New Writers Resources

Finally, a topic about which I am almost qualified to dispense advice. Being still a new writer and all.

Slight detour…

I just returned with my family from Great Lakes Games, a four day annual invitational event for about 100 friends and family to get together and play boardgames. Boardgames and board game design is another of my frequently exercised hobbies (see “Other Publishing Credits”). This was the ninth year and we have attended all but the first. The timing is such that several of the folks in attendance have just returned from the Spiel in Essen… meaning lots of shiny new games unavailable yet here in the US. It also means getting together a number of game designer friends who are regulars. Exciting and notable this year was the placement of Hawaii by Greg Daigle on the FairPlay Essen scouting report – one of the more reliable predictors for commercial success of a game and pretty remarkable for an American designer. I am extremely happy for Greg – he has worked very hard at his craft and deserves the success and recognition for his work.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well not a whole lot really, but over the weekend I had a number of folks asking whether I had any games in the works. I always have games in the works, like stacks of half finished designs, however this time around they have all taken a back seat to this new writing thing. Several folks were surprised, several others shared their interests or desire to also write. The next question was how did I get myself up and going…

1) Preparation – I attended Michael Stackpole’s “21 Days to a Novel” seminar at Gen Con 2010. In an hour, he was able to explain in simple terms a number of writing exercises that would help prepare and construct a novel. Subsequently I found “The Secrets” podcast available at Stackpole’s site and iTunes. I listened to and enjoyed these podcasts. A portion of this podcast covers the 21 days process with examples. There is also an eBook available at his site and on Amazon.

2) Technique – Hands down the best source of information is the Writing Excuses podcast. Short, fun, and very educational. This should be recommended listening for anyone learning to write! Start at the beginning because they are that good.

3) Technology – I spent a great deal of time trying different writing applications. YWriter was the best application I found for the Windows platform. But hands down the program I prefer is Scrivener. I suffered through the Beta version of the application on Windows long enough to discover its true potential. Finally broke down and bought a Mac, the native platform for Scrivener. Haven’t looked back.

4) Encouragement – Wherever you get it, however you get it, it comes in handy. Give NaNoWriMo a try (adequate preparation is necessary to succeed), take a couple of Continuing Education classes at nearby community college, find a writer’s group, enlist your friends and family.

Enjoy! And best of luck.

Revision & Editing… Part 3

Now that I have all my synopsis copied into timelines… and I made each a different color by POV because, well, because I could.

5. Conquer the world.  Going back to Stackpole’s “21 Days to a Novel,” at least what I remember of it, I started to add back in my fourth character: The World.  I put arrows from the scene to a world event that the action in the scene caused, then connected with arrows the world event to the other scenes that would have been affected by the world event.  Heavy paraphrasing here.  If you want to know more I would recommend “The Secrets” podcast and the “21 Days to a Novel.”  Better yet, go see him at a con.  Then I just worked on making all of the arrows flow in the right direction.  There, at least one set of dependencies taken care of.

6. Who did what to whom?  For all of the other dependencies that don’t involve some world event, I went through and put in more connecting arrows from causes to effects.  For the more geeky crowd: use layers to turn on and off the arrows to keep down the confusion.  If layers are beyond your capabilities, not surprising because it took me forever to figure them out, just use different colors or styles. The exercise here is much the same, make all of the arrows go the right way.

Being the visually oriented type, all these pretty pictures make me feel like I have brought order to chaos.  But have I?  Yep, more to come….

“The Buntline Special” wounds, but fails to kill.

Just finished reading Mike Resnick’s “The Buntline Special.”  I had first come across Mike Resnick a couple of years ago by way of the Escape Pod podcast of short fiction stories.  Mike’s “Robots Don’t Cry” was so good I had to play it a second time for my family on a trip up north.  Resnick is one of the most prolific and decorated SciFi writers.

So… I came into The Buntline Special with high expectations which, unfortunately, for me went unmet.  At its core, The Buntline Special is an alternate history retelling of the Gunfight at O.K. Corral with steampunk and weird west, please pardon the expression, “chrome” liberally applied.  The basic thread of the story is enhanced with supporting cast members Tom Edison and Ned Buntline – the inventor and implementor of the steampunk goodies.  Geronimo and indian braves provided the Weird in Weird West.

The biggest problem I had was that both the steampunk and weird west elements were really not that intrinsic to the story.  I am not trying to be a purist here, but if you are going to have steampunk elements in the story, make them part of the plot and not just window dressing.  The weird west parts provided some interesting opportunities that mostly went unexplored.  I think the problem here is the constraints placed by historical accounts or the author’s desire to try his hand at explaining what may have actually happened with a steampunk weird west spin to make it more interesting.  One thing he did accomplish was to increase my interest in the event and its participants as much as Band of Brothers raised my interest and appreciation of WWII.

What I really did like about the book was Resnick’s use of dialog.  On the scale of narrative to dialog driven, this one is hard over on dialog.  I have a lot of respect for what he was able to accomplish with only a couple sentences of scene setting followed by extensive dialog.  I know how hard dialog is for me so I have a lot of respect for what he was able to accomplish between the quote marks.  I also think he struck a good balance with the western elements, enough to create the atmosphere but not too overdone that it was difficult to read.

Bottom line for me… It was a well researched, well implemented re-telling of the gunfight at O.K. Corral that suffered from sticking too close to the historical accounts.  I enjoyed it, but wished it was better.  Looking forward to his next book “The Doctor and the Kid.”

Steampunk Library page has been updated.