C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

#NaNoWriMo: Story stuck and stalled? Try this.

You’ll probably get stuck from time to time. Most everyone does, so don’t panic.

If you get stuck often, outline more to save writing time and stay on track. Keep in mind that outlines are merely guidelines. You’re just dating your outline casually. It’s not serious and you don’t have to marry it. With the shadow of commitment gone, you still have your free and fun, bright and shiny creative mojo working for you.

I’m a pantser, but I do have an idea where my stories are headed. We may take a winding trip to get to our destination, but we will get there, hoping we won’t get stuck and be forced to back up thirty pages or so before we can move forward again. I’ve had to do that. It sucks, sucks away forward momentum and saps confidence. So let’s crash through that mental block and get unstuck.

Solutions to get out of the ditch

Season One of This Plague of Days is the siege. Sutr-X was the pandemic. Sutr-Z's next and it's coming for you and the Queen's corgis, among others.

Season One of This Plague of Days is the siege. Sutr-X was the pandemic. Sutr-Z’s next and it’s coming for you and the Queen’s corgis, among others.

A random, alluring word, place, fact or event can give spinning wheels traction. For instance, the word “chiroptera” gave me a new direction when I wrote Season 2 of This Plague of Days. Sometimes I choose words, events or facts at random and noodle with them to see how they might fit into the narrative. Or I’ll draw from mythology, philosophy, politics or religion to discover new dimensions in the narrative.

Here’s the surprise: I always find a way to make those intriguing things fit naturally into my story.

I bet you can, too. Don’t load up on $10 words when a nickel word will do, of course…or at least don’t do it for its own sake or to show off. However, if something seemingly random can serve your story, use it (or dump it if it fails.) Readers like learning things as much as you do. They like characters with depth and to discover hidden significance behind meaning.

Get random

Autism, Latin, the Existential Abyss and references to Superman. That's pretty random, but it all fits.

Autism, Latin, the Existential Abyss and references to Superman. That’s pretty random, but it all fits.

This exercise in the writing process is about bouncing new electrical flashes through the writer’s brain, making new connections and getting synapses firing to see nonlinear possibilities. Frequently, you can find something new that influences the story simply by opening a dictionary and pointing. An atlas and a Wikipedia search might give you a random fact that sparks something. I found Gas City, for instance. The name alone captured my imagination and got me thinking about a new track to follow in Season 2. New characters and furious battles evolved from the way that slapped my brain.

If you’ve got an area of interest (baseball, plumbing, woodwork, salmon fishing, animal husbandry, whatever) work it in to give your characters depth. I’ve got a sensitive soldier with expertise in military history who shows up in the zombie apocalypse. I’ve also got an Irish cop from a tiny Irish resort. The place informs the character. These are the sort of factors that make the people on the page real. Jack (Jacqueline) Spencer majored in Elizabethan poetry. That makes her feel pretty useless when society collapses, but her development now has an arc. Up from zero, she gains experience on the road east to a hoped for haven from the apocalypse.

For me? It’s pathology that fascinates.

I studied anatomy first and was awed by our biological complexity. Then I studied Merck’s Manual and I’ve been a hypochondriac ever since. It’s startling how fragile we are, so pathology often finds its way into my books, one way or another. I know a lot about how the body breaks, so I’m sure you can guess how that might play into a crime novel.

I know a lot about migraines (and the many variations of headaches.) His inability to act shows up in one of my WIPs and becomes crucial to the protagonist’s predicament when the cops come calling, asking for an alibi. My protagonist in This Plague of Days is autistic which, naturally, gives him a unique point of view on the end of the world. Another character has Desmoid tumours. This is a rare condition, but it turns out to be very relevant to the story. Her disease saves her from a worse fate than Desmoid tumours (in a way I can’t divulge yet, of course. That’s Season 3 stuff.)

Take a fragment and build your next chapter around it. Make the fragment an element.

These general suggestions are random sparks. If an atlas or a dictionary or a quick Google search can make your story catch fire, and if you can make these new variables seamless, you’ll find their inclusion can get you unstuck.

Therefore:

a summer camp in Columbus, Ohio with too many mosquitoes

the ruins of a castle hidden under heavy snow

a rusted can opener, forgotten in the kitchen’s junk drawer

a tippy chair with one short leg

angina

Captain Cooke’s death

her mother’s wedding ring inscription

Try one of some of those for a start. How might they fit in your narrative? Keep going and don’t worry if you get stuck. The next step will come to you and, if not, go find that next step. Finish your story.

