Partial Plotter

Posted: August 14, 2011 in Writing

I mentioned in my last entry that when I write, I put together a loose skeleton of the plot, usually one to two sentences per planned chapter. I have the beginning, end and some major plot points along the way that I think I will need to get where the story is going. Depending on who you talk to, I am what is called a Plotter.

There are two schools of thought on writing. Sitting down at the keyboard and writing whatever comes into your mind next (writing from the seat of your pants) or plotting out every detail of the story down to the dialog. Usually if you have any plotting whatsoever, you are considered a plotter, end of story. I take a little umbrage with that personally. I like to think I blend the two, hence I’m a partial plotter.

I will use two examples of famous authors to further my point. Stephen King, in his book On Writing says that he never plots ahead for what is going to happen in the story. He simply sits down to write and sees where the characters take him (this is not to say that King never edits and changes story points for clarity, but editing is an entirely different monster than the initial writing). Terry Brooks plots out everything, as he talks about in his book Sometimes the Magic Works. I actually spoke with author Bob Mayer about Mr. Brooks at a the Pikes Peak Writers conference and he told me Brooks continues to elaborate and add detail to his outlines until they become the finished story. This is almost a form of editing to me, except Brooks doesn’t add elements to his original outline, just continues to add details and dialog to the outline until it is a fully fleshed-out story.

As I have said previously, my outline is loose. I know where I am going to finish and I have a basic path of how to get there. This works well for me and my writing. I think that is the most important point to make in the discussion (unfortunately, sometimes a debate) on plotting: there is no single best style. However you get the initial story on the page is what’s important. People can debate the merits of King’s writing versus Brook’s, but I won’t. They have both influenced me as a writer in different ways. However, no one can argue that they are both successful. They are extreme examples of each side and both give the writer what he needs to produce his story.

As writers, we have to play with this to figure out what works best for us. I actually tried writing my second book with nothing more than an idea of where the story would end and where I was starting. It was horrible, both the attempt to write and the writing itself (it was only my second novel after all). It took me MUCH longer to write that second book until finally, about halfway through, I sat down and sketched out a skeleton for the rest of the book. Suddenly, everything was clear in the novel and I wrote the second half much faster (and better, despite it sucking) than the first half. The plotting part gave me a trail to follow to get to my final destination, but did not prevent me from taking any side paths that led to other parts of the story I had not planned on or foreseen.

To me, this is the way most writers put their story together. They have a plot of some kind figured out ahead of time, but as they write, they incorporate the new elements that are produced in the process of transferring the story from their mind onto the screen or paper. It took a little playing around with, but I found what works best for me. Do you know what works best for you?

Why I Love Writing

Posted: August 6, 2011 in Writing

It’s funny how many people think publishing is a way to get rich quick. Just vomit out a story, send it to a publisher and rake in the dough. Of course, anyone who has tried to query a major publishing house knows that’s not how it works. Unless you know someone in the house, there is about as good a chance of getting your work read as Charlie Sheen winning a good parenting award. You need to query an agent, and more than likely what you thought was a masterpiece is actually a turd sandwich.

Self-publishing is changing that of course. But no one really knows how to make money that way either, unless you have a backlist to sell.  So after a little bit of research, most people who write commercial fiction either figure out it’s not worth the hassle and give up or realize they don’t care if they ever get published and do it because it brings them some kind of pleasure. I fit into the latter category.

Don’t get me wrong, nothing would please me more than to be über successful. I doubt I’ll ever write anything that would win an award, but I would love to make a living off of my writing. However if I don’t, it’s not the end of the world. Normally this would not cross my mind when considering my writing. I’m either trying to research a city that the story is taking place in or figuring out how the plot is going to fit together or trying to settle on the exact system my magic works on. But over the last couple of days I have been struck by how much I have wanted to forget about anything else (work, family, sleep) and get back to writing my story. I want to hurry and finish this entry so I can write some more.

I plot my stories loosely, coming up with one or two sentences per chapter as a skeleton. I add the muscles, internal organs and skin as I go along (I started with 25 planned chapters, I now have 36 and counting). But I am at a part I have been looking forward to, a part in the story I wasn’t sure I would get to. And now that I’m there, I want to get through it and see where the story takes me. Not that the beginning of the story wasn’t important or didn’t speak to me in some way, but I’m in the middle of the story and ready to make it fly along to the end.

