Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Way Point

By Keith N Fisher

Do you outline, or not. Do you follow a plan? Or do you sit down and see where the muse will take you? There are many advantages and detriments to both methods of writing. An outline can restrict the plot, but it helps when you get half way into the story and don’t know where to go next. A draft will allow you to rob from that which you wrote before, Like when you rewrite.

As a rule, I never outline anything. Some books are planned out from beginning to end, but I leave room for the characters to speak to me. I’ve also written by hand in a notebook and transposed it later. Most of these blog posts are written from a concept that I want to share. Then, I fill in the details that support my concept. Okay, I guess in a way that is outlining.

Discovery writing can be thrilling because you never know from which recesses of you mind, it comes from. You see the words appear on paper and compliment yourself for being so talented and resourceful. The drawbacks are sometimes tough, however, like when you write the first word and wait, and wait, and wait. The story never gets written.

Another of the obstacles can be getting to the halfway point and realizing you wrote a different scenario in the first part, and the back story changed. Such is the case in one of my current works.

A problem that sometimes rears it’s ugly head, can be the most difficult, because it makes a writer look stupid. Often times, while writing articles and blogs, even in fiction, I belabor a point and end up repeating it several times. Or, I put ideas in the wrong order on the page. If you go back and read some of my rambling blog posts, you will see good examples of this. Especially when I didn’t have time to edit.

The concept I want to share today, is don’t be afraid of discovery. Yes, there are drawbacks in that kind of writing, but the detriments can also make the story better.

I’m currently writing a book with no outline, except a vague idea of how it will end. While working on it this week, I discovered a problem. In the first chapter, a married couple celebrated their anniversary. The kids were at the babysitter’s.

Two days later, in the story, the parents were having problems at home, but where were the kids? It was as if they disappeared. I had three choices. Either I had to lose the children, grow them up and away at college, or send them to Grandmas for an extended visit out of state. I decided on the latter, and I had to fix it over several chapters. Now the plot works better.

Yes, discovery writing keeps me on my toes. I have to develop back-story on the fly, but it usually makes a better plot. Another example from the same book shows the problems characters can cause. In the first chapters I wrote about Sam’s brothers and a little about his father. Later on, I expanded his father’s character and methods. The siblings were gone. Sam only had one brother, and he died in Iraq. Going back to correct the technicality made the story richer. Yes there are times when a character suggests changes that won’t work. Just delete the suggestion and move forward.

Yes, there are challenges in discovery writing. Like when you come to the end of a chapter or the way point and you freeze. You can’t decide whether to keep or discard the changes. The writer’s block of indecision is crippling. Don’t panic—Write something else for awhile. Then come back to it fresh, and ready to whip your characters into submission. (Perhaps, that’s the subject of another blog post).

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Village Smithy

By Keith N Fisher

There is a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that immortalized one of the tradesmen of his time. I have synopsized it here.

Amos S Warren ggg Grandfather of the author

The Village Blacksmith

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,

They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.

Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose.

The image of the village blacksmith is that of a hardworking tradesman who labors to produce a quality product. I invoke that image when I ask, How is your wordsmithing going? As writers we are wordsmiths. Like the blacksmith, we take raw material and work it, then rework it, making something useful and beautiful.

The raw materials of a writer are words and phrases. We skillfully place those words in order to express an idea. As the blacksmith takes a piece of steel, heats it, bends it, and molds it, writers labor over the correct word to use. They search their minds for ways to express original ideas and those of others.

In the end our work enlightens, delights, and beautifies the lives of our readers. A blacksmith hangs an ornately fashioned doorknocker for generations to use and enjoy. Just like there are myriad objects made by a blacksmith, there are myriad possible stories to write.

Unfortunately, the work of the village blacksmith can be replaced by computer operated mills and punches. In like manner, the delivery systems of wordsmiths are changing. Writers use many tools these days, to get their work on paper (so to speak). Computers figure prominently into our delivery. Cut and paste techniques are making the village typesetter obsolete. Writers are replacing them in the quest to e-publish, and self -publish their work.

The old days of the village smithy (of all trades), are going away. So too, the work of the wordsmith will disappear. But, you say, we will always need someone to write, somebody to communicate ideas. It’s true, there will always be a need for the wordsmith, but with abbreviated text messaging and emails, with the mangled use of language, the wordsmith will also become extinct.

This might seem like a harsh vision, and it is. Those who respond to the criticism of closing newspapers all say, but we can get news from the Internet with blogs and electronic media. That’s true, but what about quality? Have you ever examined the beauty of hammered metal object? Something made by a computer cannot compare to the shaping with heat and the sledge of a blacksmith.

