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Posts Tagged ‘writing tips’

Looking for a Good Fluffer?

September 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Regular masochists readers of this blog know that I like to use outrageous titles and then talk about something unexpected but related. Since there’s no way I would risk talking about the most obvious urban definition of ‘fluffer’, I thought I’d discuss the unpaid and underappreciated men and (mostly) women whose job it is to keep adult actors and actress ready to go when the directors cries, “Action!”

Oh wait, that’s what most people think of when they hear the word “fluffer.” Well nuts, I guess I’ll talk about something else.

Ooh, what about when you’ve got a story that needs some more oomph? More content. More details and explanation. You’ve got a good idea and its framed out, but it needs something to fill it in. Fluff it up. Make it stand out and be noticed. Try dialogue.

What? But my main character is the strong silent type. Well duh, of course he is. What manly man isn’t? This post alone will contain more words than I’m likely to say over the course of this entire week. Good thing a decent dialogue requires at least two parties!

Or you could realize that communication and dialogue is so much more than he said, she said. Facial expressions, hand gestures (or finger gestures, in some cases), and body language can tell just as much as words do. Which do you prefer:

“I don’t think so,” she said icily.

She crossed her arms and looked down her nose at him as she said, “I don’t think so.”

The first one is sterile. It tells us what she said and how she said it. It doesn’t show us. It doesn’t help paint the picture in our head. It gives us just enough to make us finish out the details. Is she wearing a sweater or a tank top? Is the sunlight glinting off her diamond ring? Is the blood on her neck dried or still fresh? And is it her blood?

A good scene of dialogue does a lot more than just paint pictures though. It gives the writer a chance to share things he can’t easily share otherwise. Sure, there’s the infodump method of explaining why the moon split in half after the Chinese lunar mining mission suffered a catastrophic accident, but you lose a reader’s interest quickly with the dry material. It’s much better to not only share the information in a fun and intriguing dialogue between characters, but it also lets you introduce more about your characters to the reader and establish their personalities. And it takes up words. Words, ultimately, are what make up a novel.

Pick a scene and write it. Maybe it’s about your children playing on a tire swing. Maybe it’s a man fishing on the shore of a river with his trust dog. Maybe a starfighter pilot survived a crash into an enemy hanger. What’s the goal of the scene: Survival? Fun? Running away from a creepy guy with an axe? Alerting a nearby village about a tribe of raiding orcs? Whatever, write it down. Then when you’ve got the basic idea figured out flesh it out. Add the interactions between characters. Put in dialogue and make it come to life.  Good fluff like that will double the size of a scene and take it from something that sounds good on paper to something that looks good in your mind.

 

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Breathing Room

September 25, 2013 Leave a comment

I just took a lot of pills. Not the scary pills that put you to sleep for a long time, I’m talking about cold medicine. Came down with a head cold today (thanks, kids) and while it’s no more brutal than any previous head colds, the current one always feel the worst.

So anyhow, whether induced by a cocktail of anti-sinus, anti-congestion, and anti-feellikepoo medicine or because I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, I decided to toss out some random writing tips.

I’m working with a promising young man that I believe has a lot of unpolished talent. We’re writing a novel together, the first of – I hope – many. In the process of doing so I’m helping him fine tune his craft and finding myself reminded of many things I learned along the way. It also helps me make sure I stay sharp on my own prose!

To that end the first item I think is worth mentioning is character detail. It is essential to flesh out a character for a reader. Flaws and quirks need to exist and be described, otherwise how will a reader become intrigued, enamored, or annoyed by them? This emotional connection is necessary – yes, even the annoyed one – because it means the reader is invested. He or she has acknowledged your story at that point and it has meaning to them. It’s worth something. They will read more because they want to know more. And beyond that, the odds are better that they will share their thoughts with others, who will in turn become intrigued and want to find out for themselves.

But showing how Adrian gets red faced and goofy every time a girl smiles at him is one thing. Telling ad nauseum how each smiling girl has blond / brown / red hair to their shoulder blades and C / D cup breasts in 34 / 36 / 38 inch bras above there 22/24/26 inch waists and—oh, you’re eyes are glazing over and you don’t care? Exactly. If she’s got a noteworthy rack then have the character notice it (trust me, if it’s a male character, gay or straight, he’ll notice it). Don’t go into great lengths about crap that won’t stick and don’t matter. It slows the story down and does not improve the experience.

