Description should be carried on the wings of action; they shouldn’t be a plane each.

I’m almost tempted to leave the title as the whole post. :) But to clarify the point I’m making slightly, writing is not a paint by numbers exercise. Each sentence is not a plane, flying by itself, with only one destination and purpose. This doesn’t work well:

1) Setting sentence. (plane #1)

2) Action sentence. (plane #2)

4) Next paragraph. (next two planes line up)

Setting, character, mood, and action are intertwined in effective writing, with one or more factors points carrying more or less weight at different times. But at a minimum, there should be some action or tension that carries the reader through description. Unlike books of old, readers have little patience for pages of rolling plains, puffy clouds, and wind toying with the leaves. You need a person striding through that setting with a knife in their hand and fire in their eyes (or at least, that’s the type of book I like to read!).

So avoid writing: “The dust was pale and deep. It was quiet. I drifted down and settled softly to earth.” (sight. sound. action, all with a sentence each) and go for “I drifted down silently, my boots sinking into pale dust.” (All wrapped together. You could even lose an adjective or two and still accomplish most of your goals.)

Keep your writing concise, interesting, and weave description into other things, particularly action or tension, which pulls the reader along. Give it a shot and see how it works for you. :)

As usual, half these rules are for my own benefit and something I try to practice as well as preach. Not that there’s been much practicing in the last few weeks. Hope your writing is more productive than mine!

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A small sneak peak at the current state of my current painting (the image shown is a crop of a larger piece, to be clear) which I expect to be part of the StoneDragon art set, and possibly the cover. The StoneDragon manuscript is now back from its final edit, so now I just have to get organized on all the rest of the logistics: cover, interior art, format, and epublish, to put it out into the world. I’m still thinking of including four or five additional images, but we’ll see how the next few months go. At the moment, things are looking pretty horrible for spare time and extra art, with work and some major house renos that I expect to be very disruptive. :( Oh well, be nice when things calm down. Hopefully, they calm down!

Heroic Reflection (which isn’t sucking your gut in the mirror)

I think this is an appropriate topic (on the writing side, not sucking in my gut), as my current draft has an element of this in it. It’s a heroic style book, with a strong dark and gun-wielding hero, but I don’t really want to admire him from his own point of view. Even in stories with heroes that are larger than life, legendary, those same heroes must be modest, humble, and torn with doubt. Only then can they take actions that raise them above the average. They can’t admire themselves, or even acknowledge their own specialness, as that takes away from the humbleness. So how do you show how great they are, without having them say it, especially if you want to use a limited POV (no obvious narrative voice)?

You have to reflect their greatness from those around them. This can be in the other character’s dialogue, if you want a one POV story, or from other people’s thoughts, if you want to move it to multiple POV. This can even be to the extreme of making the entire narrative be the POV of a secondary character, such as Sherlock Holmes’ Watson. If you don’t want to go that far, you can do it more intermittently, such as the occasional female POV in Louis L’Amour westerns, or just through the dialogue and actions of the surrounding cast, such as the more recent (and very high quality) Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown.

A hero can’t admire themselves in the mirror.

Others must admire their sucked-in-gut for them…

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I’m now past the 60% mark on my StoneDragon edit. I’m starting to get energized as the end crawls into sight. I will be SO happy when it is done and I can start doing fun things, like some illustrations and maybe even move to a new story. The question will be whether I want to start something completely new, or shift to another already finished story that needs some editing. It can’t be said that I’m not a sucker for punishment! 😀

You don’t sand a tree to get a table (Priorities)

My first job was in a woodworking company, which made custom cabinets and furniture. We lived in a small town and I was fifteen and wanted to save up for a car, so I walked around town, handing out my carefully thought out CV (grass-cutting for allowance money, etc). The family-run woodworking shop must have had the same cutting edge attitude as I did, because they said ‘sure’, and put me to work right away—literally. I dressed up for what I thought was an interview in a nice sweater and they put me to work on a big belt-sanding machine right away. At the end of my efforts, they hesitantly told me to dress more appropriately for the next shift.

So what has this got to do with writing? Well, what I quickly learned was that you do things in a certain order. The company would get great big sheets of wood, then plan what the pieces they would need to cut out, cut it on a great ban saw (I saw that saw fling a chair across the room once, when someone wasn’t holding on properly, so cool), sand it, dowel it, seal, and stain or lacquer it. And that sequence never changed. Because it would be a waste of time or materials to do it any other way. You measured and planned what pieces you needed first, so you didn’t waste the great sheets and people’s time experimenting with different sizes and seeing how they looked. You cut the wood down before sanding, because why would you sand what you never planned on using? And in fact, I once got in trouble for sanding a part of a table that no-one would ever see or touch. Why waste the time they were paying me for to do that? It was a waste of money and time. No-one would ever know the difference.

