Welcome to the (un)official site for science-fiction and fantasy writer Bryan R. Durkin!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Query Letter Hell: The Return

I apologize, in a sort of formal, noncommittal way, about not posting here recently. May has been very busy for me in a variety of ways. I started my summer firefighting job again, about three weeks earlier than expected, and it's been keeping me pretty busy. In addition, I've also been finishing up some beta-reading projects for a couple of fellow writers. It was a process that was educational and useful for me, and I hope it was for them, as well.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Kricket's Song got some modifications, mostly in the form of a couple of scene additions that further develop the relationship between Jonah and Mouse as best friends, as well as some things that I hope help clarify why Jonah is risking his life trying to find Katerina--when, in all honesty, she's not presented as the perfect fiancee to begin with.

I also got a much needed new perspective on my query letter efforts. As I've lamented on here before, 8 different drafts of query letters (maybe more) have met with form rejections or no responses. I haven't sent that many queries, numerically speaking. But I HAVE done considerable research on the agents, and the book itself has gone through significant polishing and editing, and had been vetted for any major flaws. So I feel like if I had a good query letter, I would've gotten at least a personalized rejection or two. That leads me to believe my query letter itself probably isn't up to par. Hence, following the much needed new perspective, I've written a 9th query letter draft. I've submitted it to Query Letter Hell on Absolute Write, and I guess we'll see what sort of response I get. I'm hoping it's at least apparent the new draft isn't a first attempt at a query letter. I'm also hoping more than one person can agree on what's wrong with it. Last time I tried QLH, I had ten different people saying ten different things, and some of those contradicted each other.

In the meantime, this summer is looking to be a very busy one. I will continue doing my best to write, on Kricket's Song as needed, as well as getting some forward momentum going with Kricket's Key once again (the first draft). I'm also brainstorming a couple other projects for down the road.

As for what will happen after summer, well, that's anyone's guess. I might find a new job, or I might end up unemployed with nothing but time. And I just might go on a little epic quest of my own. Here's hoping.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Updates and Inspirations

Being unemployed has one benefit: it allows me to spend more time on writing-related stuff, and still slack off an awful lot. But as much slacking as I've been doing (too much), I have been doing a lot of writing-related work. One of the most obvious bits of progress, of course, is this blog. As you can see, I've changed the colors somewhat, hopefully making it easier for folks to read. That white on black scheme I had going looked snazzy, but it was hard even for me to read.

I know the masses aren't exactly craving updates on my works in progress, since I'm not famous or anything, but I'll share anyway. I really feel like Kricket's Song is finally going from "good" to "great." My latest attempts to recruit beta readers were actually successful, and they've provided some very helpful feedback. Miraculously, they pointed out the same flaw in the book. For those of you who've been through this process, you're probably aware that this is a good thing, because it doesn't always work like that. You get five beta readers and get five different opinions. Awesome. Which one do you go with? But when you get different people saying the same thing, now you know what to work on!

So, I'm doing a lot of revising and editing. Thankfully, the changes don't require major rewrites, just an extra short scene here and there, a little bit better description of the main character's thoughts and emotions, and improving how he interacts and relates to the other characters. The revisions have yet to go back to the betas, as I'm still working on them, but I feel like they make Kricket's Song a lot better. Hopefully good enough to at least get a nibble from some agents the next time I try querying.

I've also been doing beta reading for three other writers. It's a lot of work, but they're helping me, so I enjoy helping them, and it's getting me to read more. I'm also learning from the experience, and that's always a good thing.

I really jumped the gun with trying to query before finding good beta readers. Don't make the same mistake I did! Shop around until you find some. It will save you a lot of time and grief. And no, your family and friends don't count.

Finally, I want to just briefly mention some of the things that inspire me while writing. As with everything else I've mentioned regarding the writing process, inspiration varies greatly from person to person.

For me, it's usually music. I like to listen to it while I write, at a volume that I can hear, but not so loud as to distract me or make concentration difficult. The kind of music I listen to usually depends on the genre I'm writing at the time.

