It’s All You, Dave

Remember ‘Dave’ from the Staples™ TV commercial from a Dave - Staplesfew years ago?  The guy walked into an office where everyone looked suspiciously like him, and they all greeted each other by saying, “Dave.”  The commercial closed with the voiceover saying, “In a small business, it’s all you.”

If you’re a writer these days, you’re much like Dave.  After all, in your corporation of one, you fill the following positions:

  • President.  Congratulations! You made it to the top, the big cheese, the high muckety-muck.  The company bears your name.  You’re praised when it succeeds, and blamed when…well, let’s not focus on that.
  • Vice President of Purchasing.  In days gone by, this job entailed keeping your business furnished with a functional typewriter, paper, pens, a nice desk, and a comfortable chair.  Now the job responsibilities have shrunk to ensuring a functional computer and a solid Internet connection.
  • V.P. of Research & Development.  This is one of the best jobs in the company, the department doing all the research for your stories.  If you write historical fiction, this is particularly important.  It’s so much fun, however, that this job will take over your company if left unchecked.
  • V.P. of Contracting.  You may not be a lawyer, but you’re going to have to know some basics about contracts.  Just reading the darn things can be tedious—nothing at all like reading fiction.  Once you sign, you’re bound by that agreement.
  • V.P. of Production.  Finally, a fun job.  This is the one you signed up for.  You manage the mental machinery that takes ideas from the R&D department, plus some coffee, and produces polished prose.
  • V.P. of Marketing and Sales.  Your company won’t promote itself, that’s for sure.  If you contract with a big publishing firm, they’ll take care of this, but with smaller publishers or with self-publishing, you’ve got to get your name out there by yourself.  You’ve got to work the social media, speak at conferences, arrange book signings, etc.
  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO).  Unless you’ve got someone else handling the books, the ledgers, the taxes for you, it’s up to you.  Skill in accounting doesn’t always go hand in hand with skill in writing, so your on-the-job training better not take too long.
  • V. P. of Customer Service.  When your customers (readers) complain about the product, to whom do they turn?  You.  Although there’s no need to respond to negative reviews, you should respond to comments on your blog posts, and e-mails from readers.

All those fancy job titles lose some luster when they’re combined in one person, and that’s you.  However, look at the bright side:  decisions get made quickly in your company of one.  All those departments see eye-to-eye; they’re on the same page, so to speak.  No in-fighting, no hidden agendas, no stabbing in the back.

Unlike the conclusion of the commercial, there is no Easy button to push.  Purchasing is the only department Staples™ can help.

However, there are Help buttons, many sources of information to help writers figure out all these specialized jobs.  In fact my blog is dedicated to providing that information.

So, ‘Dave,’ get back to work.  It’s all you.  And I’ll return to my work, too.  At my company, it’s all—

                                                          Poseidon’s Scribe

February 9, 2014Permalink

The Life Story of a Short Story

AlexandersOdyssey9Hello.  I’m a short story.  Since Poseidon’s Scribe never got around to blogging about the whole short story process, he invited me to guest blog today.  My title is “Alexander’s Odyssey,” and I was written by Steven R. Southard.  My life story is typical of other tales, and might be obvious to many of you, but the steps weren’t clear to Steve when he started.

Idea1.  Idea.  I started as an idea.  You did too, I suppose, but with stories you only need one human with an idea, if you know what I mean.  Getting a story idea isn’t as difficult as most believe.  Ideas are all around you.

Outline2.  Outline.  This can take many forms, not just the standard I-A-1-a-(1) type.  It can be a mind-map, for example.  An outline can keep you focused as you write, but don’t be afraid to deviate from it if the story takes off in a different direction.  Steve used an outline for me, but if you don’t want to, just skip this step.

Research3.  Research.  You might have to conduct research for your story like Steve did for me.  Use the most authoritative sources you can.  Steve didn’t include all the researched data when writing me, just a tiny fraction.  You might enjoy research, but don’t get stuck at this stage.  At some point, enough is enough.

First draft4.  First Draft.  Steve wrote my first draft fast, without caring about quality.  He didn’t even stop to correct typos.  He got it all down, the emotions, the drama, and the character interactions.

