One of my worst tendencies as a writer is to rely too much on simple and weak vocabulary. Often I’ll address this in later drafts, when the emphasis is on improving the language moreso than the plot. One of the best ways to see your own usage patterns is to use a word cloud service to visualize often-repeated words.
I have a conundrum. First, some backstory, which I shall infodump below, and then the crux of the matter.
I’ve described writing IT stories for The Daily WTF, on more than one occasion, as akin to writing hard science fiction. Hard, in this case, means scientifically accurate, with some flexibility for storytelling (otherwise, it’s just realistic fiction!). You’re bound to the way that computers work — just as there’s no faster-than-light travel in hard SF, you can’t make a computer catch a human virus (unless you try really hard.) However, you can create fictional companies, even make up a computer application or two, so long as it could happen in real life.
Writing for The Daily WTF, most of all, has taught me how to write flash fiction. It was always my weak spot — I think in terms of tens of thousands of words, not dozens — and flash requires, above all, extreme economy. You’re 100 words over your limit? Cut that character! Trim that scene! remove that unnecessary transition! Refer to characters only by their last names! Anything it takes short of replacing the story with “funny stuff happened once.”
A lot can be told through suggestion, but it only works in the middle. Readers still want closure, so while that abrupt, Sopranos-style ending may tickle you silly, you won’t please anyone else. However, the right scene break, with a witty headline, can make your story read faster.
Word-for-word, you’ll be spending much more time editing than fiction for longer works. On a YA novel I’ve sent out for feedback, I spent a couple hours editing each chapter, which was 3K words on average. I can easily spend an hour trimming down a 300-word Code Screen of Death, making each word count.
It’s like tweeting. No one likes multi-part tweets, or tweets cut abruptly with a link to the rest of the message. So, you have to make those 140 characters work to your advantage! Imply the subject. Use single spaces between sentences. You may — heavens forbid — even have to lose an Oxford comma or two. It’s worth it for that perfect tweet, which like a haiku, resembles a beautiful gem or a fresh fallen acorn.
Flash fiction is still hard. I get assigned code or anecdote submissions for The Daily WTF, so half the work is done for me — I just write the story that illustrates the submissions in the best possible light. But my own ideas are still too big for their britches.
Or: don’t name the car until you’ve bought it.
I won’t be working on that Otherkin project this year. In my post on the subject a few months back, I said that I wanted to write about it in some fictionalized form, and that’s still true. But I don’t yet know how I should. Should there be genre elements? Should it be a semi-fictional memoir? Short form? Long form? Until I can answer those questions to my satisfaction, I can’t make any progress on it. It’s just not ready.
More importantly, there are other projects that are farther along, things I can start immediately.
Authors vary on what they publicly announce. John Scalzi won’t say anything about a project until it’s nearly finished or close to publication. Elizabeth Bear has tallies of every manuscript she’s actively working on (though those could just be things she’s under deadline for). George R. R. Martin. . . I can’t imagine what torture you endure having that much public pressure to finish something.
I think I’ll just write about projects that I’m actually putting words to paper (or screen) on. I certainly won’t be promising or strongly indicating I’ll be writing this or that particular thing, unless I’m under deadline, and even then I should keep it to myself until I’m nearly done. I love transparency, especially from creators whose work I admire, but transparency doesn’t mean making writerly prognostication. Truth is, I just don’t know what I’ll write until it’s done.
No, seriously, don’t.
On Sunday I completed the first draft for The Coral Gate. I really enjoyed writing it, despite the time it took to finish (81 days!). There were genuine moments of wonder, fear, and humor as I was writing.
There were also the occasional flubs.
It was bad enough that I decided to name one character Simon. After writing “…Simon said” for the twelfth time, I was about ready to murder Simon with that giant wasp I added to the story. (It makes sense in context.) His name makes sense, though — he’s not enough of a rock to be Peter, so he’s still Simon until he gets some character growth. And I can add “Simon said” as an in-joke in-story to make it work, if it comes to that.
But Simon has nothing on officer Joe Handee.
Handee, see, is a surname I heard a lot in Tennessee, and I wanted to use as many authentic regional names as I could in-story. So Handee appeared in chapter two, and continued to harass and (eventually) help our heroine throughout the book. The problem came when my subconscious decided to start playing jokes:
“I’m not some hand puppet, Handee!”
“Noah watched Handee work…”
“That’s not my job, Handee.”
And so on.
The moment I wrote my last word in that draft, I opened Find and Replace, and Joe Handee became Joe Greene. It’s a bit more ironic, since Greene isn’t “green” at his job at all, and less of a laugh riot than Handee.
So, please. Don’t name your character Handee.
Brandon Sanderson, epic fantasy writer, taught a writing class last year. His lectures are available online in video form; I’ve watched about half of them so far. If you’re familiar with Writing Excuses, he covers a lot of the basics that you might find helpful, including both craft and business topics.
Preparation is key. Petroleum jelly in the right places, sunblock everywhere. A bandanna covers my forehead, for the sun as well as the sweat. My water bottles are filled and stowed away on my belt, and I strap my timer to it as well. Power gels or gummies are shoved into the front pocket. Everything ready, I stride out the door into the sun.
The first minute is always the hardest. Getting the stride back takes effort through no effort, much like thinking without thinking in Zen meditation. You don’t think too much about moving your feet; after a few minutes, your muscle memory will do the work for you.
I remember to time my breath. In two steps, out two steps, in two, out two. It comes naturally; I don’t break rhythm. If I feel winded or my legs ache, I shorten my stride.
On most days, running liberates me. But not last Saturday. Continue reading Pace Yourself