Epic Score (Gabriel Shadid and Tobias Marberger)
Abney Park - For steampunk/fantasy
Future World Music
Two Steps From Hell
Jo Blankenburg

Science Fiction:
Front Line Assembly - For military sci-fi, dark, post apocalyptic
Video Game Soundtracks - Such as Halo, Deus Ex
Bjorn Lynne - Colony

Before I start writing a manuscript, pictures can also inspire me. I like to find pictures of people that look similar to major characters. I also look for pictures that inspire certain settings or scenes within the book itself. I save these in folders with the files for the WIP itself, for easy reference. It adds a little color to all the black and white notes. I also often get ideas for completely unrelated projects, which I keep for future reference.

Every writer should find something that inspires them and keeps them motivated, not just for the initial idea, but through the project as a whole. We've all experienced that initial flash of excitement, and then the motivation drains away after we start. For me, moving music helps me to keep forward progress going. Well defined characters and an interested world help me keep from getting stuck, or running into "writer's block."

I hope, if nothing else, this will inspire you to figure out what keeps you motivated for the long haul.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Writing Environment

As with so many things when it comes to writing, the sort of writing environment that will work for you will vary for each person. So it's important to keep in mind that when I talk about "what works," I'm speaking from my own experience, and maybe the comments of a few fellow writers here and there. It's by no means universal advice or a set of rules that you must follow.

I'm a guy who's fairly easily distracted. I wouldn't have it any other way. Four years in the Navy, four years as a wildland firefighter, and nine months as a defensive handgun instructor have taught me situational awareness at all times. The slightest noise or flash of movement catches my attention. I may not be 100% focused on it, but I'll know it's there and I'll be keeping an eye on it--whether I want to or not. This habit keeps me safe and aware. It also distracts the heck out of me when I'm trying to write.

Everyone is different when it comes to their attention span and their ability to focus on a particular task. Writing is supposed to be fun and enjoyable, but when it comes to your writing environment, I believe you sort of have to approach it as if it were homework. Determine what kind of person you are when it comes to attention span and focus. Are you easily distracted? Can you effectively multitask or does doing multiple things decrease the quality of your work? Can you focus 100% on one thing and one thing only, even if bombs are going off in the street?

We all want to write the best we can; that's why I believe it's important to ask yourself these kinds of questions. For many of us, writing may be just a hobby. We've got "real" jobs, and maybe a family to take care of and spend time with. But if we're serious about our writing and we want to make the best end product possible, we can't approach our commitment to that quality lightly. We have to take it seriously. We have to determine what sort of environment works best for us when we're writing.

For me, that means a relatively isolated environment. It means I'm in my room with my door closed. It means I don't have the TV on and I'm not hanging out with friends on a chat channel somewhere. I'm not watching videos on YouTube. I'm not checking Facebook. The only things open on my computer are the files pertaining to the particular piece I'm working on. I probably have music playing, but it's most likely music that inspires me for the piece (we'll get into things that inspire me in another post). This sort of environment is admittedly somewhat boring. But that's the point. It allows me to shift my focus to my writing, which gives me to opportunity to put forth my best effort. And trust me, I can definitely see the difference in my writing between the times I was focused, and the times I was not.

I encourage all my fellow writers to take a moment and look at the environments they're in when they're writing. Figure out what works best for you. Do everything you can to set yourself up for success. Sometimes people claim they just don't know what to write, or they've got writer's block. In my experience, an environment that's not conducive to writing can sometimes be the culprit.

See you next time!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Writing Productivity Tips

I frequently browse the Absolute Write Water Cooler for a variety of reasons, mostly selfish ones (i.e. I want to learn something new that will help me in my attempt to establish a writing career). But every now and then, I find someone who's been in a situation similar to mine, and I get to offer my two cents' worth of advice.

Please note, I'm not claiming to be an expert here. I'm still VERY much learning how to be a good writer, and I don't really have much in the way of publishing credentials under my belt. That said, I've been writing seriously (working toward the goal of professional publication) for several years now, which is longer than many people.

So, in keeping with the theme I've been trying to establish over the past few posts, here are a few tips I offered someone the other day, when they asked how they could measure their productivity and continue to make forward progress with their work. This is by no means "expert advice," but it's worked for me over the years.

"Each person will measure "productivity" in different ways. As each one of us are different people, so each one of us will be different writers. Our level of "productivity" will vary.

For now, don't worry about "getting published." For every writer who's just starting out (and yes, having just finished your first novel, you're still just starting out), that's a long ways down the road. Realizing that can be discouraging. So don't focus on that. Some tips:

1.) You don't have to write every single day. In fact, I would advise NOT writing every single day. Your brain/mind/imagination needs a break every now and then. Holding yourself to unrealistic expectations will burn you out in short order.