Edits5.  Edit.  Steve did several drafts of me where he corrected typos; deleted extraneous stuff; added in foreshadowing, metaphors, similes, and symbolism, etc.  Don’t get stuck at this stage either; some stories never even get submitted.

Submit6.  Submit.  Steve located a suitable market, and had to modify me a bit to conform to the submission guidelines.  After much hesitation, he submitted me.   These days, you writers have the option of self-publishing us stories, so you could skip this step.

Reject7.  Rejection.  Actually, I didn’t get rejected the first time, but I know the feeling.  I don’t understand why writers take rejection so personally; the editor is rejecting me, not you.  Just shake it off and submit your story to some other market.  Keep us moving!

Accept8.  Accept.  I was pretty happy when an anthology editor accepted me, but Steve was positively giddy.  I’d never seen him so thrilled and, frankly, the details are embarrassing, so I’ll just move on.

Rewrite9.  Rewrite.  The editor suggested Steve change me a bit.  He agreed the changes would do me good, and made them.  I’ve seen Steve agonize over suggested changes to other stories, though.  I’ve even seen him push back against the editor.  In the end, they always reach agreement and Steve signs the contracts.  I guess he could always refuse and walk away if he wanted.

Launch10.  Launch.  These days, publishers don’t just publish us, they launch us.  It does make me feel like a rocket going off, sort of.  Again, Steve seems really happy when a story launches, and again it’s awkward to watch.

Market11.  Market.  If I’d been picked up by one of the top publishing houses, they’d spread the word about me.  Steve didn’t send me there, so he had to do it.  Boy, does he hate that part, though I’ve heard some authors like marketing.  Use social media, newsletters, writing conferences—anything to advertise.

Read12.  Read.  My favorite step.  When a reader buys me and reads me cover to cover, that’s what I live for.

Reprint13.  Reprint.  When the rights to me reverted back to Steve, he submitted me for publication as a reprint.  After three rejects, another market accepted me, but asked for significant changes.  My reprint version states where and when I was published the first time.

Spin-off14.  Spin-off.  Oh, I hope, I hope I can get spun-off into a novel, a play, or even a movie.  Hey, a story can dream, can’t it?

That’s my story.  Forget about Steve, or Poseidon’s Scribe.  Address your comments to—

                                            Alexander’s Odyssey

December 8, 2013Permalink

What the Web Wrought on Writing

We still live near the dawn of the Internet Age, of course, so it’s perhaps a bit early to assess the web’s impact on writing.  But here goes, anyway…

First, it’s instructive to recall the past technological developments that aided fiction writers, or allowed them to better connect with paying readers.  Here’s a partial list:  libraries, bookbinding, printing presses, mass production of paper, mail delivery, bookstores, dictionaries, typewriters, computer word processors, and eBooks.  Each of these innovations aided storytellers in significant ways.

(By the way, I’m aware of the difference between the ‘Internet’ and the ‘World Wide Web.’  Even so, they’re intertwined enough that I’ll use the terms interchangeably.)

I would argue the Internet’s impact on writing is (and will be) as great as any of those previous technologies.  It’s true, those who created the Internet did not have authors specifically in mind.  But some of the Internet’s attributes have eased the processes involved in the writing business:

  • Span.  The Internet covers the world; and to a greater extent every day, it is spanning all of human history; and encompassing a larger fraction of all human knowledge.
  • Search and Retrieval.  Internet search engines provide a way to sift through the vastness and find desired, specific information, no matter how obscure.
  • Permanence.  To some extent, the Internet represents a permanent record.  I believe the way data is stored and backed up renders far less likely a tragedy such as the destruction of the ancient Alexandrian Library.
  • Speed.  Everything you can do on the Internet, you can do fast, much faster than using the mail, or hunting through a library.
  • Availability.  The Internet is within reach of nearly everyone, and at very low cost.

In short, the web eases the way people connect to information and to other people.  The sudden ease of those connections has been a boon to writers.