A further reason for showing how a character is without listing their resume is to allow some ambiguity. How many times has a book been made into a movie and the readers find out that the actor playing their favorite character is NOT right. The character is supposed to look like x, not y. The list goes on. Well, we can’t increase the available talent at Hollywood to fit every possible character, but we can open it up to allow the readers to connect with the characters in their own special way.

For example, if I tell you that Carl is a weathered looking man that stands stiffly against the wind in his army jacket, you probably paint a picture in your head of him being older (weathered), and either active or, more likely, retired military. The picture in your head might even have him holding a rifle of some sort (for the record it’s probably an M4). If it’s relevant to the story I might add a line where someone notices his green eyes stripping away their smile to dig out the real person they are. Now you know he’s got green eyes and a gaze that can make a person uncomfortable. The rest of it you’ve made up.

Does he have combat boots on? Are his hands chapped and his finger nails broken and rough? Does he have any scars or maybe a chipped tooth? If it’s not important in the story I don’t know. But you do. You’ve drawn the picture in your head by assigning bits of pieces of people you’ve seen that fit the description with what you’ve been told or imagined. You know what Carl looks like, and your Carl may not look like my Carl. That’s okay. That’s better than okay because that means you became invested in Carl, and by proxy, the story itself. A reader has to have room to breathe with a character so they can interact with them in their own way.

Writing is a lot of work, but it’s work that’s shared with the reader. We, as humans, have the greatest appreciation for the achieving and accomplishing things that are challenging to us. Writing a book is a challenge. Reading a book is too. Don’t scoff, think back to that first big novel you read and how you felt when you closed the last page. You were emotionally moved, not only by the words in the book, but by the fact that you had just managed to read all of a big ass book! And you liked it!

Reading is more than just interpreting words. It’s more than comprehending them. It’s also about tying in what you know with what you’re being shown. You create the picture and the story, the book is just the script for the movie in your head. The more work you do without realizing it, the more it means to you as a reader. That’s the job of a writer, to give you all the tools you need to create an epic story that thrills, excites, titillates, upsets, scares, and fulfills you. The more easily our words are crafted to make it possible for you, the reader, to do that, the more successful we are.

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

When the Passion Fades

February 22, 2013 2 comments

Life has a funny way of filling every moment with an endless stream of tasks and priorities. Before you know it you’ve got mortgage(s), kids, student loans, vacations, cars, credit cards, and a host of other liabilities that we have to bust our butts to fulfill. And somehow in there we’re supposed to find time to be passionate.

Contrary to what you might expect at this point, I’m not rambling about relationship woes. I’m talking about writing! Okay, regular readers probably figured that out already. So much for being unpredictable. Maybe I should talk about relationships instead? Naw, why give away the secrets when they’re so much more fun to find out on your own!

So back to writing. Passion in writing. Yes, dear reader, writers should be passionate about their projects. There are times though when the passion fades from a roaring bonfire to just a spark of flint against steel. That, I’m ashamed to admit, is where I’m at with my current project.

I don’t blame the story or the characters, I blame myself. I’ve started in on my 6th Voidhawk book (Voidhawk – The Edge of Forever) and it’s a bit of a juggling act. I’ve got two voidships to keep track of and two crews. To be honest, I’m not even sure how many characters there are total without looking at my notes and counting them up! Sad, I know. I have some rough ideas for where I want the story to go and I’ve got some plans for a major subplot that I’m still trying to piece together. The problem is I’m not sure how get from point A to point B. And remember we’re talking about sailing through the void so sometimes the quickest route between two points is not a straight line!

For those wondering what the heck I’m talking about with all this void-nonsense, allow me to explain. The “Void” is what you and I would call space. The great big black stuff in the nighttime sky that’s dotted with tiny white lights. To the fantasy genre crew of the Voidhawk, it’s not as frightening and empty as it is to us. For them the void is a three dimensional ocean. They sail from one system or world to another by means of voidships that are complicated vessels imbued with powerful magic and special sails that allow them to catch the solar winds.