Tips and inspiration for the writer's journey to publication.

Tips and inspiration for the writer’s journey to publication.

~ Hi. I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I wrote a couple of books full of inspiration to get writers to get their books done. I also write about a kid on the autistic spectrum facing the end of the world, zombies who aren’t really zombies and vampires who aren’t really vampires. There are also jokes and Latin proverbs. It’s…oddly engaging and does not suck. See all the books here.

I also host the All That Chazz podcast and the Cool People Podcast. To learn more about This Plague of Days, go to ThisPlagueOfDays.com.

Filed under: NanNoWriMo, Writers, Writing exercise, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Author Blog Challenge: Writing to Love

Wikipedia

Wikipedia (Photo credit: Octavio Rojas)

The latest prompt for the Author Blog Challenge asks what we love to read and how does that feed our writing? Good question. I read voraciously, and the resource that feeds my writing most these days is…wait for it…Wikipedia. How did writers write before Wikipedia? I think they actually had to go out the front door and into the  world and, let’s face it, no one wants that. At least I don’t and I don’t understand those who do. I’m cozy in my fortified writing bunker, thank you very much.

I’m one of those weirdos who gets lost in dictionaries and encyclopedias. (If you read this blog, you probably are, too.) I look up one thing and get distracted by all the other delicious stuff in there. As I was researching my crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus, I consulted The Mob Dictionary, documentaries, a friend who trains SWAT, an ex-military friend and various books on the mob. It was Wikipedia that yielded my main character’s background and contributed to the verisimilitude the story demanded.

I wanted Jesus to be an enforcer who wants out of  the mob.  I had to give him a back story that made the reader understand why he is the way he is. I needed him to be an outsider, so he’s a Cuban among native hispanic New Yorkers. His journey to Florida is sad and, once he arrives, his story becomes more tragic. The key to the character was his childhood and it was Wikipedia where I happened upon more information about the Cuban migration to the United States. Truth gave rise to more believable lies as Fate (um, I am Fate) dumped Jesus from the roaster into the (mostly) proverbial fire. He’s a smart ass, but not as smart as he thinks. He’s more funny, clever and desperate than he is tough. Wikipedia was the seed that led me to understand why the character worships the love of his life the way he does. Like dominoes, one idea leads to another idea which leads to another idea which reveals a pattern which gives rise to a plot. Powered by curiosity, simply traipsing through Wikipedia gave me a book that will be a series I’m really excited about. The last edits are arriving and the graphic designer is working on the cover as I write this. Hoo-bloody-ha!

If you’re stuck, blocked or just noodling, use non-fiction to amp up your fiction and go wander Wikipedia.

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , , , , ,

Elvis has left Linked In

English: Graph of social media activities

English: Graph of social media activities (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I thought I was a social media gadfly with unlimited capacity and patience. I was wrong. I thought more was always better. Usually more is better unless we’re talking gunshot wounds. However, as the reminders and posts from Linked In piled up, I found Linked In had the least to offer me of the social media options I’ve explored. Linking with friends or old acquaintances was fun. Finding out what horrible job afflicted an old enemy filled me with inappropriate glee. However, the rewards were brief. Most friends, readers and dreamers are on Facebook or Twitter anyway, so Linked In quickly became redundant. After the bottom dropped out of Facebook’s IPO this week, some pundits are saying the big FB has past its peak and will tank to become the next MySpace. Facebook still looks plenty active to me.

The primary reason for my ennui has nothing to do with Linked In: I’m not looking for a job. Publishing keeps me very busy. If I were looking for a job, I might feel differently.

However, I had thought the groups related to my interests could be useful. Theoretically, they could have been, but that’s where the corpse floated up. I’m not going to name any names, but I can tell you that far too many posts seemed to fall into one of two camps:

1. I know nothing about X and could someone explain all the basics to me so I won’t have to do a pesky Google search or look at Wikipedia or read a blog or a book on the subject?

or, far worse,

2. Everybody sucks but me and I know everything and I’ve been in this business for 40 years and you all know that because I start every snarky post with, “After 40 years in this business…”

Ugh. No, thanks. I’ve had quite enough of that attitude, thank you. I really have to protect my time, especially from big green meanies. I hadn’t encountered that much rudeness in one place in other branches of social media and my policy is I give rude people no time.

If you were trying to connect with me, there are still plenty of fun and friendly ways to do so (Twitter, Facebook, email, puppetry and interpretive dance or possibly even G+.) I don’t think Linked In is a great communications opportunity for indie authors or at least it isn’t for me. Joining was an experiment. Staying with it too long was my mistake. Leaving means one less thing to track.

