Tag Archives: writing tips

Stephen King — On Writing

Without electricity after Hurricane Irma, I read the two library books I had in two days. The library wasn’t open so I perused my shelves for books to read. I went through a few books I hadn’t read, some I’d bought from authors and some people had given to me. One that I read many years ago and remembered liking was Stephen King’s On Writing. I may have gotten more out of it this time around.

The book is a combination of memoir and advice about writing. The first section, “C.V.,” is a condensed life story as it relates to being a writer—an interesting story in itself. The second section, “On Writing,” is all about the art and craft. He starts by giving us the Great Commandment, “read a lot, write a lot.”

King lists four levels of writers—bad writers, competent writers, good writers, and geniuses—and believes there is no way to make a competent writer from a bad one or to turn a good writer into a great one, but a competent writer can become a good writer. This requires a toolbox: the fundamentals (vocabulary, grammar, and elements of style) and a second level (hard work, dedication, and timely help). He also emphasizes rewriting and editing. Two of his rules:  “Omit needless words” and “2nd draft = 1st Draft – 10%.”

You’ve probably heard of the two types of writers—“plotters” who plan their books in advance and “pantsters” who write by the seat of their pants. Stephen King is the later and so am I. He claims he never plots a book. I like King’s ideas about writing is that they coincide with my own. And what he produces is very good storytelling.

The third section of the book, “On Living,” is back to memoir. He talks about his accident (he was hit by a car), recovery, and return to writing. This is followed by “And Further More, Part I and Part II.” Part I is about editing and Part II is a book list. And I forgot to mention the three forwards in the beginning of the book.

I enjoyed the first reading and again the second time around.

Publish Your Book With CreateSpace

Are you a writer? Want to see your book in print without spending years trying to find a publisher or carrying hundreds of books in inventory? I gave a presentation August 19, 2017 at Gulf Coast Writers Association (GCWA) on how to get your book published via CreateSpace. It takes you through the steps required to plan, submit, and bring your book to life. And the best part? You can publish your book for little to no money.

Handouts from the presentation — the PowerPoint slide show and a list of links to more information — can be found here.

Writing Fiction — Premise

buildingabetterargument

…writing a story without a premise is like rowing a boat without oars.
 ~ James N. Frey, from How to Write a Damn Good Novel

I’ll admit up front that I have problems defining premise. So I Googled it and found differing definitions. I’m still not certain of what a premise should be. I know when writing research papers you need a premise. You are trying to prove something and your paper is the argument to prove your premise. In writing stories, maybe the same holds true.

Several websites and references appear to define premise the same as a “log line” or “tag line.” Others are quite different. Frey, who started me down this path while I was rereading his book purchased almost thirty years ago, defines it as something that leads to something—as simple as love leads to happiness or crime leads to punishment. Or it could be crime leads to happiness if that’s what you want your story to say.

The tag line for my novel, The Janus Code, was, “What if the ultimate computer firewall turned out to be the ultimate computer snooper?” By some of the following definitions, this would be the premise. By others, including Frey’s, it would not. It would need to be something that leads to something—cause and effect. Maybe my story’s premise is, “Releasing the ultimate computer snooper leads to world-wide disaster.” I’m not sure.

I didn’t take the following references’ advice (hadn’t read them at the time). They all say you should have a premise before you begin writing your story. (I think one reference said many authors don’t consciously do that, but if it’s a good story, the premise is there.)

If you want the scoop on premise, read from some of the following links. There is a wealth of information, but the writers don’t always agree on the definition of premise.

  • Merriam-Webster:
    a : a proposition antecedently supposed or proved as a basis of argument or inference; specifically :  either of the first two propositions of a syllogism from which the conclusion is drawn
    b :  something assumed or taken for granted :  presupposition
  • The Scribes website makes premise sound like the blurb you put on the back cover of your book.
  • Writers’ Digest confused me with concept and premise. What they call concept, others call premise. At the end of this article, they compare Concept vs. Idea vs. Premise vs. Theme.
  • James N. Frey defines premise more closely to what Writers’ Digest calls concept or theme. You won’t find this on his website; you’ll need to read the book, How to Write a Damn Good Novel. He says, “The premise of a story is simply a statement of what happens to the characters as a result of the core conflict of the story.”
  • On the website Taking Notes, Jeanne Vincent talks about theme and premise. She gives many examples of theme but basically uses Frey’s definition of premise.
  • Hollywood Inkslinger, Andrew Oye, says,Premise and Theme Are Cousins Not Twins.” He says the premise is the subject of the story and the theme is the meaning from the story. He compares the premise to a “log line.” Even though he’s talking about screen writing, what he says applies to books as well.
  • The Writer’s Store talks about themes, but says true theme is premise. Melanie Ann Phillips says, “A premise is a moral statement about the value of our troubles caused by an element of human character.”
  • The Writer online magazine talks about premise in a way I think of as “tag line” or “log line.”
    “A story premise, along with its tool, the premise line, is a container that holds the essence of your story’s right, true and natural structure.”
  • Where’s the Drama, another screenwriting website, has two separate articles on the same webpage —the first is on Log Lines and the second on Premise. Their definition of premise: “A premise is something to be proved, something asserted as true…”

If you read some of these, you will see why I’m confused about the definition of PREMISE.

Writing Fiction — Creating Characters

Two things prompted me to write this post. Gulf Coast Writer’s Association (GCWA) is a large organization of writers based in Fort Myers, Florida, which offers speakers, workshops, critique groups, and lots of networking with other writers and people associated with writing. They have been my lifeline to writing since I moved to Florida. The July meeting featured a workshop on creating characters.