In the Voidhawk universe men and women run around with swords, knives, clubs, and archaic guns (flintlocks, mostly pistols although some musket style weapons have shown up from time to time). The firearms aren’t as common though. There’s magic a-plenty as well, from magical places and items to weapons and more. And of course wizard and sorcerers (and witches and sorceresses) capable of using it straight from the source. Oh yeah, there’s been a demon or two (or many, many more) unleashed as well. Most of them have been cleaned up by the time book 6 rolled around though.

So it’s fantasy in space. Crazy, right? Remember this is magic, so check your suspension of disbelief and walk on in. If England can host a secret society of wizards playing Quidditch and blowing up half the country than the universe (aka void) can certainly handle wooden ships sailing through space with the help of magic.

So now you have a clue about Voidhawk but I’m still stuck in a place where I’m writing a chapter or so a day and not entirely sure where I’m going with it. I have plans but they’re not coming together like they usually do. My last book I was cranking out 3 – 4 chapters a day and wrote it in 8 days. This one is going to take longer, probably at least 30. I’m over 17,000 words into it by now but I’ve got a ways to go and I think this one is going to stretch into something large. Normally that would excite me. The only reason it doesn’t this time is because I’m not sure how the heck I’m going to get it there!

But not to fret, I’ve been here before. Sometimes the only way to make progress is one word at a time. Since I’m cranking out a few thousand a day or so that’s a lot of baby steps. Someday soon, before I even realize it, the story’s going to come together and I’ll be amazed at how it worked out. Oh sure, I may need to make a few tweaks for continuities sake, but it’ll be great because these characters are incredible and there’s just so much opportunity to mess with them!

So stay tuned, there’s more Voidhawk coming! With any luck this book will hit the shelves in April, but there’s a lot of void that needs to be covered between now and then.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

So What’s Next?

February 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Writing is a mercurial activity. Kind of like that sentence. It means that it means different things to everybody. For one person writing a book is a labor of love that can take 12 – 60 months to accomplish. For others, a month (or less). I happen to be in the 3 week – 2 month / book demographic.

But that’s just the quantity, not the quality. It doesn’t touch on the troubles of writing. Distractions abound, from shiny rocks to pets, kids, phone calls, remembering to eat, and others. Heck, even finishing a section or a scene can qualify as a breaking point for a writer. At that point every writer asks themselves, “What’s next?”

I use those very words, “Okay, what’s next?” It’s a mantra or a reminder that the story goes on. Just because the cruise ship crashed and all hands were lost doesn’t mean the story is over. It just means it’s time to focus on new characters like that guy in the rescue chopper. The tricky part is figuring out what the next thing is.

The answer will vary by story. I like to start out with a rough idea of what I want to write and let the characters tell the story. Usually after I’ve written a considerable amount I’ll have reached a point where I can guess where the characters are going and how they’re going to get there. At that point I’ll write out a rough outline and use that to help keep me in line. That way when I ask myself what’s next I can refer to that and say, “Oh yeah, there’s going to bungi jump into the mouth of the volcano now!” Or whatever.

For Silver Dragon, an epic fantasy novel I just finished in my Blades of Leander series, I actually started out with an outline and I was worried it wouldn’t be long enough. HA! It kept growing as I wrote it. The characters did things I didn’t expect and complicated my life considerably, but I still cranked it out and it turned into a phenomenal book. A new urban fantasy I’m working on, Soulmates, I just went in with a hunch and after 40,000 words decided it was time to figure out where it was going to end up. I was surprised as I filled in the blanks, the ending the characters are telling me will happen was NOT what I had in mind when I started. It turns out they had a better idea. I hate when the voices in my head are right and I’m wrong. For those curious, Soulmates is the sequel to Devil’s Icebox, book three in my Dark Earth series.

So, my fellow writers, when you reach a point where you wonder what’s next don’t wait for something to happen. Make it happen. Pick a direction and set sail. Sure, maybe you’re headed the wrong way but guess what, the world is round. You’ll still get there as long as you keep moving. And even going the wrong way is going to get you there faster than you will by standing still.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

The Hardest Part of Writing

September 17, 2012 Leave a comment

To a non-writer the act of sitting down and writing thousands of words seems more than a little daunting. I can remember the groaning of fellow students even in my MBA classes at the thought of having to write 500+ word essays. Heck, I’ve got a co-worker who once offered to pay me to write his quarterly company newsletter articles and those are only a couple of paragraphs! And no, I didn’t take him up on the offer, but not because I’m afraid of writing.