Many of the blogs and multimedia news reports are good because, they were written by wordsmiths. Unfortunately, many more are not. To put it bluntly, they are crap. Much of the self, and e-published work needs an editor.

I beg you, if you would be a wordsmith. Whether you are a copywriter for television news, or whether you write a personal blog, please take the classes. Get training in the art of wordsmithing. Please don’t discard the language. I often wonder who writes copy for certain television news anchors. The grammar is sometimes terrible.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

PS to read the complete version of the poem, click on the link.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Do the Math

By Keith N Fisher

While writing my historical novel the other day, I discovered a new problem. Well, It’s not that new. How do you get eight shots from a six-shooter, without the cowboy reloading? The endless supply of ammunition has been a problem before. Also a muzzle loader is not a repeating weapon. The mountain man has to set the rifle but on the ground or on his foot, put a load of powder into the barrel, and tamp it down with a patch. Then he adds the bullet and tamps it down. Next he must pour powder into the flash pan, cock the hammer, shoulder the weapon and fire.

This last step became easier with the advent of percussion caps. Incidentally, the term just a flash in the pan, came from the old flintlock muzzle loading rifles. The editors at Wikipedia said it best,

From the days of flintlock firearms, where the main charge was intended to be fired by a small charge of gunpowder in the priming pan. If the resultant fire did not pass through the touch-hole and ignite the main charge, the momentary coruscation produced noise and smoke, but no substantial effect, and was termed a “flash in the pan”. Sometimes called "fluff in the pan", the term refers to any ineffectual, short, spasmodic effort which dies in the attempt, such as an explosion of priming in the lockpan of a gun, while the gun itself does not go off.

Anyway, the problem I ran into was numbers of horses and wagons versus number of available drivers. My character is part of freight hauling wagon-company and the problems they have leave men dead and wagons to drive. Adding the sell and theft of horses, and wagons intensified the problem.

I needed to get out a calculator and do the math. I was right. I ended up with too many horse teams and not enough drivers for the number of wagons. I spent two days fixing the plot. Now, if anyone cares to pay attention, they won’t discover any loopholes with my arithmetic.

I do have another problem though. The story was set during a time just before repeating rifles were invented. And most of the handguns were also muzzle loaders. I keep writing with the mindset of the Hollywood western. Too many bullets flying, and not enough reloading.

Yes I might be nitpicking, but I know there are those who pounce on historical fiction looking for inaccuracies.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.  

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Airing my Dirty Laundry

By Keith N Fisher

On June twenty-eight, my post talked about how many books I’ve written with out getting them published. I also rambled on about not wanting to grow up. Let me just say, it’s been a difficult seven years. In a follow up post, I wrote about running into story problems while you write. I mentioned getting your ducks in a row and doing the research. I haven’t posted that yet, perhaps next week.

My good friend Michelle posted on the twenty-ninth. She talked about writers who over plan and never get the story written. The habit of researching every detail prevents some writers from being published.

Michelle is absolutely right. I meet fantasy writers at conferences, who claim they are world building for their story. It’s the same thing every time I see them. Now, I realize that kind of thing takes time. It’s one of the reasons I don’t write fantasy, but chances are, those writers might never finish the actual story, they will never be published.

Without intention, Michelle struck an unknown exposed nerve in me. In the comments section of her post, I defended myself. I didn’t need to, since she wasn’t talking to me. I wrote that I’d finished three books just this year. I have two others, I should be shopping, and I complained about my horrendous writing ability, increasing my need for an editor.

Beta readers would also help, but I hate to ask. Since I’m a good plotter and a lousy editor, my critiques lean toward content and plot holes. Not much help to those who need their grammar checked.

Two of those finished manuscripts are blatantly national market and would be offensive to some, especially, my critique group. Even if my group weren’t too busy to meet, they couldn’t help with those. Yes I have great excuses, but do they hold water?

It was hard, but later, I admitted, there might be another problem. I have no trouble sitting in the chair. I write everyday. I finish my projects. I even submit, but not prolifically. Still, Michelle’s post brought pangs of conscience. Am I afraid of success?

Do I shoot myself in the foot, right when I should be capturing the flag of the enemy? Do you? It’s time to kick myself in the butt, and focus on the prize. I have several books written. I have many more to write. They all deserve to shine.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week

PS How was your holiday?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Just do it!

Yes I'm channeling Nike here.

By C. Michelle Jefferies

I know several writers in real life and through social media. I see several way to approach writing because of it. It's fascinating to see how people plot, structure, and pants their way through a story. Sometimes I even find a little something that I can  use for myself from this interaction.

