Monday, October 31, 2011

The Next Part

Sometimes when you’re working on a piece, you end one scene and move on to The Next Part. And while you’re working on The Next Part or, worse, have finished with The Next Part, you realize that it isn’t right. It’s not working, it feels wrong. It’s just not what happens next.

Why does this occur? In my experience, it’s usually because you’re trying to force the characters to do something they just wouldn’t do.

But wait! This is your story. These characters are yours. You are their god, their puppet master. You command them; they act!


Sorry to disappoint all you wannabe megalomaniacs out there, but that’s not how it works. You don’t get to tell them what to do and how to feel. You create a situation and drop them into it. Then they act according to their natures.

At least, well-developed characters will. Can it be frustrating when they throw a monkey wrench into your outline? Sure. But it’s also incredibly fulfilling, like watching your children grow up and become their own people, separate from you.

But how do you develop a character to this point? Well, you simply have to know everything there is to know about them (this isn’t necessary for minor characters, but for major ones it’s a must). Their childhood, favorite song, pet peeves, their relationship with their maternal grandparents…everything. Every inch of their body, every curve, every hair every scar and how they got it. And every inch of their psyche as well; every memory bad or good, every fear and love. Easy, right? It can be, if you sit down and get to know them. If you ask the right questions.

Pamela Dowd’s Character Development Chart is a good way to start this process. You can find it on her website ( Sure, it looks long and tedious. But I guarantee that once you start filling it out, you won’t be able to stop. Opening a character- a person- is like unpeeling an onion; there’s always another layer. It’s fascinating to know someone so completely. Your characters are the people you know the best, better than your spouse, better than your children. Your characters can’t hide anything from you.

But that doesn’t mean they’re going to let you manipulate them.

What should you do when one of your beautifully conceived, full realized characters digs in their heels and refuses to obey?

Simple: ask what they plan on doing.

This works best when you are in a quiet place, when all your daytime work/family stuff/worries are taken care of. Go to the library. Go into your backyard. When I had trouble with the main character of my first novel (unfortunately I didn’t discover his stubbornness until after I’d written the The Next Part), I decided to have a little talk with him. I put on my running shoes and went out into Nature (well, into the subdivision where we lived, but it had trees). No music, no chatty running buddy. Just me and my character. I sat him down, turned the ultra-bright cop show interrogation light into his face, and asked him what he was going to do next.

Forty-five minutes later I returned to the house, sweaty and gross, and knowing exactly what to write next.

And that’s all it takes. A little time, a single question, and knowing your character. Not so hard, when you think about it!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Remember, Remember the Sixth of November

I have two short stories in Pill Hill Press' upcoming Daily Flash 2012 anthology (should be available sometime in November). It's a cool concept: one 500-words-or-less story for every day of the year, 366 for 2012 since it's a leap year. That way no one can weasel out of reading by saying they don't have time; you can read 500 words in roughly two minutes. I'm going to get a copy and put it on the back of the toilet for guests to read while they pee.

One of my stories, a weird piece of alternate history, will be the story for November 6th. I am not yet sure what date the other story has. Too bad I didn't get the 5th (Remember, remember...) but here are some famous things that happened on November 6th:

1985: The American press blows open the Iran-Contra scandal
1861: Jefferson Davis is elected the president of The Confederate States of America
1943: The Soviet army recaptures Kiev

OK, November 6th isn't all that interesting. But it is the birthday of John Phillip Sousa and Yip Man! And now it is the date on which people will read my work!

In closing here is a great quote from Phillip Pullman, who some people think is Satan Incarnate (from the comments I heard at the bookstore after his trilogy was published). He's my new hero though. He hates stupidity as much as I do. Sadly, sometimes it seems to me that stupidity is getting the upper hand in this struggle.

"The book is second only to the wheel as the best piece of technology human beings have ever invented. A book symbolises the whole intellectual history of mankind; it's the greatest weapon ever devised in the war against stupidity."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Famous First Words

Someone I know on Facebook posted this. It's six famous first novel lines, animated. How many do you know?Link

I only got 3. I feel like such a loser! I'm going to go stuff myself with cupcakes now.

PS- check out their t-shirts while you're on that site. Pretty sweet!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Dirty Bits

When it comes to writing, I lean toward the Mary Renault School of Sex: blink and you’ll miss it. While her sex scenes are very tastefully (and briefly) done, mine are a bit more…obvious. Still, I generally like to be restrained in writing sex scenes. With a couple exceptions, I always fade out before the pants get unzipped. I don’t want to end up being nominated for a Bad Sex in Fiction Award, after all (though I’d be in good company; a lot of great writers just suck at sex, it seems).