2.) With the above in mind, you SHOULD try to formulate some sort of writing schedule. It doesn't have to be super ambitious to start with. Figure out what time of the day works best for you, and allot yourself a certain amount of time to write. Or, you can establish a word count goal. You may not achieve this goal every single time. That's okay. The main thing is, you got SOMETHING done.

3.) Stick to your schedule, as closely as you can with normal, everyday life. If you've already done your writing for the day, don't feel pressured to go back and write MORE. On the flip side, if you haven't done your writing for the day, you really should sit down and hack out at least a couple hundred words. You may not feel like it at the time (I frequently don't), but after you do it, you'll feel better for having done it. Also, you'll likely be more motivated to do it the next day.

Some people disagree with me on this point. "If I don't feel like writing, I can't force it. Whatever I write will be junk." Hey, let's face it, everything we write on a first draft is going to need revision ANYWAY, whether we forced it or we were the most inspired we've ever been. At least now you have it ON PAPER and that gives you something to work with.

4.) Find what motivates you to keep your schedule. For me, I keep track of how long I worked on my WIP each day, how many words I wrote, and how close I am to my final word count goal. Why? I'm motivated by charting my progress. I can SEE that I'm making ground, even when it may feel like I'm spinning my wheels. "Yesterday I was 53% of the way there. Today I'm 55% of the way there." May not seem like much. But don't worry. Tomorrow it'll be 56% or more!

I hope these tips help. They've worked for me. I've finished two novels and am working on a third, not to mention numerous attempts at query letters and synopsis writing. I've also finished a couple shorts. People are reading my stuff, so even though I'm not yet "professionally" published, it's progress!"

That's it for this time. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Putting Pen to Paper: Making the Time to Write

In my previous posts, I've attempted to make my blog actually useful to the writing community by sharing some of the processes and techniques I've learned for writing fiction. Today, I'd like to carry on that them by sharing what I've learned about making the time to write.

I often hear writers--especially those who are not yet published--say something like this: "I really should do some writing today, but I just don't feel like it. I guess it'll have to wait until tomorrow." Many people, even some who've been writing for many years, say that you can't force writing. You can't make inspiration cooperate if you're just not feeling it. Personally, I believe this is a myth. This belief is based on my own experiences in this matter. I don't feel like writing today, so it can wait till tomorrow. But tomorrow I don't feel like writing either, or the next day. Or the next day. Suddenly, it's a month later, and I've written little or nothing.

Folks, that's no way to become a published, professional author. If you want to make it big and get a book published, you have to actually WRITE. That means that sometimes, you're going to have to force yourself to do it, even if you don't really feel like it at the time. The analogy I use is that of working out, physically. I don't know about you, but I never really feel like working out. The problem is, if I don't work out, I don't get toned and cut like I want. If I worked out only when I felt like it, I might work out twice a month. But guess what? I'm still just as skinny and out of shape as I was before! No, you have to make yourself go work out. It won't be fun to start out, it may not even be fun during the workout, but afterward? You feel great! You feel like you did something! And it makes it easier to go work out the next day.

Writing is much the same. Often times, I just don't feel like. But I've learned that writing sporadically doesn't really get my anywhere fast. So I make myself sit down and write, at least five days a week. The length of time varies, but I accomplish something every day. And behold, at the end of those five days, I've written anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 words. That's a lot of work! I'm then motivated to keep writing. And--here's the best part--I learn how to become a better writer in the process! The saying is true, "You learn to write by writing." (You also learn by reading other authors, but that's a different post.)

Keep in mind, I am not what I would consider a "professionally" published author yet. I cannot guarantee that if you always make yourself write, you'll get that three book agreement from a major fantasy publisher you've always dreamed about. But I dare say you've got a heck of a better chance if you train yourself to write regularly, rather than just following your random whims on a daily basis.

Next time, I hope to write about the writing environment that works best for me, and some of the things that inspire me to write. I hope you find this helpful. As always, please feel free to comment! I love to hear from other writers, as I'm still learning myself!

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Bare Bones: Outlining a Story

In previous posts, I talked about some of the methods I use to begin constructing my stories, including fleshing out specific settings and the form I use to create my character bios. So, on the same topic and moving up the complexity chain, I want to talk about the method I use to outline a story, particularly a novel.

