Welcome to the Dragon's Pen, the blog of an aspiring kiwi author ... chatting about reading, writing, querying and publishing

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Wisdom of Stephen King

I've been reading Stephen King's Memoir "On Writing".

The book is divided into three parts. The first is a delightfully candid account of memories from his childhood that influenced his writing and tells of his struggles to make a career of his passion for writing and the resulting triumphs.

The second half is where in his chatty, pull-no-punches way of writing, he shares his thoughts on the craft itself and insights into the importance of a writer's "toolbox". (If you haven't got one yet - get one!)

To close, he shares a touching glimpse into his near-death experience, his struggle to recover and the role his writing played in that process.

A few snippets of Kingly wisdom...

Stephen talks about vocabulary and not forcing it. He warns against using 'big words' just to look smart, saying, "In this case, happily pack what you have without the the slightest bit of guilt and inferiority. As the whore said to the sailor, 'it ain't what you got it's how you use it'." Wise words indeed.

And grammar. He doesn't go into the horrid nitty-gritting of the rudiments of grammar, instead he says it's important to know how grammar works so that we writers can enjoy the "comforting simplicity at its heart, where there need only be nouns, the words that name, and verbs, the words that act."

He talks about the importance of using active rather than passive tense. Why? Because the passive voice is deathly dull! And wittily discusses those demon-like adverbs that like to creep in to our manuscripts like evil weeds, but concedes they are the bane of a writers life and even he finds them sprinkled though his own work. "All I ask is that you do as well as you can, and remember that, while to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine."

One of King's golden rules is WRITERS READ! He talks about the importance of reading and what it teaches us about how to write and how not to write. "Read a lot, write a lot" is the King's great commandment.

This is just a small study of what Stephen shares in this book.

His open, tell-it-like-it-is, way of writing really makes you feel as if he's sitting opposite you sharing his insight with a you, a friend who shares his passion for stories. He is witty, honest, swears a bit too, and is totally down to earth. Having read his memoir I really feel like I know the guy. And I like him - though his movies creep me out no-end!

This is a cheeky, touching and inspirational book that made me cringe, laugh out loud and even shed a tear.

I highly recommend it. Five stars from me! *****

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Writing Tip #4 Editing for Consistency

I've been editing my manuscript as I go, but in a very light kind of a way. I write a chunk and a few days later I'll revisit it and give it a quick once over. This is my first draft so I'm not too stressed at this point about it being as tight and perfect as it'll need to be later.


My story is set in a fantasy world, complete with fantastical cultures and creatures, religion, history ... and magic.

This afternoon, as I flipped pikelets, I was thinking about the added problems this will create when it comes around to doing an in depth edit of my story - the CONSISTENCY edit.

For one thing, my editor-slash-readers don't/won't know the holistic and historical ins and outs of my fantasy world. Is this going to create issues? Will subtle inconsistencies be over looked because of this lack of knowledge? Possibly.

So then, I started to wonder about the sorts of things I should consider when I'm editing it myself. What sorts of questions should I be asking to avoid inconsistencies?

I came up with a few thoughts, and because I'm a lists kind of a girl (thanks to Granny), I wrote them down.

The more I wrote and mused, the more I thought it might be helpful to share, so hopefully you'll find my questions useful in your own editing.

And if you have your own "anti-inconsistency questions" do share them with us.

Now, please bare in mind that when I was thinking about consistency within my story I was not so much worrying about sentence structure or grammatical issues, but rather the details within the story itself.

For example:
If my heroine cut off all her hair why is she flipping long locks over her shoulder in the next chapter?
Or, if the Elders wear white robes why is that one wearing the brown robe of an Apprentice?
You get the idea.

Some questions to consider when editing each scene:

What does __ (insert character's name here)__ look like now?
Now this may seem like an odd question, but one of my characters changes their appearance a few times through out my story. So it's important that each scene deals consistently with the changes that have been made.

For example: One of my character's is a shape shifter.
Now readers would most likely want to shoot me if he's in his wolf-shape and flies away... Hmmm, yes. Not good at all.

What else has changed?
Here I want to consider everyday things like:
  • Clothing - what should they be wearing and what condition are those clothes in?
  • Injures - what fresh, healing or healed wounds do they have? how does this affect them?
  • Weapons - what weapons do they have or are they using?
  • Abilities - what can my heroine do now that she couldn't do before?
  • Culture - what culture are they interacting with?
  • Emotions - what emotional state is she/he in?
  • Personalities - are my characters reactions consistent with their personalities?

Where is she?
Because my story is written from a "third person limited" POV this next question applies more to my heroine than anyone else.
  • Place - is she inside or outside? in a village/city/castle/country? what's the scenery like?
  • Weather - is it snowing/wet/sunny/hot/cold?
  • Time - is it day or night? what's the light quality like?

