August 21, 2019, 05:00:48 PM

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Re: How much did you write today? 4900 words. I did brief outlines of my chapters before I wrote them, and it really seemed to help me get more words down because I didn't have to think about what was going to happen while I was writing.
August 13, 2016, 02:55:16 AM
Re: How much did you write today? Yesterday: 5081 words.

Today: 5516 words.

I think I may have finally found the writing method that works best for me. I'm something in between an outliner and a seat-of-the-pants writer. I need to have a general idea where my book is going, and apparently it helps me to take just a few minutes to plan out a chapter right before writing it. That way, I still have the joy of discovery, but I also get the structure of an outline.

August 14, 2016, 09:59:22 PM
Thoughts at the close of my first year of writing Greetings,
I've been writing full time for a year now, and I am celebrating my one-year anniversary as an aspiring novelist by looking back at the surprises that emerged from this experience.

Like anyone who has compiled all the background material for several novels for years and finally made it a mission, I've encountered some phenomena I wanted to share. Perhaps it will help others, or perhaps my experiences are unique/specific to myself only, and won't be useful. But regardless, writing this lengthy post will be helpful to me, even if it fails to interest or assist anyone else. I'll make a donation to the forum for the space these lines will eat up.

My ambition: My intention has been to craft a story that features many of the favorite conventions of the genre, while hopefully sidestepping some of its more tired clichés. Some specifics:
- I want to show someone learning sorcery, and that would involve more than the "swish and flick" of Harry Potter's world, and the rock levitation + trite expressions of Star Wars.
- I want to depict a character who violently brings down the world order, not unlike Anakin Skywalker, but with better reasoning, and more intense moments along the way.
- I want the moral story to be conflicted and dramatic - the way life often is.

I have found this to be a tall order in a genre where one must also invent the world, the history and religion(s), the politics, and machinations of sorcery. While not undoable, there have been surprises so far, and I am far from finished. Here are the things that surprised (and delighted in some cases) me.

Surprise 1: I had more than enough material to make a good start This includes maps, languages (fragments), naming conventions, major characters (including groups), Big Picture plot lines, some subplot lines, and specific scenes, sequences, and "moments".  I thought I would run out of ammo - but I didn't. Well, sort of.

Surprise 2: The gaps I found are now home to my favorite parts. I intend 7 full novels based on my world and characters, and although I just said I had enough material, this isn't the full picture. While I didn't run out of Big Ideas, I didn't have enough smaller ones. My reams of material is substantial - notebooks and files and gazillions of notecards, but when divided across the vista of 7 books, that material spreads out, leaving huge gaps. This has been easy to solve so far, but this was alarming at first. Lesson learned: expect to encounter gaps, which is a GOOD thing. Or at least, I think it is.

Surprise 3: My haphazard process works. At least for me it has. My approach has been a hybrid of an outline/plot-matrix approach and a seat-of-the-pants "just write" approach. I have waypoints and specific scenes and moments, but the path between them, the sequencing of some of them, and the outcomes and reveals before, during, and after them has always been "soft".  This has been invaluable as those gaps have allowed me room to maneuver, add in new ideas, and move whole slices of subplot from one place/time to another.

Surprise 4: My tools sucked, but in a good way.
4.1 Dramatica. For brainstorming I bought the expensive Dramatica software, which was too rigid for me - BUT its unique approach to story (get their book and read it, their novel "Contagonist" concept is worth your time) and it's terrific tools made my brainstorming far more effective than I would have achieved without it.

Dramatica's writing template is very good, as it is query-based and allows you to skip around. There are downsides, as their approach is very rigid, and does not allow one to deviate, but it's certainly worth playing with. Besides, you can always use other tools (which I did). As I said, it was expensive ($250?) but overall, very worth it for the brainstorming aspects, and it is a good tool. Sub-Surprise - "good" isn't good enough for a project this ambitious. If you want to produce anything that is fine and above average, you will need fine and above-average tools and references IMHO.

4.2 Liquid Story Binder. For organizing my zillions of often disconnected/discreet ideas, characters, snippets of text, and summaries of things, this tool was PERFECT. My background material is EXTENSIVE. I needed to be able to capture and organize my summaries of religions, organizations and their structures and ranks, history of the world and the people in it, develop my sorcery mechanics, and a lot of other stuff. This tool excels at that better than anything I've seen. It's relatively cheap, and despite the sometimes funky interface, once learned, it's the best at this. Because Fantasy and Science Fiction REQUIRE extensive development of fictitious but plausible material, I consider this the biggest, best investment for a fantasy writer as far as tools go. I tried writing in LSB, but preferred Word. I did use LSB's templates for scenes, but that's easily replicated.

