science fiction and fantasy writer

Archive for April, 2014|Monthly archive page

Getting from one plot point to the next

In Uncategorized on April 27, 2014 at 6:51 pm

(guest post on the CSFG blog)

So, you’ve got your story all planned out, you know your beginning and you know your ending, you know all the key plot points along the way. Maybe you’ve even got it all mapped onto an act structure and you know how many words you’ve got to get from each point to the next. Now you just need to write it, and put the words down that take your characters from plot point A to point B to C to D etc to the end. Or maybe you’re a pantser: you haven’t really planned your story, you just have some idea of where you’re headed and you’ve launched, flying by the seat of your pants to get there. Or, you’ve drafted your story and now you’re into editing and re-drafting.

Whichever it is: you’re stuck. You’ve got your characters as far as point C and you suddenly find you’re completely stumped as to how best to get them to D. Or, you’ve hit a passage that’s just plain dull (or, if you’re editing, multiple passages that are). You know where you need to get your characters to next, but you are so bored by getting them there that you can’t even bring yourself to write it. And if you’re bored by what your writing, how can you expect anyone else reading it to feel any different?

And everything grinds to a halt. You’re stuck, blocked.

How do you get yourself going again?

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Everything We Know About Storytelling We Learned from The Lord of the Rings: Part II

In Uncategorized on April 26, 2014 at 6:59 pm

(guest post on the CSFG blog, on behalf of the CSFG Hive Mind)

The EWKASWLFLOTR Towers: Five Rules for the Dwarf Lords

The eagerly anticipated sequel to The Fellowship of EWKASWLFLOTR!

X: The Precious Rule

So, the Nazgul are pretty scary – at least until the aforementioned Incident With The River. Orcs and trolls and uruk-hai and the Balrog make for pretty decent monsters. Monsters though, rather than villains. Sauron is a flaming eye on a stick. So, who’s the best villain in LOTR? Well, who’s left? Saruman, Grima Wormtongue, Denethor and Gollum.

What’s interesting is that they all have something in common: they’re all fallen. Except perhaps for Grima, they were all obviously once greater and better than they are. There’s a tragedy behind their nastiness that rounds them out and gives them a level of sympathy. But who’s the best?

Grima and Denethor are decent secondary characters, but only that. Saruman is awesome because he is now and forever Christopher Lee, the only nonagenarian who is in real life more metal than a wizard stabbing a giant flaming demon to death with a magic sword while falling through the heart of a mountain.

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The Rumsfeldian Knowledge Matrix

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2014 at 8:45 am

The other night at the CSFG novel-writing group, El Presidente David Dufty led a discussion on making use of Campbellian and Jungian character archetypes and other advice on character from various literary greats. One thing he’d found in the course of his internet research adventures was a neat character knowledge tool that helps you quickly map what a given character knows and doesn’t know about themselves and what other characters do and don’t know about them.

I believe the original may be somewhere on one of the (many, many) Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) websites – will post a link if I find out which – [UPDATE] The reference to the original tool was found at SCBWI Southeast Scotland (thanks Dave!). It’s a cognitive psychology tool called the “Johari Window” and apparently its application to fictional characters comes  from this book by Roz Morris, but my immediate thought (out loud, because I have no internal monologue) was, “That’s Donald Rumsfeld’s knowns and unknowns!”

For those who weren’t paying attention at the time, Rumsfeld’s much-derided quote comes from a 2002 media briefing about the Iraq War/the War on Terror (noting the conflation of the two) as follows:

There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we know we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

According to my rudimentary research on Wikipedia, celebrity Marxist Slavoj Žižek added the missing fourth category: unknown knowns – the things which we intentionally refuse to acknowledge that we know.

My second thought was that the usefulness of this kind of tool in fiction writing is waaaaaaay broader than which of a character’s traits are known to themselves and others. You can use it to map what they know about any aspect of the story (themselves, another character, a particular plot thread, their world, etc).

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Honourable Mention!

In Uncategorized on April 9, 2014 at 8:51 pm

My story “Vandiemensland” from CSFG’s Next anthology has made Ellen Datlow’s short list of Honourable Mentions for The Best Horror of the Year Volume 6 (ie, the HMs that are actually printed in the book).


You can read the story here.

Setting yourself up for rejection

In Uncategorized on April 9, 2014 at 11:39 am

(guest post on the CSFG blog)

If you’re writing for publication, you’re going to encounter rejection a lot. As a short story writer, and even now that I’m selling most of my stories to professionally paying markets, my submissions still get rejected about nine times in every ten. So for my thirty-odd original sales, I have somewhere upwards of three hundred rejections. And it’s harder to sell novels than short stories.

So how do you cope with riding the all-stops bus to Rejection Central? A lot of people try to pretend that rejection doesn’t bother them, or play mental games with themselves to try and avoid the sting. I think that’s a mistake. Rejection feels awful and the prospect of failure is frightening. I think it’s better to be honest with yourself about that. I’ve touched on some of this before, and the basic mechanics of Step 2 for getting published (submit the damn thing), but here’s my rules for surviving as a writer:

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