Here are some ways the web has improved several steps of the writing process:

  • Research.  It is far easier for writers to research specific topics using the Internet.  There are gaps in the web, of course, and problems with accuracy of information, so trips to the library remain necessary on occasion.
  • Co-authorship.  E-mail makes it easier to collaborate with another writer when both are contributing to a book.
  • Critiquing.  It’s no longer necessary to find other writers in your local area to get your manuscripts critiqued.
  • Market searches.  Websites like Duotrope, Ralan, and Doug Smith’s Foreign Market List make it much easier to compile a prioritized list of ideal markets for each of your stories.
  • Submitting.  Most markets take online submissions, either through e-mail or their own online form.  Much faster and less costly than mailing.
  • Publishing.  As with many other businesses, the Internet has allowed people to quickly form small businesses operating out of their homes.  This has resulted in a proliferation of publishers.
  • Advertising.  The advent of websites, blogging, and social networking has opened up new ways for authors to reach readers.
  • Book-shopping.  For readers, the Internet’s search features and various online booksellers have eased the process of browsing for the next book to read, no matter how obscure the reader’s interests.
  • Reviewing.  Online bookselling sites have made it easy for anyone to post a book review.  These reviews help other readers make their purchasing decisions.

The Internet has helped writers in every way except one.  It won’t write your book for you!  And maybe that’s a good thing.  Still writing my own stories, I’m—

                                                          Poseidon’s Scribe


September 30, 2012Permalink

Your Writer Infestation

Usually I dedicate my blog entries to beginning writers.  Today I want to address those who put up with writers–spouses, children, parents, co-workers, and friends.

Before we discuss what to do about your writer infestation, let’s explore how to recognize you have one.  At first glance, this may seem difficult to determine.   After all, writers look just like normal people, for the most part.  Writers have a wide distribution, having been seen on every continent, in every country.  They live wherever people live, often in houses or apartments right alongside normal people.

However, writers have certain characteristics that give themselves away as a completely different species.  First, they engage in the “writing” behavior, often for many hours on end.  This is a solitary activity which does not usually annoy others.  They may go without food or drink while writing, or may consume these in great quantities.  This characteristic has been shown to vary from writer to writer.

On those occasions when writers are not writing, and instead interact with people, their behavior is unique to their species.  Often, for example, a writer will appear to be attentive and interested in a discussion, but in fact is merely observing and noting ideas about language and gestures for some future story.  The writer may not be hearing the person at all.  Many people have noted writers who seem lost in thought as if they inhabit a world of their own creation.  In conversation, writers may express thoughts similar to the following:

  • “That’s a good idea. I can use that in my next story.”
  • “I have a character just like her in one of my novels.”
  • “Let me read something to you; tell me honestly what you think.”
  • “The script for that TV show (or movie, or TV ad, or radio ad) is terrible.  I could do better.”

You may have had some bad experiences while dealing with one of these writers in your life.  You might have tried interrupting the writer in the act of writing, with unfortunate results.  You’ve probably been bored on many occasions when the writer talked to you about some aspect of writing.  You might even have been interested at one point about this writing behavior, but experience has taught you not to ask or show any curiosity.  You may have developed a fear that the writer might make you a character in a story.  You may have wondered why the writer occasionally seeks out the company of other writers, at such events as “conferences,” “critique groups,” or “writing courses.”

These are all normal reactions that occur when interacting with writers.  So far none have been shown to have long-term negative effects on people.  Your exposure to a writer should not prevent you from living a nearly normal life.

What should you do if you find yourself in the company of a writer?  Escape may not be possible, particularly if you have made a marital promise to the writer, or the writer is one of your parents or children.  My advice in such cases is to focus on the positive–look for the good or endearing qualities of the writer (if any) and cherish those.  It’s usually best not to express any curiosity about the writer’s stories; instead encourage the writer to seek the company of other writers.  Only another writer can truly understand a writer.

As mentioned above, try to avoid interrupting a writer engaged in writing.  Writers can be angry and aggressive when aroused; they exhibit typical territorial behaviors.  Sometimes such interruptions cannot be avoided however, such as when a person needs a writer to perform some non-writing domestic duty–taking out garbage, making a meal, cleaning a room, mowing a lawn, etc.  At such times, if you know the writer’s favorite author, you can state that “Even [insert Great Author] didn’t write all the time.  Please take a little time to [insert necessary non-writing activity.]”  Alternatively, you can suggest that it’s time the writer does some real-world research. You might have to get creative with that one because after the first time even a writer will not view mowing the lawn as research.

