Perseverance

Last week, I finally completed a full draft of the third novella in the Earths in Space series.

I had been struggling with it since January, and I took several lengthy breaks to work on other projects, primarily the RIP series (Volume 1: Choices After Death coming soon!). Each time I returned to the story, it never quite felt right. It had some good moments, yes — enough to motivate me to keep going with it.

The story needed to happen. I knew that, especially since I had already written drafts of the fourth and fifth novellas and most of the sixth. There were holes in character development that needed filling. The crew needed one more story before the events in Episode Four.

But I kept making mistakes in execution. The plot involves a zombie-like threat in a space ark that gets snagged in Pluto’s orbit. I didn’t want to do the usual zombies, though. The Walking Dead does great zombies, and I don’t have anything to add to that type of living dead, flesh-eating monster. I wanted a new type of living dead monster — one that eats energy. Continue reading

A benefit of writing and reading

I had a random thought last night:

A beneficial side-effect of creative writing and reading is getting into heads and points-of-view that aren’t your own.

Understanding other people’s perspectives is an essential life skill. It leads to empathy, compassion, and tolerance, and it reduces the number of times someone angrily says, “How can anyone in their right mind think X?!?!?”

Good writers allow their characters to express views the writers themselves don’t believe. This is vital. The good guys can’t all have identical worldviews. There can be some common ground, but distinctions need to be drawn. And would you want to read a book in which all the sympathetic characters appear to be mouthpieces for the author’s opinions? Continue reading

How not to write a bad review

Not everyone likes everything, and that’s fine. There is no such thing as a flawless work of entertainment, whether it’s a book, movie, play, or TV show.

The world is vast and complex, and we each perceive it from a different angle. We notice things others miss, and other people notice things we miss.

A movie’s flaws might grate on certain audience members, diminishing or eliminating their enjoyment. Someone else in the same theater might be willing to forgive those flaws, and other people might not even notice those flaws because other aspects of the film are dazzling enough to distract them. And others might still find those flaws grating, but they’ll put up with them because they enjoy other qualities within the movie.

This has nothing to do with intelligence. Everyone’s just looking at the movie differently based on their unique life experiences leading up to that point.

Some things appeal to larger numbers of people, but nothing appeals to everyone and it’s okay to express that opinion.

The key, however, is remembering that it’s just an opinion. Continue reading

“Doing great and getting better”

In one of my other lives, I help out at a martial arts school. Whenever we ask the kids how they’re doing, they know to respond, “Doing great and getting better, sir!”

It’s an attitude worth adopting, regardless of what we’re doing.

How’s that book coming along? Doing great and getting better!

How are you doing with your fitness goals? Doing great and getting better!

How are you adjusting to your new job? Doing great and getting better! Continue reading

Fun with titling

I previously announced my next title as RIP vol. 1: Choices. Today, while printing out free samples for tomorrow’s Hanover Book Festival, I decided the title needs to be RIP vol. 1: Choices After Death.

Two words. One prepositional phrase. And it feels like it makes all the difference.

“Choices” kept feeling too vague and generic to me. It certainly fit a theme of the book, as the earthbound ghosts in RIP are basically in purgatory and it’s up to each individual to decide whether to work toward Heaven or waste away until Hell calls. Plus, Rip himself has to choose to snap out of his funk and to embrace his mission to stop the wicked ghosts from haunting the living.

So I was definitely on the right track by including “choices” somewhere in the title. But it wasn’t enough. It didn’t distinguish the book, didn’t help it stand out. It didn’t spark the imagination in any way. Continue reading

Making paranormal rules is fun!

This article was originally written for C.J. Brightley’s blog during the Blogger Book Fair, and I’m re-posting here in case you missed it.

I’m writing a series about ghosts, but before I started, I had to figure something out: What on Earth can ghosts do?

If I was writing a series about police officers, I’d need to research and learn about the laws governing their behavior on the job. If I was writing about tigers, I’d need to learn everything I could about tigers. But there aren’t any concrete, factual accounts of ghosts. Tons of stories and legends are out there, but to what degree my stories conform to existing folklore is entirely up to me.

That means I got to make up my own rules, and I couldn’t get started on the first draft until I sorted out what some of those rules were. I was certainly free to change my mind along the way—and I did—but I needed a tentative rulebook to get started. Continue reading

Adaptation

RIP was originally planned as a television series, as I’ve previously mentioned.RIP-1-Touch.jpg

I had already written about four and a half TV episodes, some more polished than others. The first episode, “Hi, I Kill Dead People,” became the first e-book, “Touch.”

Having the TV scripts gave me a head-start, but plenty of work remained. When you write a script, you’re not supposed to try to direct it. Don’t choreograph every last little bit of action. Don’t tell the actors exactly what to do. Describe a setting in a sentence, not a paragraph and certainly not paragraphs. You also need to avoid figurative language. The action should only describe what we’ll see on the screen—don’t put some metaphorical image in the reader’s mind that makes them think of something else entirely. This does, however, give you more time to focus on getting the dialogue and story structure right. Continue reading

Diversify your dialogue

Ever notice superb dialogue in a movie, TV show, or play? Examples are springing to mind, aren’t they? You always remember great dialogue.

Books can have great dialogue, too. There are many ways to go about this —  building in subtext is a huge one — but for now, let’s look at character voices.

You have your unique author voice, and that’s wonderful, but each character in your story needs to have a unique voice, too. They need to say things as only they would. I’m not talking about dialect, which I do not recommend, unless your name is either Mark Twain or Samuel Clemens.

It’s not easy, but here’s a simple method to think about speech patterns. Place your characters along several different spectra. Continue reading

Grammarly

The fine folks at Grammarly offered me free trial membership to their automated grammar-checking service in exchange for an honest review.Grammarly

I played around with it over the weekend, and it’s an impressive computer program. It can never take the place of human proofreaders and editors, however, and it doesn’t intend to.

I can’t over-emphasize that. Some people will likely find Grammarly a useful tool, but it should only be used as a supplement, not the be-all and end-all. Just as your body can’t subsist on vitamins alone, your writing can’t rely solely on a computer program.

Here’s how it works: Continue reading

How to use a thesaurus

A thesaurus will bite your head off if you don’t use it properly.

Okay, maybe not your actual head, but it will eviscerate the sentences your head is trying to form, and it will chew threw their connotations.

That’s the main thing to keep in mind. Synonyms share definitions. They do not necessarily share connotations. And some of the “synonyms” the thesaurus mentions are tenuous.

Let’s look up “connotation” on thesaurus.com.

It defines connotation as “implication” and lists several synonyms: association, coloring, essence, hint, meaning, nuance, overtone, significance, suggestion, and undertone.

Dictionary.com’s first sample sentence for connotation reads, “Remind students that what they write needs to have a positive connotation.” Continue reading