4.3 Grammerly.
Yeah, get this. My grammar took a hit after my 2nd or 3rd foreign language, and this cheap tool is worth its weight in gold for finding and fixing grammar errors. The time savings in reviewing one's own grammar alone make this an essential tool.

4.4. Word. I have worked in Word for years on large, complex, professional documents, so of course I started my real writing using it. It is excellent for composition (arguably the best I've seen), and for tailoring the look and feel of the text. Its limitations are invisible (or were to me until I experienced Scrivener) at the document level, but become apparent when attempting to shuffle text around, especially large sections.

4.5 Scrivener.
This has been the perfect platform for writing a novel (actually composing narrative and scenes), and it has utility for organizing background material. It takes time to learn (as do all good tools), but once learned, it is powerful. For example, keywords allow me to tag each scene (or other chunk of text), identifying each character, subplots, and other things. I can then extract (without changing anything!) all text with character A in them, or all text relating to a single subplot, and manipulate that text without screwing things up. So far, I've twice been able to completely re-align a subplot very quickly, even though its elements were spread across an 88K word text. Magic.

So I said my tools sucked, and then wrote about how awesome they are. So where's the suck? Well, I had envisioned using A tool, not 5. Maybe this was inexperience or conventional thinking, but regardless - I needed them all, at various times. So yeah, no tool was enough, or free of problems. This sucked, as I ended up buying $500 worth of tools - but now that I think on it - what other profession does NOT require quality tools costing thousands or tens of thousands of dollars?! So yeah, I was surprised, but I shouldn't have been. If that sounds expensive, look at your plumber's tool belt - way, way worse.

Surprise 5: I have to write in layers. My writing isn't bad, but I cannot think along multiple lines at the same time. I thought I would be able to produce finished prose and I can’t. I can write events and direct the eye, but I have to go back and adjust the language for the character, work in exposition, etc.

Surprise 6: I write backwards. If I write a paragraph, I typically have to re-order the sentences. My mind just works that way, showing my conclusion and describing how I got there. Fiction seems to function reversely, showing the elements that point to the conclusion.

Surprise 7: My subconscious is better than my conscious mind for coming up with ideas. To feed it, I first have to vomit a horrible scene on the page, analyze it, and then sleep on it. Within 48 hours (usually less than 4) I will have a better idea. This seems to be the macro-level version of surprises 5 & 6. This is not a problem, really. It’s just slow and messy. The good news: I arrive at ideas I like, scenes that move me, etc., and arriving at them at all is a blessing beyond my control. It’s like winning the lottery but having to drive to the bank every day – I have no right to bitch. But it was surprising.

Surprise 8: TROPES!!! 
My discovery of was literally a series of huge epiphanies. I am convinced that tvtropes is to writing what lego bricks were to building cool things as a child – all the pieces are there. This is worthy of its own thread someday. But for now I’ll say that lining up the conventions you want to present, reverse, deconstruct, etc., is a useful and fun activity that makes writing better, in ways relating to content.

Surprise 9: Patience really is a virtue. The clock is ticking. My friends want me to finish. My wife wants me to get paid. My ego wants to achieve success. And yet, I have instinctively paused as my narrative progressed to points where, for lack of a better way of describing it, the wind died and my sails went slack. This is A GOOD THING. It is my mind telling me I don’t have the right ideas ahead of me – I cannot/should not proceed without making a decision or realizing something. At first, this scared me more than anything else.

After a year with several lengthy pauses, I have learned that the parts of my mind below the surface are better – but they will take their sweet time. Waiting has always paid off. I say “waiting”, not stalling, not procrastinating, and not freezing from fear.

Surprise 10: After years of slaving away as a technical writer, it took time for me to realize that I REALLY CAN WRITE ANYTHING. “Boundless possibilities” is just a bunch of letters – but the reality behind those words is as soul-shaking as walking off the ramp of an aircraft at night and falling headlong into the black wind. I’ve now experienced both, and am I glad I left the military and became a writer? Damn straight.

Surprise 11: Courage. I wrote my first book at 11. It was terrible, and the teasing I experienced as a child both broke my heart then and gives me pause now. Like war, writing scares the hell out of me, but that fear can be mastered, endured, and channeled. Like war, it is GOOD to be afraid – it keeps you focused, because you really can fail. Success without fear isn’t success – it’s just performance. I’ve yet to meet a writer who isn’t afraid without seeing in their writing real reasons that they should be nervous, at the least.

