that I have a new icon, different from my normal Delta Sigma one. This signals new things to come. More details to come later.

GWT logo

copyright Melanie Greenwood

copyright Melanie Greenwood

Courage at the End

The couple sat with the vaccine lying between them.

“You take it,” the woman said.

“Then you and the baby will die. Let the baby have it.”

“But if we die, who will care for him?”

“We have to do something soon.”

They sat there silently, as time slipped away.

*        *        *

“That’s it?” the professor asked.

“It’s up to the reader how it ends,” the student said.

“Are you kidding me? You can’t be timid as a writer! Choose an ending and stand behind it.”

“Fine, they give it to the baby.”

“The baby? That was the stupidest choice! You fail.”

 


Welcome to the attic of the Green-Walled Tower

Come on it, don’t mind the mess (I don’t pick up that often). Just follow the steps up and up until you get to the top. I’m letting you into the inner sanctum of my writing world in response to an invitation by Amy Reese, at amyreesewrites.com. She is a great writer and a good blogging friend of mine since the beginning of this blog. This is part of the Writing Process Blog Tour, I do believe. Without further ado, here are the four questions that I was given.

1)     What am I working on?

Ah, what a question. It almost pains me to think about it. It’s like I have this jar of wriggly, squirming stories and I love every single, slimy one of them. They are my children: each at a different stage of development but they all have such potential. But then, with some chagrin, I have to cram the top back on top of that sucker or they might get out and I do NOT have time to deal with all of them at the moment.

Yeah, my jar is extra full, I’m afraid. I only mention them here since I work on things slowly, turning them over in my mind over a long time, like a literary Sarlacc.

Plots...I need plots.

Plots…I need plots.

I’m usually pretty private about my projects, but what the hey. Here is what is on my plate:

The Inner Darkness: this was originally a Nanowrimo novel I did in 2009. It has been through several edits since then, but I have a lot of plans for it in my head. No time though. It’s a quirky, first-person fantasy involving an abyss in a cave where people occasionally emerge from. I really love the main character.

The Girl Who Could Snee: I wrote this novel around a story I originally posted on this blog. This one is unfortunately not finished, not for lack of ideas but just time. Why didn’t I finish it originally? Sigh. Why not, indeed?

Brother Alien: This is another novel that is not finished, although with this one, I am still thinking about one particular point. It’s sitting in the belly of the literary Sarlacc, still stewing. It deals with the aftermath of a failed alien invasion.

Special Becky: This is a novella I’m working on, which is based on the series of Friday Fictioneers stories I did, one with the same name. It’s not finished, not because of a lack of ideas or interest, just because other, more urgent projects came up.

I don’t mention all these to brag. If anything, they are a mark of shame that so many are unfinished. I mention them because they are all on my mind and even when I’m not actively working on them, I’m working through ideas for them, until the day I can pull up the file, read through the notes and begin gloriously again to create.

What I am currently working on actively is a collaborative novel. It’s kind of a secret though, so I can’t say much about it. It is a great story though and if/when it’s published, you’ll know all about it.

Pictured: not me

Pictured: not me

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I have a confession: I don’t know what my genre is. As you might know, my blog stories tend to be quirky or dark and everything in between.

Of course, those are blog stories. With my novels, seven are adventure stories; four are funny; six have fantasy or sci-fi elements in them. However, if I had to answer this question (which I apparently do) I would say that I combine these elements together in my own style, which makes it different. Also, there are three minor elements that many of my stories share that reveal my personality. 1) other languages are a key part of the story or some character is learning another language, 2) there are often huge, dark expanses, 3) there are other worlds and some way to go between them.

fiction-genres-changing-writing-genres

3)     Why do I write what I do?

First and foremost, I write the kind of stuff I want to read. I write my ideal books (as well as I can) so it’s always fun to go back and reread them again and again.

Secondly, I write to express what I believe. I am a Christian, but I don’t mean I want to write blatantly Christian books (mostly because I don’t like to read most blatantly Christian books). I have a lot of beliefs.

I believe the world is a wonderful, magical place; I believe in forgiveness and mercy; I believe in truth; I believe the world is a really complicated place with no easy answers sometimes. For instance, in Brother Alien, the plot turns around the idea of what to do in a stalemate with stranded aliens who have killed hundreds of millions of people. Some people want to wage eternal war, others want to forgive them. Can you ever forgive a crime so great? I want to explore that question.

4)     How does my writing process work?

Many of my novels start with a picture. For a few of them, the picture came from a dream. My very first story, Teardrop, started with the image of a train going up a valley at quitting time. Inside were two different races: one short, one tall. Another one, The Wild Children, started with a dream where I was in a wet, muddy cave. The roof suddenly split open and light streamed in and a hand reached down. That was it; the whole dream. I built the novel around it.

After I have that picture or a What if? idea, I just think about it. I think and think, working the idea back and forth until I have the kernel of a story. Then I start writing. When I begin, I usually have an inkling of where the story will end, but not always. I don’t plot out scenes on paper, since I’ll just change them while I’m writing. If I get stuck on a point, I think on it a while until I get it unstuck.

After I get the rough draft done, I put it away and start something else, usually an edit of another project, since I don’t usually write novel rough drafts back to back. When that edit is done, I’ll come back to the rough draft, reread it and plot out the scenes with all their characters and significant events. Then I can see what needs changing, what needs cutting and adding, and so on.

Thanks for coming on this tour. Now I would like to pass on the challenge to Sharmishtha Basu, if she has any interest in answering these questions. Sharmishtha is a prolific writer and poet from India who manages an impressive number of blogs and specializes in fantasy and paranormal stories.

writing warning

This is true: the teacher in The Wild Children is named after a barista.


Lesser Known Writing Challenges

If you’ve read my blog at all, you know that every week I participate in a writing group called Friday Fictioneers. It is a challenge to write a 100-word story around a photo prompt. I also often do a similar thing on Sundays, called Sunday Photo Fiction, run by Al Forbes.

These aren’t the only ones out there, by far. There are challenges to write 33-word stories, haibun (prose + haiku), even six-word stories. In that spirit, I have come up with some other writing challenges.

mickey writing

1. Mono-words.

Write a complete story with conflict and plot development in one word.

Example:

The Time Billy Replaced All the Thanksgiving Candles with Firecrackers

Blam!

typewriter

2. The Little Word Challenge.

Write a story with words no longer than 3 letters.

Example:

My Pig Was Sad

I had a pig, Joe. Joe was sad. He saw me and my new gun. I put Joe and my new gun in my bag. We ran to the bus. At the end of the day, I ate ham. Joe was not a bad pig, but he’s not sad now. Now he’s a yum pig.

writing

3. The Alphabet Trainers.

You must write a 26-word story, in alphabetical order by first letter.

Example:

A Beautiful Cat

A beautiful cat dodged Ernie’s fist.

“Gotcha!” he interjected joyously. “Kill little mice now!”

Ophelia proffered Quentin’s red sweater. “Tight underneath?”

“Very warm!” Xavier yelled zealously.

cs lewis writing

4. The Punctuators.

The challenge is to write a story, then take out everything but the punctuation. It’s up to the reader to fill in the blanks.

Example:

? !

,,,.,,…,..??,?,??,!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.,.,,!??.,.!,.,….,.,,..,.,.,,,.,.,.,??;,.,:;;;;.,.,().,.?;.,.:

writing


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