The second item that prompted me to write about characters is a book that I purchased and read nearly thirty years ago—How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey. I plucked this book off my shelf one recent night when I ran out of novels for my nightly bedtime reading. It’s as pertinent to fiction writing today as when I first read it. The first chapter is all about characters.

If I can’t get into the head and heart of the protagonist in a novel, I probably won’t finish the book. The story is even better if all the main characters (even the antagonist) are three dimensional. I want to understand where they are coming from. The same goes for writing. I need to get into the head of the character—become the character.

My first attempt at a novel (not published) was written from my point of view. I started by fictionalizing some past events in my life. But the character took over and told a completely different story with events that never happened to me and that I never imagined would. She became a different person than the author, with her own distinct personality.

The idea for my first published novel, The Janus Code, came from wanting to understand a man that I knew. He was a complex personality (bipolar) and I wanted to get inside his head. I started writing without any idea of the story, the plot, the premise, other characters… I let him write the story. Of course, he became a completely different person than the real person about whom I started writing.

With my second published book, Mangrove Madness, (I’d written a few in between) I started with an imaginary character not based upon any particular person. I did have a good sense of her personality. With this story I had a basic idea of a plot, but didn’t know the ending. Again, the character took over the writing and told the story. She decided the plot, the twists and turns, and the ending.

After Mangrove Madness, several people asked if I was writing a sequel. I decided to try, so first I wrote a biography of Ernie Pratt and character sketches of a few other players in the book. I found that I knew them quite well, even though they didn’t exist before I wrote the book.

I know that some writers create their characters in detail before they begin writing a story. Maybe it’s because of the way I write (in the zone) that allows my characters to create themselves. I’m not sure I understand it, but this is how it works for me.

The Trials of Editing

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could write something – an article, a story, a book – and publish it without any more work?

I don’t know any writers who can safely do that. I imagine there might be some who have grammar and structure so embedded in their brains that it comes naturally. But I don’t think we see our own mistakes. I catch things in others’ writing that I don’t in my own. I’m not exactly sure why. It may be that we are so involved in our own stories that we can’t see the trees for the forest.

I’m planning to publish another book this summer and I’m on my bazillionth edit. After editing it several times myself, I sent it to an agent and she went through it. I sent it to my sister-in-law who is a good editor, sent it chapter by chapter to my critique group where each person found different things to correct, went through it again and found more edits….

Now it’s with my very good editor, The Grammar Granny, and she is finding so much more. Yesterday, she sent me a note telling me to look for “just” in the manuscript and try to get rid of a few. I found 283 occurrences in the book and whittled it down to 66. A replacement wasn’t required for most of them; removing “just” didn’t change the meaning at all. And I wasn’t aware I was doing it. It’s “just” one of those words that “just” disappears in my mind as I read.

Besides using one word too often, another big problem in my writing is commas. I know all the rules but don’t think about them when I write. Going back and finding all the places I added them but shouldn’t, or should have and didn’t, is tedious and difficult. (Did I get them right in that last sentence?)

My last book, The Janus Code, was self-published. It had been edited several time by myself and others. Yet when the first books were printed there were errors. Typos!

I track all my changes in MS Word as I’m editing. After the last edit, I forgot to accept all changes before sending it to CreateSpace. Even though I wasn’t seeing them on my computer or my printed copy because I had it in the “final” view, all the changes showed up as the old AND new versions. If I replaced a word, you could see both the deleted word and the new word. Luckily, I only had 10 copies printed, but I sold some or gave others to friends before someone noticed. The proof was correct, so I never looked at those first copies until a fiend or two pointed out the problem to me.

My advice to all you authors and would-be authors out there: please have another pair of eyes, or several sets of eyes, look over your work before you publish. Read your proof and read your first copies after the proof. You’ll be happy that you did.

Back to my editing….

On Writing – Writer’s Block

Every writer probably has writer’s block at one time or another, unless they are very disciplined. Even when writing, sometimes we are suffering from writer’s block. We just keep writing words even though we know they are not going anywhere, or at least not where we intend them to go. For me there are several types of writer’s block.

Procrastination: I’ll do it tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…for days, weeks, or even months.
Possible solution: Schedule a time to write every day. At least write something.

Priorities: I need to do “this” first – task, project, work, play, or whatever. For me it’s usually my work. I’m self-employed and always feel guilty when I write for myself before finishing the work piling up for my clients. Which is more important – editing my current book for publication and working on the next one or finishing the website, cover, or book format for someone waiting for their finished product?
Possible solution: Schedule my writing as if I’m a client.

Complete writer’s block: I sit in front of the keyboard and can’t think of a thing to write.
Possible solution: Just write anything to get started. (This blog started as an exercise in writing something, even if it’s not the manuscript I should be working on.)

Writing goes nowhere: Maybe the plot isn’t going where I think it should or I don’t like the way the character is developing or a thousand other excuses. Whatever the reason or non-reason, what I write isn’t doing anything for me.
Possible solution: Stop! Outline the plot or write a backstory for the character. Go back to the beginning and read to see where it went wrong. Try to read it as if it was written by someone else. Organize.

My main “writer’s block” is setting my priorities. If I’m going to get any worthwhile writing into my busy schedule, I need to consider my own writing as important as my clients’ work. Let’s see if I can serialize my last published book for Kindle, finish editing and publish the next one, or complete the draft of the story that’s stuck in the middle.

I’d love to hear other writers’ opinions on this subject. Leave me a comment.

And wish me luck…