Now, I know that outlining can sometimes be a controversial topic. Some people swear by outlines, others refuse to touch them, some suffer panic attacks just thinking about them. They don't work for everybody, that much is certain. But as for me, I find they're not only an essential part of my creative process, they also afford me a certain amount of focus as well as relaxation. What's more, if for some reason I'm unable to write for a significant amount of time, I don't have to come back to the project and wonder where in the world I was going with it. I can pick up my outline, spend ten minutes perusing it, and get back to work.

The reason outlines work for me is that I tend to be a structure person in the rest of my life, too. I like to have my day planned out (at least the big things), and I'm not a fan of surprises. When I take on a job or task, I plan it out. So it's no surprise that I carried this habit with me to writing. Furthermore, I've tried writing "by the seat of my pants" before. Not a single one of those projects have ever been finished. I usually end up writing myself into a corner that I can't get out of. So, I outline.

That said, my outline process is fairly loose. Here's how it works:

Once I've set up the character bios and I've determined the motivations for each character, I have a fairly good idea of where the plot needs to start, and where I want it to end. In other words, I know who the characters are, I know what the conflict is going to be, and I know what resolution I'm working toward. With that in mind, I start jotting down a series of "major events" and scenes, plotting out the basic arc of the main plot. I write these by hand on blank paper, simply because using a pencil and paper helps me focus and prevents me from getting distracted. It'll look something like this:

1.) MC comes home from work one day and realizes his best friend is missing. Finds signs of a struggle at her place and a mysterious note. He tries to contact the authorities, but somehow bad guys find out and now he's being hunted too.

2.) MC flees town, enlists help of a strange homeless person who shows signs of being more than he seems. Bad guys pursue.

3.) MC and friend are cornered, and engage in first gunfight. MC has to come to terms with using violence in self defense. Starts to question what his best friend was involved in to have such bad guys involved with her disappearance.

And it goes on. Sometimes I'm very brief with my bullet points, because I'm not really sure of what details I want to include. Other times, I'm very lengthy and specific, because I've imagined these scenes out in details. It's also a good idea to at least mention subplots as they begin, so that you don't forget to write them in as you go (as I've done a few times).

Sometimes, each bullet point represents a chapter. Sometimes two bullet points take up only one chapter together. Sometimes, one bullet point could be three or even four chapters. I don't get super specific here, because it allows me a great deal of flexibility while I'm actually writing the book. Anyone who has written for any amount of time will tell you that plans change, you come up with new ideas, you change your mind about things, and what you first thought up isn't necessarily what comes out on the page. I like to keep that in mind while writing my outlines, so that I'm not locked into just one path. I still have plenty of options.

Once I've completed this basic outline, I now have a good representation of the plot. No matter where I'm at in the actual writing, I can pick it up, glance over it, and I know where I need to go next. We're starting to see an actual story developing here. From there, I go into a much more detailed and specific outline. I take each chapter and break it down into five bullet points. All five of these things must happen in the chapter. The chapter is not over until they're complete. This requires a bit of planning. You don't want to try to cram too much into a chapter, or it'll be monstrously long. But nor do you want to include too little, or it'll only be a couple paragraphs long.

I've heard it said that you should make your chapters as long or short as they need to be for the story. I believe that's true--to a certain extent. Extremely long chapters can be daunting to readers, and can make it hard for them to pick up where they left off, especially if there's a lot going on. Lots of really short chapters can make a reader feel like they're getting whiplash, like things are happening so fast, they can't keep up with them. Therefore I try to keep my chapters more or less uniform in length, but there's still room for variation. My chapters tend to be around 2,000 words at the low end, and around 4,000 at the high end. Most fall closer to 3,000 words.

So, using the example of the above "rough outline," let's plot out the first chapter of this story.

1.) MC's had a long day, didn't get much accomplished at work, he's frustrated. He knows it's his best friend's birthday, but he's in a bad mood.

2.) MC decided to stop off at the bar for a quick drink. Ends up running into old buddies, spends a few hours there.

3.) MC finally stops by his best friend's house to wish her a happy birthday. Finds her front door kicked in.

4.) He makes a desperate search through her house, finds signs of struggle, blood, but can't find her.