It’s my hope that you can manage to tolerate or even enjoy the relationship with the writer in your life, despite the difficulties and differences.  Even today, science has much to learn about this rare and fascinating species.  If you have encountered one and observed traits not mentioned here, please leave a comment.  It’s in the interest of science.  Always interested in scientific advancement, I’m —

                                                                Poseidon’s Scribe

October 23, 2011Permalink

Writing and the Outlier Theory

In a previous blog post, I mentioned Malcolm Gladwell and his book Outliers: The Story of Success.  In it, he explored why some people seem to stand out as geniuses in their fields–what made them so good?  His conclusion was that success requires two things:  (1) Luck, and (2) 10,000 hours of practice.

There’s not much we can do about luck.  Gladwell suggested it was a matter of being born at the right time and being exposed to the right influences.  When it comes to luck, you either have it or you don’t.  If you have it, ride that wave, baby.  If you don’t, well, reconcile yourself to the fact that not all books sold are written by the greatest writers of all time.  And know this, too:  there’s no way of knowing in advance whether you are lucky.  Only time will tell.

Although we can’t alter our luck, we can do something about the 10,000 hours.  Well, not shorten it, I’m afraid.  But we can accomplish it.  We can devote ourselves to it.  If you spend 10,000 hours honing your skill at one thing, it’s highly likely you’ll become good at it.  Perhaps not great, but good.  And you may grow to enjoy that activity, such that the idea of the next 10,000 hours doesn’t frighten you, but thrills you.

Gladwell goes on to discuss what the 10,000 hours should consist of.  Many of those hours should be devoted to freeform play where failure has a low cost.  There should be a lot of experimentation and attempts at trying out different approaches without any external criticism.  Examples he gives in his book include hockey players, musicians, and computer pioneers.  But you can see how his theory applies to writers.

For writers, the 10,000 hours is spent mostly alone, writing.  The freeform play consists of many attempts at stories of different types, many drafts that get discarded, many early tales of poor quality.  The 10,000 hours should include some study as well–research into the mechanics of writing, research into how great writers plied their craft.

At this point you might be thinking of examples of great writers who didn’t have to spend 10,000 hours perfecting their skills.  Okay, there might be a handful.  And you might end up being one.  If so, great!  But do you really think you should assume that you’re going to be one of that very rare breed that achieves greatness without a lot of work?

Yes, I’ve done the math.  I know that if you can only devote three hours a day to writing, you won’t reach 10,000 hours for over nine years.  But for most of us, there’s just no way around that.  And you need to remember that much of those 10,000 hours are spent in enjoyable play.  It needn’t be all drudgery.

So those 10,000 hours won’t happen by themselves.  If you want to be an author, get moving.  The clock’s ticking and the calendar’s flipping.  Oh, and if you know some sure-fire shortcut, please send it to–

                                                      Poseidon’s Scribe

September 11, 2011Permalink

How to Create Life (in fiction)

In what way are all fiction writers like Dr. Frankenstein?  Answer:  we’re all creating life.  Mary Shelley’s famous character is a better metaphor for my purposes than the phrase “playing God,” because, like the Transylvanian experimenter, we have models to copy from — all the people we see and meet.

The problem is, as Dr. Frankenstein found out, creating life is difficult.  Some writers are better at giving readers a vivid mental picture of their characters than others.  What are the factors involved in creating believable, memorable characters?

Linda Seger answers that question well in her book Creating Unforgettable Characters, which I recommend.  Her technique for coming up with great characters is to (1) research the character, (2) create a backstory, (3) understand the character’s psychology, (4) create character relationships, and (5) develop the character’s dialogue voice.  The book also contains great advice regarding the development of supporting characters, nonrealistic characters, the use of stereotype, and how to solve the character problems you may experience as a writer.