As you can see there are quite a lot of things to think about - and I've probably missed a few too. Now that it's on the page editing for inconsistencies looks like a mammoth task!

Luckily I love my story so it should also be fun. Moreover, if I keep these things in mind as I write I should, in theory, make fewer errors and less work for myself later on.

For more tips on editing for consistency go here.

Another quick tip:
If, like me, you're writing fantasy (or SF), I've found it really helpful to keep a folder or notebook of information on the cultures and customs of my fantasy world. So if I can't remember an important detail I'm sure to find it in my little encyclopedia.

I have pages on the religion, each of the races, each of the main characters, maps and info on the different places (castles, villages, forests, etc), the history (including notes on historical figures), the myths and legends, and the herbology and medicine particular to my fantasy word.

As I write the story grows so I'm constantly updating the information I have. Of course, much of it will remain background stuff - for my eyes only - but it's there and the story is richer for it.

Happy writing everyone and remember editing doesn't have to be a bore it can be FUN!!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Mega Muse Buzz

Don't you just love it when you a write a scene and it is just sooo Amazing?!

I'm talking about the experience of writing something so magical you just want to shout and leap about and tell everyone about it while wildly waving your hands in the air.

Only, for some reason, it never really comes out as well when you try to articulate it like that. Usually people start edging towards the door and looking at you as if you ought to be locked up, in a padded cell no less.

You can tell I'm buzzing can't you?

I came home from work last night, tired, but determined to hammer out a few words. And it all spewed out. All this terror, awesome fights, creepy as bad guys, and POWER ... so much power it literally blew the place apart.

And when I tried, much too excitedly, to tell hubby about it, he asked, "And at the end does the bad guy say 'The force is strong with this one'?"

Yes, I'm still buzzing (in spite of hubby's comment).

Isn't this what why we write? For the love of the words and the thrill of seeing them create magic on the page.

- Contented writerly sigh -

So, have you had a similarly thrilling writing experience?
Have you ever written anything you knew was just amazing?

Quote of the day:
"Don't blame me. My characters have minds of their own."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Muse Alive and Well

I haven't written anything for a few days - I've been working hard at my other job.

But it is Monday again and time to ease back into a writerly frame of mind.

The MS is now at 77% or 54,000 plus words (this is assuming Tremorgan's Gift will be about 80,000 words and not miles longer) and I'm beginning to feel like I'm not far off the home straight.

I think we're 3/4 of the way there now.

I always struggle to reset my body clock after doing night shifts, but one thing I am finding is that when I'm trying to sleep the Muse is wide a wake and busy.

So after a particularly trying episode of "I'm-trying-to-sleep-cause-I-have-to-go-back-to-work-early-tomorrow" on Friday night, I clambered out of bed with the whole next phase of the book as clear as day in my head.


Now to do it justice on the page.

I've mapped it out, so I don't forget any neat bits, and we're ready to go.

If only I could shake the last of the sleep-deprived fuzz out of my head...


... I'll think I'll go take a nap now.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ego Boost

Some of you might remember that last year my friend Sue and I wrote a play which was chosen and performed by a small group of women here in Dunedin, to a crowd of around 50 or 60.

The whole experience was great fun. Neither of us had ever written a play before so to see our witty little creation go from imagination to performance was an amazing learning curve.

Well, I got a phone call this morning asking if we would write another play for them this year!
They said they so enjoyed watching and performing Roman Runaway they wanted us to write another.

What an ego boost!

I got of the phone buzzing with excitement, hastily phoned Sue who was as excited as me, and we're all go!

Last year's theme was travel. This year's theme is history, libraries and archives. Eeek! I think we're going to lean heavily towards the history side of things.

The play will be performed in September.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Back into it!

Yep, the new NZ school year is back in full swing and my children have joined the hords marching off to fill local classrooms. Of course all this means I'm desperately excited about the the freedom I now have to WRITE.

Sure I did write a little over the holidays, but I found it really hard to focus with the kids around. It was like I'd lost my stride ... or I was trying to run a marathon blind folded. Argh!

So today was the big day.
Kids gone...
House quiet...

But then there was the "Welcome back to school" morning tea that our school held for the families. Being a good sort of Mum (most of the time) I had to attend. So by the time I walked home from that it was almost 11am. My morning sucked away, just like that.

Then I really had to hang out some washing cause the weather was so good and there were a few dishes that needed to be done ... and then I had to phone Sue cause I hadn't talked to her for at least two days. Then it was time for lunch.

But, I did promise my writing-buddy I'd write something today so after lunch I forced my procrastinating-self into submission and sat down at my desk.

I didn't work on my MS. Instead I chipped away at a short story (childrens) I'm working on for a local competition and dug out an old story to revamp and redress it for another competition coming up in March. I've renamed it, hacked 2000 words off it and smoothed it into a new shape. So, I think I've made some progress.

I'll get back into Tremorgan's Gift tomorrow.

It's great to really be back behind the desk again.