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

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!