5.) He's about to give up when he finds a note tucked under a book on the coffee table. It's addressed to him, in code. MC realizes it's up to him to find her.

And that's that. Resist the urge to get too detailed here. Obviously, you could stand to be a bit more detailed than this example, depending on how well fleshed-out you have the scene in your head. But don't get bogged down trying to come up with every single detail here. Remember, you want to leave yourself some flexibility, and above all, you want to get to the actual writing some day! I leave the final details for when I'm actually writing the manuscript.

I generally plot out two chapters in advance, using this method. That allows me room to keep writing if I'm on a roll. However, once I'm done with those two chapters, it forces me to go back to my rough overall outline, and make sure I'm still on track and not writing myself into a corner.

And there you have it, my sage advice on outlines. I'll stop now before I get too full of myself. Next time, what I've learned about making the time to write, the writing environment, and things that inspire me while I'm actually writing. If I can remember what I mean by all that the next time I try to make a post.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Still Have Free Copies...

Good news for those of you who may be thinking you've missed out on a free copy of "Abyss": you haven't! I've still got some free copies to give away, and they'll be available until I post otherwise. In order to get your free copy, see the two posts directly below this one.

In other news, Kricket's Key continues to progress nicely, quickly approaching the 2/3 mark toward completion. I sent another query letter out for Kricket's Song. Here's hoping that nets at least a nibble.

Also, thanks to my brother, David, for helping me promote my science fiction short story "Abyss." Thanks to his efforts, the story ranks #91 in Kindle sci-fi short stories, and 44,765 overall on the site. That's way up from its original 200K+ ranking!

Stay tuned for more of my less promotion-y posts in the coming days. Next up, I'll be talking about my outlining process, both for a book as a whole, and for specific chapters.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"Abyss" Giveaway Begins!

Well folks, it's 7pm PST, and the "Abyss" Giveaway has begun! For details on how to get 1 of 25 free copies of my science fiction short story, see the post below this one.

I'll be sending out the free copies based on the order in which I receive your e-mails stating you've completed the required steps. If it comes down to the wire and some e-mails are received really close together, I may fudge that number of 25 (since I know some e-mails get delayed in cyber space somewhere).

Good luck, and thanks for participating!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Abyss Giveaway - Weds, Feb. 6th, 7pm PST

You read the title correctly! For those who have seen my lame propaganda concerning the release of my science fiction short story "Abyss" but weren't sure you wanted to spend 99 cents to read it, here's your chance! In order to get one of 25 FREE copies from me, there are four very simple things you need to do:

1.) Be one of the first 25 followers of this blog. If you're already a follower, skip to step 2!

2.) Help me spread the word about "Abyss" by posting a link to its Amazon page on your blog or social media site. (The link to the Amazon page will be listed below in this post.)

3.) Send me an e-mail at BryanDurkin at hotmail dot com, with a link to your blog or social media site. In other words, if you follow me, I'll follow you! I will verify the link is present on your site. This will also give me your email address so I can e-mail you your free copy of "Abyss"!

4.) Once you've read "Abyss," leave a review on its Amazon page. I'm not trying to buy five-star reviews here! I want your honest opinion of the work. I hope you think it's worth five stars, but if you think it's worth only one, let me know why!

Some important notes: Unfortunately, you'll need a Kindle reader of some sort to read "Abyss", as Kindle is the only format it's currently available on. I don't really feel comfortable e-mailing original manuscript copies. Plus, you wouldn't want to miss the cool cover art!

The contest will officially start tomorrow, Wednesday, February 6th, at 7pm Pacific Standard Time. This is to give folks a chance to see it coming and let everyone have a chance to be one of the first 25. I wish I could give unlimited copies, but unfortunately, I have to pay for them out of my own pocket, and I'm not exactly gainfully employed at the moment.

Here is the link to the Amazon page for "Abyss."

If you have any questions, leave a comment to this post, or send me an e-mail at the above address. I will post again tomorrow at the official start of the contest. Thanks for participating!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Forward Motion and Character Bios

After about a month of work, I've finally finished the rewrite of the first thirteen chapters of Kricket's Key. In so doing, I was able to accomplish several things: I said goodbye to a supporting character who wasn't doing much supporting; introduced a new character who will have a more active role by providing character conflict and subplot opportunities; introduced subplots earlier than I had originally, thus allowing them to develop more fully.