That’s why I believe I will always be a writer, in some form or fashion. Having that creative outlet and the satisfaction of creating a story that entertains me. I hope to someday entertain others as well, but I will be content, even if that day never comes.

The title for this post is a rhetorical question, but one I find myself asking often of late. Children, anywhere from toddler age to early teens acting inappropriately in public right in front of their parents. I will admit to being a curmudgeon (I’ve considered myself an old man since I was sixteen), but children wailing like a banshee at the top of their lungs to get their parents attention and garnering nasty looks from all around proves it’s not just me. Teenage girls dressing like they are meeting up with their pimp; teenage boys with their pants/shorts so low they waddle around like penguins (they may as well just go out in boxers). Children bullying other children at the park. Using other people’s toys/sporting goods without asking. Kids in a crowd of people talking on their cell phone as loudly as possible (oh wait, that’s adults too).

Admittedly, my first inclination is to be annoyed with the child. Again, I am a curmudgeon. But I quickly remember that children, of any age, are almost always a product of their environment. ALL children will whine, scream, plea, beg, cajole (add your verb of choice) to get what they desire. Often, all the kid wants is their parent to acknowledge them in some form or fashion. When the child is ignored, the behavior escalates, often to the detriment of those in the immediate vicinity. Because most parents now days are more concerned with being their children’s buddy than being actual parents, the mildly annoying to abhorrent behavior is ignored.

I know I am more strict than many other parents. I’m not my grandfather (children in his day had to be seen and not heard), but I do think children should respect their elders and be considerate of those around them. When my special-needs child is better behaved than most typical kids I see (doesn’t scream at me or others, doesn’t make a scene, listens to my directions/requests), I have a hard time understanding why other parents can’t do their job. I don’t have anything against corporal punishment, although that is not necessary. Just say no. If your kid throws a fit, make them stop. If you tell your kid to do something and they don’t do it, follow through and make the kid do what you told them to. If the child keeps fighting you, you stick to your guns.

It can be difficult. It can be downright painful. The worst I have ever felt about myself, my oldest son was three years-old and made me feel as worthless and horrible as a person can feel. He told me he hated me and how horrible a father I was. I wanted to crawl up in a ball and die. But I didn’t. I persevered. And that is what parents have to do. Stick it out. Deal with being the bad guy. It’s actually easier if you start when the kids are young, but it is never too late.

Please. Just do the job you signed up for and stop taking the easy way out.

Burn Notice Rocks

Posted: June 29, 2011 in Spycraft

If you enjoy stories about spies and you are not watching Burn Notice, can I ask why not? I even have it from a former spy (no, really!) that the show is pretty accurate.

If you haven’t seen the show, you can get caught up. I know that is five seasons, but it is worth the time. Burn Notice can be formulaic at times perhaps, but I think they still do a great job of adding twists and turns and coming up with enough MacGyverish improvisation to keep you entertained. Plus, the cast is awesome. Jeffrey Donovan’s understated character leaves room for Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) and Sam (Bruce Campbell) to shine. It also provides distinction between all of the characters he must portray to mislead/direct the bad guys.  And let’s not forget Sharon Gless as Michael’s mom. She is believable, endearing and adds sufficient comic relief to keep the show light.

Considering all of the crap on TV (reality TV is crap, sorry), especially all of the dumbed-down writing, Burn Notice is a refreshing change to the viewing schedule. Seriously. Because if another good show goes belly-up (Chicago Code, Lie to Me) while American Idol rules the airwaves, I think I might channel my southern Italian heritage and break out the baseball bats. Or at least stop watching television (which might not be that bad of a thing).

Hello world!

Posted: May 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

SpyMagic.  I hope that tickled your imagination.  Or at least made you think, “What the f@# is this guy talking about?  Spies and magic don’t go together.”  And if you thought that, I hope I can convince you otherwise.

This blog is mostly about writing and Fantasy/SciFi literature.  However, like most people, I have varied interests that will creep in from time to time (as evidenced by the categories I created).  I hope you find it at least somewhat entertaining.