(Hm? Pinterest? What’s that? Never mind what it is! Quick! Sign me up!)

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , , ,

Writing: The Rule of Three & the peril of semi-colons

Massey Hall, Toronto

Image via Wikipedia

Saturday night I saw Bill Maher at Massey Hall in Toronto. Good show, fun time. Bill is known for Real time with Bill Maher, his documentary Religulous, his comedy and his New Rules books. Watching him perform, I noticed he never breaks the Rule of Three. It is a good rule, an effective rule and a memorable rule that I just demonstrated with this very sentence.

Wikipedia puts it like this: The “Rule of Three” is a principle in writing that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things.”

Of course, you will write longer lists, but when you use a colon, do so sparingly unless you’re composing a scientific paper. Semi-colons can be very useful in separating elements in a list after a colon. However, if you use the semi-colon to separate related clauses, please do so sparingly. Wikipedia says, “According to the British writer on grammar, Lynne Truss, many non writers avoid the colon and semicolon…”

I disagree. It’s not just non-writers who avoid the semi-colon to separate interdependent clauses. 

The semi-colon can be a useful device occasionally, but as a punctuation mark, it is often either misused or has fallen out of favor.

When Lynne Truss refers to “non-writers”, does she not also mean people who are readers? Shouldn’t it be the common reader who sets the standard for what’s easily read and understood? I invoke the common usage rule here. When something has fallen out of common use, it’s too rusty to use without a lot of irritating squeaking. For instance, if a writer uses the word “behooves,” he sounds like he’s trying to be Charles Dickens. You just aren’t old enough for that.

Similarly, the semi-colon has fallen so far out of common use that when a reader encounters one, it pulls them out of the narrative to think, “Hey, look! A semi-colon! Why did the author feel it was necessary to separate related thoughts with a semi-colon, instead of separating those ideas with a simple period? Anything that stops me from breezing along through a novel is a speed bump that I would prefer shaved down so I can speed along and focus on content instead of transmission static.

I have never read a sentence with a semi-colon that I did not reread at least twice.

I’m not saying  you shouldn’t use semi-colons, if they suit you; I am saying, I won’t use the semi-colon.

Anymore.

Filed under: Editing, Editors, grammar, , , , , , , , , , ,

Editing tools and typo tips

Book cover (Dust jacket) for the 15th edition ...

Image via Wikipedia

Write_your_book
EDIT YOUR BOOK!

When you’re checking your manuscript, use your word processor’s Spellcheck. Some editors turn up their snobby little noses at Spellcheck, but it can flag problems you might otherwise miss. Nobody’s perfect and problems will always appear once you’ve published your book (yes, in both traditional and self-published books). Don’t take every suggestion; Spellcheck isn’t always right. It’s a tool, not a panacea. You can also use Find and Replace to look for problems Spellcheck misses: its, it’s, there, their and so on. Spellcheck doesn’t replace editors and they don’t replace thinking. But you’ll catch more using it.

To the rude editor I met at the conference who said she never used Spellcheck: Yes, I’m saying that was arrogant and, just like the rest of us, you’re not nearly as smart as you think you are. Or funny. And you need to work on your social skills. (Now I’m worried that I’m projecting.)

I don’t edit blog posts obsessively, but when I’m working on a book, I have several websites up on my browser: Chicago Manual of Style, Wikipedia, and dictionary.com. I also use Autocrit for more input.

For me, yesterday was single quote day. I wrote parts of my books with Open Office, so I had to go through the manuscript and make all my single quotes curly…and curly in the right direction. I was cross-eyed and HULK ANGRY by 5 pm.

PentecostSelf-publishing guru and author of Pentecost, Joanna Penn, has a great suggestion to deal with typos: Publish your ebook first. Your readers will let you know (politely or not) about your book’s typos. Corrections to the ebook are easier than correcting your printed book. Corrections to print books are called “second editions.” Great tip! For more information from Joanna, check out this very useful interview. I loved this inspiring interview and it helped me calm down after Curly Quote Day. Well…much later, after the photo below.

Me after Curly Quote Day

Filed under: Books, DIY, Editing, Editors, getting it done, grammar, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

TOP 10: Get your writing motivation back & finish your book

Pie chart of Wikipedia content by subject as o...

Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes you lose the thread. You burn through the first 40 or 50 pages and then…now what?  Augusten Burroughs doesn’t believe in writer’s block. He says that if you think you have writer’s block, write about the block and you’ll find your way out. Frankly, that hasn’t worked for me. This is what I do to churn the letter butter and make it thick:

1. Reread the last ten pages before you got stuck. There’s probably something there to riff from.

2. Reread the first ten pages and get back to where you were headed to begin with so you can find the trail you lost.

3. If you’ve got an outline, go write an easy scene. If the book is a ball small enough that you can hold it in one hand–and you make it small by using an outline–you can skip forward to a scene you are sure of.

4. When you’re stuck, go back to the characters. What’s the special need and want of the character (often not the same thing in a layered, complex text)? Find the truth of that character. What does the character do next?

5. Search for the emotional truth between and among your characters. Write that.

6. Search the conflict between and among your characters. Maybe you’re stuck because your characters are too agreeable.

7. Change the setting. Too many characters stand around in living rooms talking at each other instead of engaging the world. It’s not a stage play. A novel has as large a canvas as you can imagine. Get your characters up and out in the world where things happen.

8. Think visually. What would the movie of your book look like? What are people doing? Do they have special skills? Draw on your own experience or do a little research to get you through a scene. (Do as little research as possible on the front end, though. I wrote a story in which a character got pulled into a saw at a lumber mill. First I wrote the scene. Then I consulted an expert who said it shouldn’t be a saw but a machine called an edger.)

9. Still stuck? My trick is to get out a book (usually a dictionary) and choose three words at random. Work those words into your next chapter. (Clicking random in Wikipedia works great for this strategy, too.) This will take you places you wouldn’t have found otherwise.

10. Take a break. Change your setting. Trying to tough it out so you produce typing but no worthwhile writing is not working smart. Do something totally different. Go get chased by a bear, move, run, go watch people, have an espresso or nap. Refresh your writing mind by demanding nothing of it. The world will have to wait until you’re back where you need to be.

Filed under: Writers, Writing exercise, writing tips, , , , ,

Writers: How I edit

Visualization of the various routes through a ...

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When I get a manuscript, I go through it carefully, of course, but there are many practicalities to keep in mind.

 

 

Most important commandment:

Make the author look good.

You want it to be correct and you want to preserve the writer’s voice and enhance the readability of the text. The author (if self-published) may wish to keep some idiosyncratic format (which is fine as long as it’s easily understood by the reader and consistent.) A publisher may have some requirements peculiar to that house. Some have preferred style guides, like the AP Style Guide or the Chicago Manual of Style or may prefer Canadian spelling to American spelling.

In the manuscript window I use the Track Changes feature in Word so the author sees every change I make, including my comments. The author then accepts or rejects each edit during the revision process.

I have some preferences, too. I avoid passive voice and too many adverbs where it’s reasonable to do so since those often indicate a weak verb choice. I strip out excess use of the comma. Commas used to be used more in text but now it’s generally accepted commas slow the reader. Semi-colons are used too much and are often used incorrectly (and almost always slow the reader.)  Gratuitous exclamation points indicate drama where there is none. Excess dialogue tags (i.e. said, replied, said, replied) can also be stripped out. Run-on sentences must be broken up. Sentence length, paragraph length and order are more evaluations to make and may conflict with formatting considerations.

(There are numerous other considerations: factual issues, narrative arc, missed opportunities, missing scenes, orphaned characters etc.,… which I’m not going to delve into in this post.)

I also have a bunch of other pages ready in the background. They are typically these:

Google, Wikipedia, Canadian and American spelling dictionaries, Chicago Manual of Style (I have the hard copy, too), Ask.com, and my email window so I can quickly jump to query the author or publisher as necessary. I’ve also used a legal dictionary and a Spanish-English dictionary. Looks like I’ve attained my childhood dream of working on the bridge of the Enterprise.

I keep a legal pad beside me to make notes (and track my time so I know I’m staying on schedule for the day.)

Editing has changed a lot. Before the Internet, there was a lot more getting up and down to run to check a reference source. Now it’s all on my pixellated desktop. I take a break every hour to do air squats (it’s a 4 Hour Body exercise I like) and the rest of the exercise comes from running back and forth from the coffee maker to the bathroom. Ah, the glamor of being a book editor.

The take away is:

Your word processing program’s spell check isn’t enough.

 

NEXT POST:

MY REACTIONS TO AND REVIEWS OF THE WRITER’S UNION SYMPOSIUM ON THE STATE OF PUBLISHING.

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Filed under: Books, Editing, Editors, publishing, self-publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

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