Thursday, February 24, 2011

Writing Action

Blog post on LTUE panel #2

Author on the panel: Larry Correia

Larry is the New York Times Bestselling Author of the Monster Hunter series. His books are truly phenomenal and packed with eye-popping action sequences.

As obvious as it may seem, if it's boring, fix it. A twenty page excerpt of nothing but bombs, guns and blood can bore your readers to tears if the text is lacking the emotional pull. Without emotion, readers will feel no connection to your characters. If they feel no draw to your characters, they could care less what happens to them. Avoid the checklist--the play by play list of movements. What is your character thinking? Feeling?

What are you trying to accomplish? If you're just including the scene to spice things up because the plot seems to be dragging, it may be time to rework your plot. If the scene isn't serving a specific purpose to help the plot forward, cut it.
Don’t think of action as separate from plot, characters or emotion. A good action scene should aid the plot.

Don't overdo it. If it's too wordy, readers will start to skim. If it's not necessary, cut it!

Remember whose head you're in. If your character knows absolutely nothing about guns, they're not going to know the details about that particular gun, how fast it shoots, what it's loaded with, etc. Keep it true to the character. If a certain detail is necessary to the comprehension of that particular scene but that character wouldn't know that detail, put a different character in that scene or find another way to inform the reader. You are telling the story through the lens of that character.

Do your research. A person cannot sustain a major blow to the leg, for example, without causing them to lose a significant amount of blood and slow them down substantially. If your character shrugs off a severe injury, the reader will have a hard time buying it.
Know a bit about biology – what does the body do when put through a certain trauma? Keep it real!

Find people who are experts in a needed field and put them on your alpha read team. They'll catch things you never would have thought to research in the first place.

Know your stuff but don't be obsessive. You can't possibly research everything. You may get a few things wrong but as long as you don't misrepresent huge details, the reader will understand.

Don't let the fear of getting something wrong or not writing it sufficiently get in your way. The more you write, the better you'll get.

In a life or death conflict, there's not a lot of time for self-doubt and internal dialogue. Include those in short slices throughout the scene. Your character is not going to stop and ponder the meaning of things when the villain is raising a sword to his head.

Pick the direction of your genre and keep it consistent. If you're writing fantasy/sci-fi and you have a different system for the way things work, set some rules and keep it consistent. Even in a magic-based society, the characters cannot do everything. Your readers will get bored.

Don't make your characters too powerful. Give them some weaknesses. They need a few things standing in their way or solving the problem at hand will be too easy and uninteresting.

You do need a little down/growth time between the action. Some brief moments when the characters can figure out what just happened and what it means. They don't have to be long, you should vary the pacing, but neither do you want four-hundred pages of nothing but intense action.

If you choose to open the story with an action scene, give a little time for readers to emotionally invest in the characters (unless you can do it during the scene).

A little chaos is okay but don't over complicate it. Give unnamed characters designations (the guy in the orange shirt, the girl with the scar trailing down her arm, etc) so your readers can keep track of what's going on, who's doing what. If your reader gets lost, they'll start to skim (or put the book down altogether).

Don't be afraid to hurt or kill your characters when you have a purpose for it. Pain helps people to learn and grow and if there's a purpose behind the trauma, your readers will connect with the characters on a much deeper level.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Quick Note . . .

I apologize to those of you who are waiting for my next LTUE post. It's been a crazy couple of days. I'll have the next one up first thing in the morning. Sorry for the delay and thanks for being patient with me :)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Best and Worst Writing Advice Ever Given

Blog post on LTUE panel #1!

Authors on the panel: Frank L. Cole, Anna del C. Dye, Mette Ivie Harrison, Tyler Whitesides and James Dashner

One reoccurring theme I've heard from a few authors (and was mentioned in the panel) is to set a goal for a certain number of words that must be composed daily. James has given this advice himself in previous panels and admitted that this was possibly the worst advice he's given. Daily word counts can be very limiting or the writing becomes poor because you're trying to crunch out a certain number of words per day. He suggests instead to set a daily amount of time in which you spend writing.