Back in the 1800s, authors could furnish long descriptions of their characters, giving readers all the necessary details for understanding them.  Readers stopped putting up with that many decades ago.  Writers had to learn to imbed snatches of character descriptions into the action and dialogue as seamlessly as possible.  No more “time-outs” from the plot to devote a few paragraphs to the heroine’s matching dress and parasol.

Then writers found a technique for describing their main character’s physical appearance while remaining in that character’s point of view.  Simply have the character stare at a mirror or other reflective surface.  Sorry, modern writers don’t get to do that either; it’s been way too overused.

Complicating matters more, short story writers just don’t have enough space in the story for complete, well-drawn character descriptions.  A short story writer must create a memorable, identifiable main character using very few words or details and not slow down the plot while doing so.  There just isn’t the leisure of space for full character development in short fiction.

That’s why many writers turn to stereotypical or “stock” characters.  Not much description is necessary for these characters, since the reader will fill in the rest.  The problems here are: modern readers are offended by negative stereotypes, and use of stereotypes marks the writer as lazy and uncreative.  It is okay to use a stock character if you give her at least one aspect running counter to the stereotype.  That makes her more human and interesting.

So far this blog post reads like a list of “don’t-do’s” without giving much positive advice.  Therefore, here’s a list of do’s:

  • Make your plot and main character fit together such that only that character could have starred in that story.  It doesn’t matter which you think of first–plot or character–just ensure they fit.  Your story’s plot will become your protagonist’s private hell, so ensure it’s the specific corner of Hell your character fears most.
  • Get to know your major characters.  Develop a brief biography.  Put more in the bio than you’ll ever write in the story.  The bio should include elements (2) through (5) in Linda Seger’s list above.
  • Ensure the main characters in your story are distinctive and obviously different from each other in as many ways as possible.  You don’t want to confuse your readers.
  • Ensure your protagonist has some measure of the Everyman about him, so readers will identify with him and care what happens to him.

I’ll have more to say on creating characters in future blog posts.  It’s a major aspect of writing, of course.  In the meantime, (Bwaaa-ha-haaa!) it’s back to the laboratory for–

Poseidon’s Scribe


Write What You Know? Really?

One of the oldest sayings about writing is “write what you know.”  Its originator is unknown.  Is this good advice, or bad?

This much is certain; it’s a lucky thing some great writers didn’t actually follow that advice.  For one thing, we never would have had any science fiction or fantasy, since no writer has gone through the experiences of characters in those sorts of stories.

Or have they?

In one sense, all characters encounter problems and experience emotional reactions to those problems, then seek to find a resolution to those problems.  All writers, all prospective writers, and even all people have done these things.  Maybe you haven’t battled menacing wyverns with a magic sword, but you’ve felt fear, had adrenalin rushes, struggled to overcome a difficulty, experienced a feeling like all is lost, grabbed for one last chance, and felt the triumphant glow of victory.  You’ve had the sensations your character will have.  Even though you’re writing about a heroic knight in some never-time of mystical wonder, you’re still—in one sense—writing what you know.

I suspect some long-ago teacher coined the maxim after first giving students a writing assignment and listening to a student complain about not knowing what to write.  The answer “write what you know” isn’t a bad one in that circumstance, since the students aren’t seeking wider publication, and writing about something familiar can free the student from worrying about research or getting facts wrong.

For a writer who is seeking publication, we’ll have to amend the adage.  Write what you know, so long as:

  • It’s not just a list of boring events from your real life;
  • You give us (your readers) an interesting plot and engaging characters;
  • Your descriptions grab us and insert us right into your setting, your story’s world; and
  • Your writing touches something inside us and helps us feel what your main characters feel.

So what you know may be that ugly incident at the school playground from third grade, but don’t give us the play-by-play of that.  Please.  Instead, use the feelings of that long-ago afternoon, but make the events happen in a different time and setting, with different characters.  If your setting is a far-flung planet and your characters are wearing space suits and packing blaster pistols, you might want to do some research to ensure plausibility.  But if you’re true to the emotions you felt on that playground, they’ll come through as genuine in your story and your readers will connect.