Surprise 12: My references and self-study were sound.
My library of writing books is extensive, and I've read them all; many more than once. Better than a PhD in English, I think. We'll see how far that knowledge carries me. But so far, I am very pleased. I've read and heard a lot of bunk about writing, but so far I've been able (I think) to sort it all out.

I’ll save my epiphanies relating to others (including this forum’s denizens) for a follow up thread. For now, I'll just say that my brief time here has helped me immeasurably. And though I have a long way to go and many epiphanies ahead, I remain optimistic and enthusiastic - the things I would wish for anyone. So my first year has gone well. I hope yours has as well.

-The Gem Cutter

September 08, 2016, 05:57:07 PM
Re: Writing better dialogue? Also worth watching this Brandon Sanderson lecture, which covers dialogue for the first 25 minutes. His lectures are awesome.
October 05, 2016, 03:27:49 PM
Re: Can anyone recomend a creative writing course? Might not quite be what you're looking for, but have you watched Brandon Sanderson's lectures? They've recorded his creative writing university class and posted them on youtube. They're awesome, seriously, especially because they focus on the practical side of writing. They've just finished uploading a newly-recorded version from this year, which is much better quality than the previous versions!
October 13, 2016, 03:46:57 AM
Re: Magic Council My advice is tailored to Phoenix, who has been doin planning for years but claims he's done almost no writing meanwhile.
October 13, 2016, 11:53:29 PM
Re: What's your jam? (Music and inspiration while writing) You might like this thread :)

December 07, 2016, 10:50:20 PM
Re: Multiple MC deaths There's some good examples of it out there. Plenty of final battle type things, like the battle for Hogwarts in Hairy Otter. The Red Wedding would be the silverback gorilla of mid-book shock bloodbaths. In fact, it might just be one of the top ten greatest scenes in fantasy literature. Hell, there's some books like that. Legend is a non-stop orgy of death with PoV character fatalities reaching double figures (pretty sure more of them die than live) and I reckon A Memory of Light's gotta have a pretty big corpse count too. There's also plenty of bad guy fatality clusterbombs (see the end of every Eddings series ever), often with a hero off to keep them company (see also the end of every Eddings series ever).

So... yeah. Doable as good fiction.


If you want us to feel every character death in full, then I think that will be really hard if they're that close together. Maybe borderline impossible.

I think what most authors are selling at that point isn't the character deaths, but an event; the Final Battle, the Shock Betrayal, the Hopeless Siege. The deaths individually don't mean that much, but  they're needed to sell the event properly, and the event does. The deaths together have an effect equal to any but the greatest heroic deaths. Hell, you didn't even need to show the deaths on screen. When Perrin is ambushed by the Trollocs in The Shadow Rising, I'm not sure we see all the Two Rivers boys die. But when Perrin gets back to Emond's Field and the mothers are calling for their sons... boom. Powerful. Buggered if I could name one of them right now. There, Jordan's selling the Pain of Taking Responsibility, not the deaths of... I think Wil Al'Seen died there?

I'm not sure how much this is helping either mind, as I'm not sure you've got a big singular event planned.

April 09, 2017, 11:20:32 PM
Re: Brandon Sanderson Writing Lectures at BYU Thanks for doing that @zmunkz . I've watched your videos before, especially the older lectures that were cut into several different videos. Made it so much easier to get from one topic to the next when they are edited together.
November 02, 2017, 04:40:43 PM
Re: What do you think about writers who don't like Fanfiction? As a general rule I am strongly anti-fanfiction. I'd rather have one official story than hundreds of branching, contradictory ones. I suppose a fanfiction sequel wouldn't annoy me as much as an alternative vision. That being said there is a fanfiction book I'm looking forward to. (Redemption of Time, based on Three Body Problem). But that's published and translated by the same team as the original books, and fully approved by the author, so in a way that's as good as official for me. What I really don't like about a lot of fanfiction is that it twists characters to suit itself or its author's ideas, rather than staying true to what the original creator wanted.

I hadn't considered adaptations and the like as fanfiction before, but you raise an interesting point. I think the change of media makes it easier for me to accept. But modern Arthurian stories, for example, aren't really fanfiction, in my opinion, because they're building on the existing real-world mythos of Arthur.  The same way that Paradise Lost isn't fanfiction of the Bible.

I should say that I don't generally encounter much fanfiction, since I do my reading in physical books for 99.9% of the time, and my bias is not based on any quality judgement. It's just not for me.

June 25, 2019, 07:53:00 PM