I won't give away which character said goodbye to Kricket's crew in Chapter One. Suffice it to say he didn't have a huge role in the first book, except to provide some background color and minor plot involvement. By the time I reached Chapter Thirteen in this book, I realized he'd made a grand total of three appearances and said maybe one word. Not really enough to warrant having him in the book, seeing as he's supposed to be a member of the crew. So I bade him farewell, and he may make an appearance later on in the series, if I find a use for him.

In introducing the new character, I was able to do a couple of things. I filled some plot holes that really needed another active character, which my current characters couldn't really fill, as they were supposed to be somewhere else at that time. I can also introduce some conflict between this new character and the res of the crew members, which provides all sorts of interesting subplot and dialogue opportunities.

Finally, in writing the original draft, I was so concerned about forward momentum that I sort of glazed over opportunities to introduce subplots. These were not spur of the moment subplots. I'd planned for them and written notes for them, but they sort of got skipped. Not a good idea. Not the sort of thing I could just go back and throw in a few extra paragraphs here and there, unless I wanted the reader to be blindsided by them. I hate being blindsided as a reader when it comes to plots I'm supposed to be following, so I decided to fix that issue immediately. The subplots are now successfully introduced and by the time we get to Chapter Thirteen, they're being developed nicely.

I've since started Chapter Fourteen of Kricket's Key, and I'm pleased to say that I'm once again moving forward with the project into new, unwritten territory.

As I mentioned last time, I'm trying to introduce some of the tools and tips I've learned over the past few years of writing, in an effort to make this blog more useful to readers. Not that I think I have any great wisdom on the subject, but everyone's got a slightly different take on things, and maybe, just maybe, someone will find my take helpful.

When it comes to take a raw story idea--which may consist of only a few hand-written lines on a piece of paper--I find that one good way to take that idea and start turning it into a workable plot is to first develop my characters. Once I have a clear picture of the major characters, once I understand them and especially their goals and motivations, I can start filling in many of the major gaps I have in the plot. There are five bullet points I fill in for each character. Some characters have very succinct summaries in one or more of these areas. Others, I tend to wax eloquent with. This is where I kind of let my mind run with an idea, and fill in everything I can think of. I never know when I might need it later.

Here's how my Character Bio form appears:

Character Name - Character's Role in Story
  Basic Info: Enter whether main character, secondary character, any very basic info.
  Personality: How do they act around others, in certain situations, in general. Does their personality change at all through the plot?
  Motivations: This is especially important. What motivates the character in relation to the story? Why do they do what they do? What will drive them to action or prevent them from acting? What do they want most, or fear most?
  Appearance: Some people don't have a problem with describing the physical appearance of their characters. I almost always forget it, and if I don't, it tends to change slightly through the project. This helps me stay consistent.

And that's pretty much it. One thing I don't have is "Background," but I've found I don't really need it. That's one aspect I can keep straight through a project, and I prefer to explore and develop that as I go. But, you could consider adding it in there.

Here's an example of a complete Character Bio form from Kricket's Key:

Siv - Rear Admiral, Second Tier, Guv Navy
            Basic Info: Second POV character. A commoner without elite status who has worked her way up the ranks in the Guv Navy. Sent to hunt down Kricket and her crew. About 35 years old.
            Personality: Above all, Siv is an honorable woman. She is quietly proud of her commoner roots, but she's suppressed it almost entirely in order to be the "perfect officer" for the Navy. She tends to let the elite, First Tier officers walk all over her, because that's what is expected of her. However, she treats her crews with utmost respect and sticks up for them. Because of that, and her excellent record in the Navy, her people almost revere her as a hero. In some corners, she's referred to as the "next Greystache," though she does her best to dismiss and hush such sentiments. As time goes on in the book, she will start chaffing against suppressing her past and being walked on, and will grow more assertive and forward. She's very matter of fact, to the point of lacking tact.
            Motivations: Siv starts out completely dedicated to the Guv and to her orders of finding Kricket. She believes Kricket's crew are smugglers at best, and possibly even the criminals and terrorists her superiors say they are. However, as things move along, she begins to wonder if that is true, especially once she makes contact with Kricket. Once she learns about the Key and what's at stake with it, she is dedicated to finding the truth, and to doing what's best for the most people. Even if it means defying orders and turning her guns on her superiors.
            Appearance: Appearance will be very similar to the below photos, but Siv's hair will be cut very short in the military style. She'll have a bad scar on her right cheek that runs almost from her lips up and across her ear. This was sustained when she went down aboard a ship at Borealis. It still pains her. Also, she'll be wearing the Guv Navy uniform, which will include the black boots and tight black pants, but a full uniform tunic. She may go with the sleeveless version later when it's time for a fight.