As any writer knows, writing the book is actually the easy part. What comes after, the publishing and marketing, is a far more grueling and difficult task. It’s not a matter of “if you write it, they will read.” Sure, we’d love for that to be the case, but if nobody knows it’s out there how could anyone possibly read it? That’s the tricky part. Tricky and, depending on how you go about it, expensive.

But all of those things still may not be the hardest part of writing. I’m sitting on a very complicated dilemma at this very moment while I’m finishing up a self-edit of my most recent fantasy novel, Child of Fate. I hope to finish the self-edit today then send it off to Lisa Shalek for content editing, then my proof reader, Faith Williams. And of course my favorite cover artist, Willsin Rowe. As excited as I am to get that book going I’m having a bit of a rough time. You see, in the back of my head I have two books fighting each other for the right to be heard, or at least read. Do I jump into the sequel for Child of Fate right away while it’s still fresh or do I step away and undertake another long overdue project?

What long overdue project? Well I’m glad you asked! It started out with some plans my wife and I have to go to Vegas without the kids in a couple of weeks. We’re meeting some friends out there and the plan is, for a night or two, to go clubbing. Now when I think of the word clubbing I flash back to either romance in the caveman era or being mugged in a dark alley. My wife corrected me and pointed out that I needed to be on my best behavior because if I let my irritation show on my face while waiting in line or in the club, I could very easily be asked to leave. I was thinking about this Friday night while my wife and I were out with a different couple (yes, we’ve got at least four friends). My wife and her friend were out dancing while the other guy and I were sitting there watching them. It was entertaining. Her words flashed into my head though, and that started an unexpected moment of inspiration.

I have a character in the books I’ve written that shares some traits with me. In him they are amplified to levels that are admirable. Sort of like the movie Braveheart where William Wallace is considered an uncompromising man and it’s a good thing. Well Carl, of Wanted / Ice Princess fame, would be just as annoyed or more so than I would be in such a situation, and he wouldn’t be upset to show it. Add in somebody putting their hands on him to escort him out and, well, it would get messy.

So with that scene in mind I chuckled, then I realized I might be on to something. Was this, at last, the segue into the third and final book in the Wanted series? I dug deeper and soon it just started pouting into my brain. I had a plot and a premise. I had scenes. I had ideas. Now all I need to do is write it out!

But I’m indecisive. When I wrote Wanted I got hung up for a long time on it. I ended up cutting back and dropping around 15,000 words at the end and rewriting the ending. My original plans lay shattered for the trilogy and I considered leaving it at just one book. Eventually I found inspiration to do Ice Princess, but I had a rough time with that one too throughout it. So now I’m nervous that the third one would be equally troubling. I’ve come a long ways as a writer since those books, but that doesn’t stop the fear of failure from creeping in.

Nonetheless, I think I’m going to proceed with the third Wanted book. Like I said, I’ll be in Las Vegas in a couple of weeks so what better time to write it then when I can do live research on the place where I plan for most of the book to happen in? Granted, it’s a very different Las Vegas. The third book will take place several years after Ice Princess has ended. The United States government has moved back in and reclaimed the western states from the neo-anarchy that plagued the world for several years, but their presence is limited and quite often quite martial. With all the sparks from that kind of environment going on what could be more fun than adding in a little gasoline?

Stay tuned, I’ll be sure to post progress as I get started on it. I’m not sure if I want to title the book “Sin City”, “Vegas”, or something else altogether. Not to worry, I’ll figure it out!

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

How To Do It

August 3, 2012 2 comments

Almost every day before the day is done I post on Twitter and my Facebook page a brief update of what the day’s writing was like. How many words and any highlights of what I’ve written. Typically the number is in the 2000 – 3000 or more range. I often use the #amwriting hashtag, though others may retweet it with #inspiring or other such tags associated with it. It comes as a shock and a surprise to many that I can crank out that volume regularly. I’ve been pushing myself to maintain a 1 book a month pace for 2012 and by this time it’s become a habit. Who’d a thunk addictions could be good!

