Monday, August 30, 2010

Post: An Inconsistent Blog

Schools are starting up, the outdoor temperatures have gone down a smidge, and my house is a disaster - more or less in the process of weeding through what we don't want anymore. That, among other factors, is why this blog has been inconsistent as of late. We've felt that the time has come to make the big change and leave the rental stage. That's right. We're looking for a home. This means you will be hard pressed to find new posts in the Laire for the next little while - for the next couple of months at most. I'll do what I can and write my weekly advisory columns as often as I can. Don't get your hopes up if there's nothing new to gander at. Having said that, I appreciate those of you who have come to read my blog and are frequent visitors. You rock!

Update: After careful plot consideration, the ending of my next chapter will be altered and happen much sooner than expected, meaning chapter 12 is a page away from completion! How cool is that? And it's a fun one. Chapter 13 isn't far behind. This is exciting news, now that may game is on. But again, the moving business might slow me down. As always, I will do what I can. There is nothing else new to report at this time.

I'm David, and my cell battery is charging.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Aspiring Advice: Grabbing Dialogue

This weeks advice runs along the lines of . . . well, lines, or dialogue, whichever you prefer. All (or most) stories with characters generally have them speak. What they say is what moves a story along. As a reader, I tend to speed-read narration and slow down when characters speak, for that is where the meat is, where characters build on each other, where plot points are revealed, discussed, and executed. Producing dialogue is a lot of fun, but also a real challenge. Here are some pointers for drafting dialogue that grabs readers.

Avoid the Everyday - When you are out and about, interacting with people, rarely will the conversation go into the unexpected. While necessary in everyday life, ordinary conversation will read . . . well, ordinary!
"Hello, Bill. How are you?"
"I am good, Ned. How are you?"
"I'm good. Getting your mail?"
"Yes I am, Ned. You get yours yet?"
Blah! I can't remember where I heard it, but the average person speaks about 1000 words a day. Unique words, meaning repeated words don't count. Studies have shown that women say more unique words a day than men. This is striking, since there are over 100K words in the English language. Avoid the everyday.

Diverse Yourself - Everyone is a different person. Each has a unique way of expressing themselves, a unique voice. All too often, beginning writers will have a cast of characters who literally speak the same way as the protagonist; same pattern of speech, same vocabulary, same interjections. This weakens character voice and makes the dialogue uninteresting. I did this a great deal when I first started. A way to avoid this is to create a back story for your characters, all of them, and have them speak as if you are standing in their shoes, having lived their experiences. This is hard to juggle, since you are the creator of everyone's voice. The trick is to not have all your characters sound just like you. Your personal voice is great for a main character, but bland if used for all of your characters.

The Unexpected - A great way to instill catchy dialogue is to have your characters say the unexpected, something that you did not anticipate would be addressed by your side characters - for the most part. Instead of saying, "that is a nice hat," you could say, "where did you get that thing?" It all depends on the personalities you create for your characters. Their voice ought to reflect their personality, but it never hurts to have your characters speak spontaneously. It keeps the reader amused and interested.

Accents - Where does your story take place? It never hurts to have characters with accents, regardless of location, though you may not want to get too carried away. Too much accent can turn readers off. "Ave yu an'ee dreenks fur a thersty ol' man?" Tone it down. "Have ya any drinks for an ol' man?" That's better.

Brevity - Have you heard of exposition? How about a monologue? There are times when characters have a lot to say and they dominate an entire page without much narration or description in between. That's fine, so long as the speech isn't redundant or done too much. Writers tend to have everyone say everything that's on their mind, because it's on the writer's mind too, but if the conversations drag too long, the reader may forget what the point of it all is. This is my personal Achilles Heel. Brevity is keeping things short. When you watch movies, lines are generally short. Focus more on unique one-liners and less on speeches, where appropriate.

Dialogue is my favorite part of drafting stories. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. Trial and error can refine your speech and make your characters as real as you imagine them to be. Until next week!

Have a question?
Curious about my thoughts on an aspect of writing?
Feel free to ask in the comments section.

I'm David, and I need a shave.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Post: It's chilly all of a sudden . . .

It's the middle of August. Why am I shivering? Weird.
This last weekend was an eventful one, though it was like being bashed by a long-over-due honey-do list, which included fixing the tires on a used jogging stroller. I amazed myself by replacing all the tires! The last time I tried to do something like that, I had a screwdriver . . . well, I'll hold back on the lovely details, if you don't mind. I'm happy to report that the jogging stroller works, my wife and son are happy about going on more walks together, and my arm is happy for not sustaining any bodily injuries. Then there was stargazing. That was . . . stellar! You have to love August and the meteor showers it brings. Thankfully there's a mountain I can drive up not too far from home to see them clearly.