So, Beginning Writer, if you’re stuck and don’t know how to get started, try writing what you know, then edit it into what readers want to read.   Just some more free advice from—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Writing in the Flow

You know the feeling.  Maybe you were playing a sport or a musical instrument; maybe you experienced it at work or in church.  I’m talking about that experience of being in the zone, in the moment.  Runners call it the “second wind.”  Everything’s going well and you’re super-productive, almost flawless, and you’ve lost complete track of time.  How cool, how sweet, is that?

When writers experience it, words come out without effort; there’s a lack of awareness of surroundings and the passage of time; and the prose is better. It’s as if writer and muse are one.  If you’re like me and writing is a part-time hobby, then the precious time available for it needs to be maximized somehow.  It’s desirable to spend as much time in the zone as possible.

According to this Wikipedia article, the psychological term is “flow.”  It was coined by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, and there are ten associated factors (though not all are required):

  1. Clear goals
  2. Concentrating within a limited field of attention
  3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness
  4. Distorted sense of time
  5. Direct and immediate feedback
  6. Balance between ability level and challenge
  7. A sense of personal control over the activity
  8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
  9. A lack of awareness of bodily needs
  10. Absorption into the activity, narrowing of the focus of awareness down to the activity itself

So how can a writer intentionally bring about this state of mind?  For me, preparation is the key.  I find I can make the flow more likely if (1) I’ve prepared a story outline so I know the general direction I’m heading, and (2) I’ve previously thought about the story during “down time.”  Down time is when I’m doing an activity that doesn’t involve intense concentration, an activity such as commuting to or from work, mowing the lawn, and taking a shower.  It’s during these periods when I think about the scenes, characters, dialogue, and plot.  If I’ve done that, my mind is ready to write when I have time available.  I’m much more likely to get in the flow.

You might be different.  Some writers can induce the flow by playing music, by writing in the same spot and at the same time each day, or even by burning incense or setting out potpourri.

Unfortunately, it’s hit-or-miss getting into the flow, and very easy to get kicked out of it.  One way to get kicked out is to decide, as you’re writing, that you need to do some research.  This is a tempting urge, and can be more enjoyable than writing.  Sadly, it is a huge time sink, and there’s really no need to have it spoil your flow.  In my January 30 blog entry, I suggested something I called “bracket research.”  Just take the question you want to investigate and put it in brackets, or highlight the text yellow, or do something to distinguish it. You can stay in the flow and keep going, then do the research later.

Another dangerous practice that will kick you of the flow is to pause and self-edit too much.  You can do that later.  For now, just let words flow.  I don’t know a really good cure for that, but I suspect participating in NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, is one way to cure yourself of that urge.

I hope you can experience and maximize the flow in all your favorite activities.  Good luck!  I suppose I should know something about flow; after all, I’m–

Poseidon’s Scribe

Are Outlines…Out of Line?

Do you outline before you write stories?  If you’re not a fiction writer, do you outline in preparation for any substantial non-fiction you write?  I do, but this won’t be an attempt to persuade you to outline, but rather a description of why and how I do it.  Perhaps you’ll benefit from knowing such things.

I’m sure many writers don’t use outlines.  Too much of a bother, they’d say.  Too confining, others believe.  Still others would profess that time spent outlining is time not spent writing.  For some, their outline is in their head, and that’s enough.

More power to them.  I can’t imagine writing without an outline.  For me, it’s not a bother, but rather a way to ensure my story stays on track, stays true to its intended purpose.  I suppose outlines can be confining, but I think if them as flexible guidelines, every bit as subject to editing and rewriting as the story itself.  I rarely adhere entirely to my outline anyway.  It’s true—the process of outlining takes time that could be spent writing.  However, the time I spend outlining is worth far more to me than time wasted writing a story that lacks direction or purposeful flow.  As for keeping an outline in my head, I’m too afraid I’ll forget something important.

How do I outline, you ask?  I always start with a mind map.  If only my teachers had covered mind maps in elementary school!  Instead, I first heard about them in my thirties.  What a marvelous note-taking and brain-storming method!  I recommend reading Use Both Sides of Your Brain, by Tony Buzan, but you can also learn about the technique through internet searches.  I use mind maps initially to form ideas for my story, letting my mind free-stream, and organizing my thoughts on the mind map.  Later I might refine or redraw the mind map as things clarify.