It’s taken me a while, but it’s finally sinking in that it’s the same with writing. It’s very tempting to write the chapter of a first draft, then go back and polish the language. Make the dialogue better, correct the grammar, tighten words. It makes me happy. But it’s also wasting time. My time has an opportunity cost. If I was paying me by the hour, like my old woodworking boss did, I’d be livid. Because the scenes are not yet cut to size, or attached in the right order. It’s like I’m cutting down a tree, giving it a few swipes of sandpaper, then taking out the chain saw. It’s the wrong order. It doesn’t hurt the project, but why on Earth am I wasting the energy and time? There are better uses for it.

So when you’re writing: plan, write, do big picture edits (chopping, resizing, shuffling things around) and THEN polish. Tighten your words, dialogue, and shine at the end, not the beginning.

And if you do get an interview at a small woodworking shop, you may not want to wear your nicest sweater. :)

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An oldie but goodie image. I like this little dragon a lot. If I had more time, I’d do more art like this (posed more dramatically), but work is very consuming right now, as I may have mentioned. Not that it’s bad, just a lot to manage, so I’m struggling even to keep my StoneDragon edit going. Art has unfortunately taken a backseat. Hopefully that will change at some point…

 

 

Arrows in the River (Giving the Reader Time to Absorb)

I think I might be going too fast in the beginning. There I said it.

I read other short stories in the ‘Improbable Truth’ anthology and compared them to mine. Then I skimmed the old opening of the original StoneDragon draft, the last full version I wrote, and I found fast dialogue and action, but not a lot of setting, backstory, or context, at least in the first few pages. I dropped the reader into a fast moving stream and expected them to start swimming, without help. And maybe with a few arrows falling around their head (my featured image was boring until I added the arrow, which I have to tie in somehow!).

But seriously, I think I need to aim for slightly longer paragraphs early on, of adding something that isn’t fast moving action or dialogue, at least in the first few pages. Setting, mood, detail. Something to allow my reader’s mind to settle in, pick up the point of an individual paragraph and absorb it, before being assaulted by a new and completely different idea, every sentence or two. Or at least not until the pacing is intended to pick up and the reader is comfortably ensconced in the scene.

I should probably note that this flaw is probably better than the reverse: being too slow and predictable, which is the kiss of death, but I still have to write down my flaws when I see them–and I think I see one.

Hopefully, I’m not be as bad as I used to be when I first wrote that early StoneDragon draft, and I definitely don’t want to swing completely to the other side of the pendulum, and have a pedantically boring opening, but I think that I will probably add this question to my checklist of items when I’m editing a story. I’m still going to try having an opening that grabs you, but hopefully not at a speed where you are lost.

A fast moving stream can shock you, wake you up, and get your heart rate racing. All good things for a chapter. But if the water’s too fast and deep, you’re just going to drown…

Especially if you get shot by arrows. 😉

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A new sketch for the post. I also have a hockey injury tonight: a slapshot to the little finger. A lot of blood and the nail is mottled black. So not much extra typing going on. 😉 Most of this post was done beforehand. Before ‘hand’, he he. Okay, maybe a bit light headed from blood loss and a single beer. Hope your night went better!

On the WIP front, I’m finally shockingly happy with the outline and am cleaning up my world-building references into organized files in Scrivener before tackling the rewrite. Which will be followed by a paid edit and possibly a copy edit. So still quite a ways from complete. But I’m getting excited by it again, which is a nice change!

PS, I have a guest blog coming soon, which is a first for the blog and pretty exciting, And which will also hopefully give the little finger a chance to recover! :)

I’m not dead, just on vacation

Wow, this is the first time I’ve nearly exceeded my minimum one post a month guideline. Yikes. So instead of a craft post, you’re going to get a personal one. Tune out now if you want. :)

We went to the West Coast to visit some inlaws, and North to take a Disney cruise around Alaska with the kids. Alaska is wonderful, beautiful… and it rains a lot. Beautiful indeed. But rains. A lot. Or at least it did the week we were there. We saw whales, seals, and wild black bears–not caged, and not twelve feet away. I was ready to take that mamma bear on, for the sake of the kids, which I’m sure wouldn’t have ended well for me. :) Luckily we were in good hands on a guided tour with a guide who stated confidently at the beginning that she would protect us. And then admitted quietly to me–no idea why–after the bear had wandered off that she hoped she actually knew how to use the sulphur flare she wore on her belt, which was her last line of defence after assorted puffing up and yelling tactics. Yikes!

The kids thought it was all great fun.

The whale-watching boat tour was fun too (non-Disney related, just to be clear)… Well, it was until the girl threw up in the upper deck anyway, and the smell chased us all downstairs. I know, I know, people keep asking me, why didn’t she throw up over the side? The answer: because the upper deck was glass-enclosed.

Did I mention it rains in Alaska?

Then we visited the mother in law, who has a small dog. Which was entertaining, as my smallest boy has a fear of dogs, despite us having owned one when he was one (he’s three now, and doesn’t remember at all). Lots of tears and clutching at Daddy’s neck when we forgot to manage the situation. But amazingly enough, guess who didn’t want to leave the dog at the end of the week? It was very cute.

Okay, that’s it from the world of my vacation. To repeat my big news, I am not dead.

Despite my adventures with bears. :)

 

Oh, PS, I got lots of writing down on a new short story when I was on the boat. Because, you know, I love writing on boats!! (see here)