I noticed one thing that some authors do and it has me wondering at what is going on. This particular habit is the perfect procrastinator for someone who doesn't ever want to actually finish a story.

This is called the super planner.

There are writers who have one or several story ideas and while these story ideas might be great, they're never going to finish them. They have notebooks full of notes, binders full of details about characters. Idea after idea. While research and organization is good, it can also be a deal breaker if your entire time you should be writing is spent researching or filling out character data sheets.

My suggestion is this. Stop it. Stop obsessing about every little detail about your character. Stop obsessing about your setting. Stop researching the story. Just do it. Just put your BUTT in a chair and write the story. Don't let this bad habit stop you from finishing the story.

Want to be a published author eventually? Five words. Stop it. Just do it.   

The path to wisdom is not always straight

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Holy Cow

By Keith N Fisher

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a WIP file on my computer. It contains work in progress manuscripts in different phases of development. I realized the other day that I’ve written more books then some authors did, during their whole career. Can you believe it? I’m a seasoned veteran.

Once, I was accused of being afraid of rejection. Otherwise I would’ve submitted all those WIP’s and got them published. I’ve been told I should self publish, and I’ve beaten the horse of being published, or not, several times. The truth is, I’ve been submitting and collecting rejections. I keep writing.

I realized another truth the other day. I’m not ready to grow up. On Facebook, I read that if you haven’t grown up by the time you’re fifty, you don’t have to. I’m fifty-something and I want to be a kid forever, like Peter Pan said:

I won't grow up. I don't want to go to school. Just to lear to be a parrot, and recite a silly rule.
If growing up means it would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree.
I'll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up. Not me.

I won't grow up. I don't want to wear a tie, and a serious expression in the middle of July.
If it means I must prepare to shoulder burdens with a worried air.
I'll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up. Not me. So there!

Never gonna be a man. I won't!
I’d like to see somebody try and make me.
Anyone who wants to try, and make me turn into a man . . . catch me if you can.

I won't grow up. Not a penny will I pinch. I’ll never grow a mustache, or a fraction of an inch.
'Cause growing up is awfuller than all the awful things that ever were.
I'll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up, No sir.

Seriously, I wish I could be sixteen again and know what I know, now. I’d love to do certain things all over again and avoid the mistakes. I would take my knowledge of events and use it to my advantage. I would become the best friend of those who made history. I would apply my knowledge and do it before they did. Yes Dr. Brown, I would change history.

Steven King wrote a book about the possibilities. He called it 11-22-63. Read it if you can get past the language and innuendo. I hear that JJ Abrams might make it a movie.

Okay, what was the point of my ramble? I don’t know, but holy cow. I’ve written more books than many of the best sellers did in their lifetime. I still wonder where my ideas come from.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

May I See Your ID, Please?

By Keith N Fisher

After one of my twenty-four hour, Fridays, I came home from work.

I told myself, "Self. It’s Saturday Morning, did you post a blog?"

I answered, No, Self, I’ve been so busy that—"

I interrupted my self and said, "You can’t lie to yourself, self. You had time to write."

It’s true. While eating lunch at my desk, I’ve been writing. I could’ve written a blog post then, but my story is going so well, and with research . . .

Okay, I’m sorry. Those who follow my meager blog posts will know, I’m working two eight-hour jobs. On Friday’s I go to work in the morning. Get off in the afternoon. Hopefully, sleep for three hours and work all night. It’s been killer, but I’ve been writing my historical novel when I can.

I started this book a few years ago, but it just wasn’t working after sixty thousand-words. So, I put it aside. Recently, I picked it up and knew what needed to be done. Now I’m excited; writing, plotting, and researching.

The book is set in 1850 and problems I never thought about before have surfaced. I keep tossing words in that didn’t exist in 1850. Or they hadn’t made it into our vocabulary yet. It’s hard enough to try and describe Fort Bridger from journal accounts but I tossed in the word "patsy" the other day, and realized it hadn’t been invented yet.

I knew about "okay". That word had been coined, but hadn’t found it’s way into popular speech yet. Other words are even more modern, and we, writers tend to insert them into our character’s mouths. I found myself asking my words for their ID, because if they aren’t old enough, my characters wouldn’t say them.

I’m also afraid of contractions. The truth is, people used them, but mostly not. I throw them in anyway. The new version of the movie, True Grit, is true to the book in that way, but the speech patterns were both refreshing, and drove me crazy, too. Still, I know lot of that is subjective, but I want people to enjoy this great story. Even those educated people, who know the difference.

I’m getting through it, but I get tired of asking my customers for ID to purchase beer. I never thought I’d have to ask my words.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.