Update: Chapters 10 and 11 read-throughs and third party suggestions are finished. No hefty rewrites needed. My current project now stands at about 62K words with another 40K to go. Or less. I hope. Chapter 12 is looking good so far, just a couple pages left. After last week's critique group session I may need to go back to chapter 8 to cut some unnecessary exposition and add other details, to it and chapters 1, 2, and 7.

If I ever find a moment, I'm going to rewrite Forerunner and submit it to various magazines as well. I understand the problem with it, so it's just a matter of restructuring the deal. That's all for the updates this week. Be sure to check back soon for Aspiring Advice!

I'm David, and I'm not back-to-school shopping!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Aspiring Advice: Finding Your Title


You have a story, floating in your mind or drafted on paper, but what will you call it? Have you a title for your work? Finding a title for your story is one of the more difficult aspects of writing. Why? With a single word - or a short sequence of words - you're attempting to set your story apart from everything else that's out there and giving your story an identity. It's like taking a hot iron rod and "branding" your collection of words or chapters. Titles are hard to choose, and even more difficult to make sure no one else has used them yet.

Fortunately, titles come easy for me. It wasn't until I sat down and wondered why when I discovered a special formula for generating titles and how to apply them to my stories. Here are my four steps:

1: Choose your concept - what kind of story are you telling? What is your story about? Is the concept of your story unique or does it contain a new approach to a tried and established concept? Genre and concept are key. Knowing this is half the battle, so be sure to figure this out well before you start thinking about a title.

2: Generate several titles that revolve around your concept - sounds easy enough. Your title should reflect the context of your story. Say my concept is a mystery about a man who manufactures x-ray sunglasses. There's a lot to play with there. See Through, Exposed, The Man Who Saw Too Much (Hitchcocky, I know), and Warning: Do Not Look Directly into the Sun, are a few titles that popped into my head. And a couple of them seem really catchy to me. One of them, the Hitchcocky one, sounds a bit generic. Avoid that if you can.

3: Look up your title(s) on a search engine - using the internet, type in "(title) book/novel." If you use Google, it will generally show you right away if that title exists or not. Let me practice with the few titles I invented. See Through - I found a result for a book called See Through: Short Stories by Nelly Reifler. Thanks to the subtitle, Short Stories, See Through is still up for grabs. Exposed - there's several books with this title, and a movie. For the most part, it's taken. Use something else. The Man Who Saw Too Much - found one result, a nonfiction book by John Little, The Man Who Saw Too Much : David Brill, Combat Cameraman. Since my story is fiction and I won't use that subtitle, this title is open, but like I said, it sounds a bit generic. Generic titles are among my bottom ten. Warning: Do Not Look Directly into the Sun - nothing! There are no books with this title at all. This one would pique my interest the most. If I were to write this story, I would select this for my title.

 4: Make sure your story stays within the context of your title - in other words, will your finished story adequately reflect your title? Will it go on a tangent and end up being about something else? Think on that. Imagine if Warning: Do Not Look Directly into the Sun concludes with aliens creating a zombie army--that's been done.

Concerning subtitles - generally, use them to set apart different books within the same series. The series itself should have a title that encompasses the entire series, with each individual book having it's own subtitle that reflects the concept or key element that's pertinent to that book, like Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. What happens at the end of this book? The land has a king again. The king "returned." See. Easy enough. People will also use subtitles in the event that a title is already taken. Add a separate identifier (subtitle), and you have a new title!

Concerning "generic" titles - I don't know how there are so many of them out there, but they're there. If I walk into any bookstore, I'll see one . . . or twenty. For me, generic titles don't grab me. Unless there's a really cool picture on the cover, I wouldn't see myself picking up a book like The Cold Winter or The Scheme from Planet 7 and think, this sounds exciting! I'm going to buy this, take it home, and read it right now!" For short stories, titles like these are fine. I know I have a few in my - albeit small - short story collection.

That's it for Aspiring Advice this week, folks.
Thank you for clicking into The Cosmic Laire!

I'm David, and looking into the sun is bad for your eyes.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Post: [Insert Heading Here]

A wild week just passed, wild enough that no heading can adequately sum it up. Out here in the Rockies, we experienced an unusual storm with lots of lightning, more that I've ever seen in this area, lasting up to three days. Some heavy clouds still linger, and I love it. Summertime shade is always appreciated. On top of that, I wrote more, celebrated my 5th year anniversary of being married to the perfect girl of my dreams, and spent a butt-load of money on car repairs that I really didn't want to spend money on. Such is life. You have to roll with the unexpected and expect the inevitable twists and turns that you ought to expect.