I have noticed in my own writing that this method works much better. I've gone the word count route and although that will motivate me to get the words onto the page, the quality of my writing is not nearly as satisfactory as when I'm just spending a certain amount of time crafting my story. Oftentimes when I go the way of the word count, I end up going back and rewriting those passages because, for lack of a better phrase, they just suck.

Another point that was made is the idea that you shouldn't fail to write something just because its already been done. As writers, we know that practically everything has already been done. You're not going to bring something new to the genre. Not completely. Stories on vampires, wizards and demons have been done, yes. But don't be scared of a genre/topic just because you've read something similar. Create a different spin on it. Make it your own. If you really want to write a paranormal romance, do it. Twist the concepts of commonality and create a story that will shine on you as an author specifically.

Now onto the best advice the panelists had to offer . . .

Once you finish a book, write something else! Many writers remain unpublished because they finish one book, submit it to an agent or publisher and fail to receive an offer. For most authors, their first book is the "exploratory manuscript". The novel by which you learn how to create a novel. Many authors will publish their first book, but find it will not be their ticket to publication. If you've completed a book, congrats! What an accomplishment! Go ahead and submit it, but don't stop writing in the process. Even if you do receive an offer for publication, editors and agents are interested in those who are constantly bettering their craft and working to further their career. If you don't receive an offer, finish the second one and submit that. Your writing will improve the more you write.

New York Times Bestselling Author, Brandon Sanderson, was working on his thirteenth novel by the time he published his first one. Don't ever give up. Don't ever stop reaching for your dreams. If you're willing to work hard enough, you will get published!

Continue to read, read, read! Particularly in the genre you desire to write. Find out what authors are doing, how they're doing it and what readers expect in any given genre.

Don't just follow a "hot topic" because that's what's selling now. If your story is well-crafted and appealing to readers, a publisher will buy it. Write what you're passionate about. If you don't absolutely love it, no one else will either.

Don't stop promoting. Start with networking and getting others excited about what you're writing. Spread the word. Once you're published, do plenty of local signings. Even if you only sell two books in a three-hour signing, that's two books that you wouldn't have sold otherwise. If you write for a young audience, school visits are also very beneficial. They get budding authors excited about writing, and young readers excited about your story and books.

The importance of networking can never be emphasized enough--especially if you're still unpublished. Build a well-designed blog and build up your followers. Go to conferences and writing conventions. Agents and editors frequent those events. You are far more likely to get published if you pitch a book in person to an agent/editor and they personally request that you send the material, than you are by just joining the ranks of writers submitting manuscripts to publishers and agencies cold.

Develop thick skin. Before you get published, you will get rejected a few (maybe many) times. Expect it and don't give up. Once you're published, you'll have some nasty critiques as well. You can't please everyone. Write the best story you can, establish a solid group of beta readers, work hard to bring your story to life and overall your readers will love it. Don't sweat the small stuff.

Take every critique you receive (from either a beta reader or a writer's group) with a grain of salt. If one reader said a certain element of your story didn't work for them, don't take it as doctrine.
If six of your beta readers had the same problem, it may be something you need to look at. You are the engineer of your own story. You know where it's headed and why. If something is unclear or confusing, figure out how to clarify it. Be wary, however, of people who tell you how to fix it. It's your story, not theirs.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

LTUE 2011!!!

Well, I just got back from the Life, the Universe and Everything (BYU's annual Sci-Fi/Fantasy symposium) and can I just say . . . WOW!!!! I spent the weekend in the presence of some very skilled authors and obtained so much awesome information. I think the experience is really going to take my writing (and book) to the next level. I'm going to blog about what I learned (picking one topic each day), so check back regularly!

One thing that really stood out to me was the importance of networking. My book is not yet ready to submit to an agent or editor, but while I'm working on the actual manuscript I've got plenty of ideas to start networking.

I've got a nice list of symposiums and conventions that I'll definitely be attending this year (which I will post in a later entry), and for the first time in my life, I'm actually going to start some hard-core blogging :P

I may, however, have to save the more informative posts for following days. It's been a long weekend. Check back tomorrow for updates!