A while ago I got it into my head to write an erotica. About a year back I came across an erotica anthology looking for submissions; the theme was angels and demons. I passed up the call, but the idea stuck in my head. Just a couple months ago it developed fully: a kickass story about angels and demons with lots of sex. Lots of hot, man-on-man sex.

But I’ve never written erotica before. I have no idea how to do it. So I bought a gay erotica e-book from a publisher who shall remain nameless (as will the book and the author). Quite honestly, it’s been horribly disappointing. Badly written and uninteresting. But there is lots of sex, which is what I was after anyway; I need to learn.

But the sex is also…disappointing. If you’re going to write sex, even erotic sex, using ‘fuck’, ‘cock’ and ‘ass’ in every other sentence gets really old really fast. A little vulgarity might spice things up, I suppose, but not constant, pervasive swearing. Use some creativity, for your reader’s sake. Restraint is far more erotic than crudeness, or even showing everything; think about it: Bogart and Bergman kiss in Casablanca and cut away before the clothes come off = hot. Donald Sutherland’s bare ass crawling all over Julie Christie in Don’t Look Back = embarrassing. Even erotica can benefit from subtleness.

Oh, and by the way, men like the ones in this book *coughcoughgladiatorscoughcough* don’t sit around and talk about how they’ve been hurt and can’t trust anyone and are afraid to open up. Not even gay men. And it helps if the story has a plot, and your characters are stereotypes. Oh, and large blocks of exposition probably don’t need to chop up your action either.

Or maybe this is what erotica is and I’m just not cut out for it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Short Stories

Short stories:

* I have a story coming out December 18th on the Nil Desperandum podcast ( Totally free to listen to! I'm really excited, as I've never had anything of mine done in audio before. I'm just glad I don't have to read it; I hate my voice (it just sounds dumb, especially on answering machines).

* I just finished Ramsey Campbell's Secret Story. I love love love Ramsey Campbell (I probably have more Ramsey Campbell in my collection than any other author, though to be fair that's partially because he's way more prolific than any of my other favorites). In the novel, a man writes a story based on a real-life murder (there's more to it than that but I won't spoil anything). The vicitm's family and friends are outraged and there's a big media to-do. It surprised me because, well, a few years back I read a novel by Joyce Carol Oates (one of The Great American Authors) that was obviously based on the JonBenet Ramsey murder case (like, REALLY obviously). It's possible someone in the family protested the book, but it didn't get any press if they did. Is it just a British thing? Or was it because the author and the murder were both local to one area? Ramsey Campbell, if you read this, help me out!

* I'm not doing NaNoWriMo. I'm too slow of a writer. I plan to finish a new novella by the end of November, though, so that will have to be my goal. It's erotica, which I've never attempted before. And gay erotica, at that! I think I'll be learning a lot next month.

* Yesterday my 2-year-old son told me "Tyrannosaurus eats Spider-man soup." Man, what did Spidey ever do to deserve that?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Shut Your Pie Hole and Hit 'Send' Already

There is one thing that really, really annoys me about other writers. I mean, there are a few things, but this is the one that really drives me nuts:

Those people who say, "I want to be published but I'm afraid to submit because I might get rejected."

They might say no! Oh, the humanity!

It's not like evil gnomes will come to your house on the heels of that rejection letter and murder you in your bed (and then use your blood to dye their pointy, that's a real myth, look up 'red caps').

If you're lucky they'll give you some constructive criticism (or is that going to wound your fragile psyche as well?), but most of the time they'll just say 'no thanks'. It doesn't mean you suck. I mean, you may suck, I don't know, but sometimes your story just isn't a good fit or the editor was in a pissy mood. It happens.

Sure, it stings the first couple times. You can either get back on the damn horse or collapse into a fetal position in the corner. Your choice. But if you choose the second one, you're a total pussy. I've been doing this so long I have skin like a fucking rhinoceros. Nothing gets to me anymore. I even make market lists for each new piece, "I'll send it here first, and if they reject it I'll send it here, and if they reject it I'll send it here..." There's no down time between the 'no' and the next place.

If you just want to write as a hobby and have no intention of publishing, good for you. But don't come crying to me about how scared you are to reach for your dream. Wah, wah, wah. You'll get no sympathy here.

In the words of someone wiser than I, "Do or do not. There is no try." And if you don't do, then you'll never have even a chance of being published. So quit being an oversensitive whiner and hit that 'send' button.