I also often get questions asking how I can do it, and by ‘it’ I mean write that much. Do I keep my muse locked up in a cage under my desk? Do I poke said muse with sticks to make her dance and cavort to release the writing pixie dust? Sadly none of that is the case. Every writer is different, and it comes down to a matter of what you train and condition yourself to do.

I used to compete in powerlifting. For those just sitting down powerlifting involves bench pressing, squatting, and deadlifting the heaviest fricken weights you can lift – and sometimes that comes with disastrous consequences. I set a couple records in the federation I lifted in before disaster struck me, and now I don’t compete anymore. I still lift weights and I still lift heavy, but I’ll never be able to lift what I once did. But you’re asking what the hell weight lifting has to do with writing, right?

It’s the tricks I learned along the way. When training for a major event such as a powerlifting meet the trainee has to be very focused and disciplined. Eating the right foods, drinking the right drinks (and enough of them), and hitting the weights with the right control and frequency. It’s not so different from the Olympics really, except I make absolutely NO challenge to the incredible genetics, talents, and skills the Olympic athletes have – I’ve never been anywhere near that level!

So armed with the knowledge of how to make changes to myself, knowing that I need to focus my brain on the story at hand and sitting down to work on it every day wasn’t that much of a leap. My “trick”, if you want to call it such, is to daydream. Controlled daydreaming, really. I think about the story and what’s happened, as well as what’s going to happen next. I’ll often ask myself, “Okay, then what happened?” And the answer gives me a direction to go. What important bits did I forget or need to change or what if ‘x’ happened instead of ‘y’. I also come up with a lot of ideas in areas where my brain is free to roam. Long car rides, for example, are great daydreaming opportunities. That can be frustrating too, in case the laptop’s not available to write them down.

Once I get there I’ve got the fuel I need to crank out the next 500 – 1000 words at least, and from there new things pop into my head that keep the story flowing into the 2000 – 3000 range. I think my record in recent history was a Saturday when I cranked out 8500 words, but I also seem to recall a 10k day, so I might be getting the two confused. It reminds me of production at a manufacturing plant. Quantity is definitely an important aspect – without product (words, in the case of writers), there’s no chance to finish a book and deliver to the customer (readers). But too much quantity without quality isn’t going to do me any good either. The trick is finding the right mix, and then relying on editing to help with the quality.

So that’s my secret. From 550lb deadlifts to 12+ books a year. The only problem is what works for me might not work for anybody else. Just about every writers has their own tricks. Without exception the only way to find out is to keep trying new things and making yourself keep at it though. Now good luck and what are you waiting for, go write something!

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

 

The Bazaar Talent of Editing

February 10, 2012 4 comments

Bonus points if you figured out the title is screwed up. I used it on purpose, courtesy of MS Word’s auto-correct ‘bazaar’ was used instead of ‘bizarre’ in my book, Wanted. There are other errors as well, typos that slip past the eye of someone attempting to scrutinize if for detail. The irony is that incorrect words and spellings leap off the page and slap a casual reader across the face.

I’ve had reviews on Wanted in particular stating it was good but it needed some typographical assistance. This is frustrating to me – I need details and some means of understanding the scope of the problem. I had a wonderful woman sent me an email today that went into some of those details. Now, finally, I can have a better grasp of the problem and put a plan in motion to correct it.

It’s embarrassing to me, as a writer, to put out products like that. In the early days when I went through a different publishing company such errors were rampant. Horrible editing took place, and in some places no editing at all. Since I’ve reigned myself in and now control my own books from start to finish it’s gotten better, but I’m certain some mistakes still slip through. Say what you will about traditional publishing, at least 95% or more of the time they do a bang up job on editing.

As for me, I’ve found a couple of great editors in my life. Even they have differing skill sets though. One is great at helping to smooth out how the story flows. Another has an amazing bullshit-meter. A third can kill the difference in passive versus active voice with the skill of a sniper. I’m in the process of finding an outstanding copy editor and I believe I have a couple of them lined up.  Thank you, Twitter!

So, fellow writers, make sure you get your books edited properly! Trust me, you can’t edit your own book. Oh sure, you can try and you might even catch a lot of stuff, but you’re going to miss a lot too. It needs to be somebody else doing it, somebody who knows what they’re doing, not your uncle, sister, wife, or friend. Unless, of course, your uncle, sister, wife, or friend has experience and training at editing.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

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