Update: Concerning our progress on chapter 11 - He likes it! Mike read the new chapter 11 and thoroughly enjoyed it, to my surprise. My wife also enjoyed it, even though I kept editing through the reading. We found a few kinks in the hose, but nothing that requires a major rewrite. This is great news. This means I can focus on chapter 12 without having to look back at the past. With any luck, chapter 12 will be a done dealt before next Monday, but as always, that goal is subject to change. Daddy/Mommy/Son time is more important.

No exciting news this week. Just staying alive.

I'm David, and Optimus is watching me . . .

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Aspiring Advice: Got Backups?

You are a writer. Words pester you constantly, yet you have to deal with reality as well as the words you write. And what I want to stress this week is the ultimate reality that some beginning writers have faced (and ended up quitting) because they were not prepared for a writer's worst nightmare - losing your work.

Here's a story for you. In my first semester of college, I was so paranoid that someone might find my writings and exploit them, so I invested in a combination briefcase and took everything with me - from A: Drive floppies to physical manuscripts (which was only one at the time). When I flew home for Christmas Break, I found myself waiting for my luggage without my briefcase (that I had on the plane with me). I freaked. Imagine, losing your work in a busy airport, having to go through security several times, attempting to track down your writings - all of them! Luckily, someone found my case by a phone booth and turned it into a desk clerk. I learned two invaluable lessons that day. 1: Never keep all of your writings in one place, and 2: Never keep all of your writings in one place and take it with you into highly populated transportation areas.

Now, I was one lucky maraca, but some unfortunate dude somewhere, at some point, may have lost it all. Now that I've written well over a million words in the projects I've started and finished, losing everything would be indescribably devastating. I wouldn't just quit - I'd want to die. Okay. Okay. No emo - but seriously. I would be a wreck for quite some time, left to wonder if it's worth reproducing everything that I've lost. How, then, do you combat the risk of losing your work? With our reliance on computers today, the risk is all the more dangerous. Here are 5 simple ways to keep your work from vanishing off the face of the Earth.

1: Save often - while you're writing on a computer, save your work often, with every new page you draft. And if you happen to delete a large chunk of something, don't panic. Press Ctrl - Z (undo). It should come back.

2: Work off a portable drive - I never write directly on my home computer's hard drive, or on my notebook's. If your computer crashes, your work will disappear without any hope of recovery, but if you're writing on a document that's saved on a USB flash drive, the crash should have no effect on it. You may lose a page or a chapter, but not everything. Invest in a sturdy USB flash drive. Store it three feet or more above your floor.

3: Save your work on more than one computer/storage device - if you happen to lose your work in one place, how relieved will you feel if you saved your work on another computer or storage device? You'll do the happy dance - guaranteed. For me, I save and work off a USB drive at all times and backup my files on my home and notebook computers. Password protected. That's three - count them - three reliably and safe devices.

4: Annual backups - pick a date. Ever year, collect your writings - all of them - everything that you've finished and are currently working on, and burn them onto a CD. Keep it somewhere safe - fire-proof safe!

5: Hard copies - what if the worst case scenario happens? A flood destroyers your computer(s)? A fire? An ionic storm renders all electronics useless? Solar flare radiation nukes your CDs and storage devices? Okay. These might be unlikely, but possibilities are still possibilities. When you finish a chapter, print it. Always have at least one hard copy on hand. When you finish a novel, print a few hard copies of your full manuscript to share with family or friends. Even if your electronically saved documents vanish, you'll still have a hard copy.

Lastly, keep your work organized. You can also lose your work by saving it in a random folder and end up accidentally deleting it. Create a file for all of your work, a new folder for each project in that folder. It's my hope that this has been useful information and advice. Losing your work is preventable, if you are prepared.

I'm David, and my car is getting serviced.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Post: Forward Moving

Another busy weekend and another fulfilling week leads me to the beginning of August, the final month of summer. I love summer and all, but seeing as Autumn is my favorite season, I don't mind the time passing. What I have to share this week is inconsequential, most likely irrelevant, but in any case, desired to be shared.

Over the weekend I saw a movie that I think would be important for any writer or artist to watch, a Japanese animated film called Whisper of the Heart. It's an unremarkable film because there's nothing extraordinary about it, as if the events could happen anywhere to anyone. But the message it carries, for those struggling with what to do with themselves and how to pursue their dreams, is a real and heart-felt eye-opener to the possibilities. For any beginning or struggling writer or artist, I recommend this film for your viewing enjoyment and inspiration.

Update: Chapter 11 is . . . DONE! That's right. Done - and Chapter 12 is five pages in. The final chapter has a great skeleton set up for later, too. My block has finally come to an end, folks, writing wise. Now, if I can just convert some of that energy towards my advisory column, I'll be back in business. There will be a column this week. Guaranteed. It's just hard to stay focused when a baby is on the way. Have I mentioned that yet? If not, it's true, I'm going to be a father again. YAY! The pressure's on to finish this book before the due date!

I'm David, and elevators have buttons!