As you can see, it's really pretty simple. More of a reminder and a plot aid than anything else. You'll find much the same sort of form on just about any Role Playing Game where you get to develop your own character. Another thing to note, I sometimes include pictures in the Appearance section for some characters. If I find something on the internet that reminds me of a character, or I think would make for a good character, I include it. It's strictly for your own reference, and won't appear anywhere in your work, of course.

That's about it for now. I hope you find it useful. Let me know if you do, or if you have suggestions on how to do it better! I'm always trying to learn more. See you next time!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

No Rest for the Writer

It's true I've been silent for a couple weeks on this blog, but I haven't been idle when it comes to writing. In fact, I've actually been a bit busier than I thought I would be. I'll break down what I've been up to recently, and then I want to share a writing tool that has helped me in my latest works in progress.

As you no doubt know by now, my science fiction short "Abyss" has been published on Amazon Kindle. I've promoted it through this blog, Facebook, friends and family, and via the Absolute Write group I'm a member of. Beyond that, I really don't know how else to promote it. I lack funding, so I can't do anything fancy. Despite the lack of promotion, it has sold 11 copies (that's a ton, I know...more than last time I posted anyway), and it has received a five-star rating after three reviews. So it may not be getting read a lot, but those who do read it like it, which makes me happy.

The bulk of my work in the past couple weeks has been on Kricket's Key, the sequel to Kricket's Song. After finishing chapter thirteen of the rough draft manuscript, I decided to finally face the issue that's been nagging at me since about chapter five: I got so caught up in making forward progress that I was forgetting to start subplots, the characters weren't acting like themselves, and the whole project was lacking the color and depth I'd wanted to give it. Eventually, I realized it was nothing like what I wanted it to be, and simply pushing ahead would only make it harder to correct in the long run. Thus, I abandoned the first draft, and went back to rewrite it.

The main plot is staying entirely the same. However, I've added in a couple subplots, added a new character, and removed an old character who was no longer doing anything for the story. I'm in the middle of chapter three right now, and I'm much happier with how it's going. It shouldn't take me long to get back to where I was with the first draft, and push on into new territory.

And, as always, I'm jotting down ideas for other projects or random things that currently don't have a home.

Now let me share a tool I've been using, particularly in Kricket's Key, that has helped me with some of the shortcomings I identified in earlier works. One of the issues that was brought up by beta readers for Kricket's Song was that my settings weren't always well-described. I did well visually, but I tended to ignore the other senses. In order to combat this, I read a book on fleshing out setting, and I created a sort of impromptu "setting form" which helps me layout all aspects of an important setting. I fill out the form before I begin writing scenes that take place in the setting, so that I can refer to it as I'm writing. The main issue I have is not that I don't think about the various aspects of setting, it's just that I forget to mention them as I'm writing. This helps remind me to include them. Here is the form:

Project: (This is where I put the title or working title of the overall work)
            Scene: (For example, "Macy gets first look at the prison planet")

Overall Atmosphere (Dark, Desolate, Bright, Foreboding, etc.): (Here I put some adjectives which describe the general feel of the scene...these are "first impressions."

How the Setting Relates to the Senses: (This is where I get into the specifics as they relate to all five senses. There's no "right" way to fill this out. Sometimes I use single words or phrases, sometimes full sentences. The idea is to picture yourself in the setting you're trying to describe, and the list everything you can think of as it relates to the specific sense. I mean everything. This doesn't mean you'll actually use everything, but it will give you a pool of things to pick and choose from.)






So far, I've found that using this form helps me remember to include different details about settings, which creates a more thorough picture for the reader to become immersed in. It's short and to the point, and can be invaluable when you're cruising along and want to throw in a detail or two about the setting. You've already thought it out before hand, so you don't have to kill your forward momentum by starting a whole new brainstorming session.
Well, that's all I've got for now. Back to the grind!