More often I use the mind map to create a document called “Notes for ___” where the blank is either the title of the story, or the initial idea for the story.  This Notes document will eventually contain the research I’ve done, as well as the outline fleshed out from the mind map.

That outline basically consists of: (1) a list of the characters, along with character traits and motivations, (2) a description of the setting, along with any research I’ve done about the setting, (3) some notes about the conflict(s) to be resolved (both external and internal), and (4) the listed series of events making up the plot.

I know—seems like a lot of work, doesn’t it?  But I write short stories, so my lists of characters are short, the settings and conflicts are few, and the plots are not too involved.  As important as outlines are for my short stories, I imagine they’ll be even more necessary when I take the leap into writing novels.  For me, there’s little danger of getting snared in the trap of forever planning the story and never writing it.  Every moment I’m outlining, my bored muse is screaming at me to stop that tedious business and get writing!

As I write the story, I keep the Notes at the ready and refer to them often.  In almost every case, I reach a point where the story wants to deviate from the outline.  This can occur when a minor character starts taking center stage more than intended, or when my outlined plot requires a character to do something he or she just would not do, or many other reasons.  Here I must decide whether to detour from the outline or edit the story to match the existing outline.  Most often I abandon the outline, but I’ve done both.

My process has evolved to this and will likely continue to change.  Perhaps the next time I address outlining in a blog, my method will have altered again.  The process you choose will be different and uniquely you; it may not involve outlines at all.  It’s my hope you enjoy your writing adventure as much as…

Poseidon’s Scribe

Researching and Writing

There’s plenty of useful information out there about how writers conduct research for their stories.  Still, I suspect it’s a question many beginning writers still wonder about.  I’m one of them, and I still wonder about it!  I won’t repeat much of what is said here or here (both full of great advice) but instead I’ll just mention how I do my research.

If I had to name the two phases of my research, I’d call them “mood” research and “bracket” research. Before I began writing a story, I conduct some general research on my topic time period, geographical setting, etc.  This is to let the world of the story percolate in my mind for a while, to put me in the mood of the story, to immerse me in being there (and then).

This research is online for the most part, though I often supplement it with books from the local library.  The usual caution about the accuracy of information available on the internet applies here.  I’ve never made a trip to the area where my stories are set, but I really should, and someday I’ll do that.  Sometimes I’ve set my stories in regions where I have already been, so some of the mood research is already done.

After I’ve done my mood research and begin writing the story, I always come up against some question not answered by any of my previous research.  This is often some little thing, some detail I’m not sure of.   This lack of knowledge comes at a time when I’m in the zone, writing along and I really don’t want to be distracted by stopping to conduct further research.  Time for bracket research.  For example, say I’m writing about two women in Switzerland chatting in a house, and it’s about the year 1600 or so.  What would they be drinking?  Coffee?  Tea?  Wine?  Rather than puzzling too long about it, or stopping the flow of words to surf for the answer, I just put the question in brackets:  [What are they drinking?] and continue on.  The story might end up being littered by many of these bracketed questions.  Later I just search for the brackets, research each question, and edit the manuscript accordingly.

Some writers hate research and have to force themselves to do it.  Not me.  I love it and will gladly spend time doing that rather than write.  I call it the suction problem.  It’s the same effect I experience when walking through a shopping mall in the vicinity of a bookstore.  A localized variation in the gravity vector causes me to slip along the floor toward and into the bookstore.  I sure get strange stares from other shoppers as I slide along backwards or sideways in the grip of this suction force.  Only by an extraordinary effort is it possible for me to resist.  (It helps to wear rubber-soled shoes for traction, and to find building support columns I can grab.)

It’s the same way with research, both the mood and bracket types.   I have to force myself to stop researching and return to writing.  After all, the end goal is to submit a reasonably good story while I’m still alive, not spend my remaining years combing through every bit of reference material on the subject.  Recognizing that end goal and being aware of my preference for eternal researching helps me focus.

So that’s how Poseidon’s Scribe does his research.  How do you do yours?  Write to me here with your comments.

Poseidon’s Scribe

January 30, 2011Permalink