Recently, with the release of the Novel Writing Bootcamp videos from Inkitt and my book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, I am finally getting the opportunity to do more writing workshops. I did one at San Diego Comic Con this year on story and scene structure (video coming soon) and I am starting to get invites from schools as well. Nothing is definite yet but I wanted to at least mention it’s available.
Workshops can be structured to suit your needs from the timeframe of the workshop to the content as well as the age of participants. Generally, I would like sample writing from participants in advance so that I can offer some practical feedback that will be directly useful and make the workshop more immediately effective in producing results, and when possible I try and get participants an ebook or print copy of How To Write A Novel as well.
Pricing will vary. At the very least I would want travel and expenses covered, including a reasonable per diem for meals, but whether I charge an appearance fee and how much depend upon circumstances and length of engagement. Obviously the time needed to prepare materials and lessons as well as travel and teach the workshop itself take me away from other income producing opportunities and while I wish I could just do them free, I’m not so successful that I am financially independent, so that is not an option at the moment. At the same time, I am not looking to get rich on these either. My primary goal is help people realize the possibilities for real success in their creative endeavors and help them further along the ladder to achieve it.
So if you or anyone you know of might be interested, please reach out to me via my Facebook page or the Contact link here at the website and let’s talk.
To check out a teaser video of my teaching or see examples of my panels, you can go here or search the blog or YouTube and easily find several. I look forward to hearing from you!
Many of us are guilty of falling into the habit of using one or two senses and ignoring the rest. For most of us, sight is the dominant sense—the sense through which we first encounter and examine the world. So how things appear will dominate most narratives naturally, closely followed by sound. But we have five senses, and all have the power to bring useful imagery into your storytelling.
Good description employs all five senses—sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing—and employs at least one every two pages, sometimes more. A few well-placed details can totally embody a character or place and make them come alive for the reader. And nothing takes us deep inside the character’s mind and experience like sensory details. All good settings are rich with detail, so you should have plenty to choose from. From the appearance and smells of a restaurant or grocery store or market to the touch and sounds of the outdoors to the taste of food, there are numerous opportunities to add color and vividness to your prose using these kinds of details.
Here are some suggestions for aspects of each sense to consider:
Sight—Color is usually one of the first things that comes to mind, but studies actually show that spatial dimensions tend to be picked up first by the brain. How large is the area? How high is the ceiling? After dimension, the source of light tends to be noticed next. What is lighting the scene, and what is its source—artificial or natural? Is it bright or white or mixed hues? Then, color impressions form. The dominant color tends to take on significance. Next comes texture, like shadows or rough and smooth surfaces, etc. Finally, there’s contrast. Superimposition of colors and other aspects affects how much objects, people, and places draw our attention.
Sound—Sound can be described by the loudness or complexity—simple or multiple sources—tonality (soft or hard, harsh or gentle, etc.), and the location of its source and distance from the hearer. Also, is the sound unknown or familiar?
Smell—While smells can be often overlooked by both writers and in real life, smell can reveal a lot. Is the odor pleasant or unpleasant? What emotions does it evoke—fear like smoke from a fire, or is it the steady everyday scent of vehicles, animals, or insects in the environment that almost goes unnoticed because it is so common?
Touch—How do things feel—rough or smooth, hot or cold, sharp or dull, etc.?
Taste—Does the character notice sweet or bitter, salty or acidic, pleasant or unpleasant, etc.?
If you’re like me, these kinds of details may not come naturally. So, I recommend two key resources that have really helped me up my game on writing sensory content. The Emotion Thesaurus by Pugliosi and Ackerman and Setting by Jack W. Bingham. These two resources are so invaluable, I often keep them with me on trips and beside me as I write and refer to them often, because writing such visceral descriptions is not first nature to me, and it can be very easy to fall into personal clichés and patterns that repeat the same details and descriptions over and over, which quickly becomes repetitive and glaring to readers. The authors also discuss body language and internal sensations, which can be described to show, not tell, the emotions of characters, the atmosphere of rooms, etc. Additionally, author David Farland describes this as the Kentic, Audio, Visual Cycle and offers useful tips on his website at https://mystorydoctor.com/the-kav-cycle-part-1/.
Sensory experiences and emotions evidence themselves in three ways: internal sensations, external sensations, and body language, and all three are important ways to describe them and help readers experience them too. For example:
Butterflies danced in her stomach as she entered the audition, and she fought to control her face as she took in the other dancers. There were famous faces she’d seen in numerous Broadway shows and performances. What was she doing here? She swallowed and licked her lips, which had suddenly grown parched. Her arm was twitching. She had to make it stop, but it wasn’t listening to her internal commands, so she shoved it tight against her side in an attempt to control it.
I don’t have to tell you she is nervous and intimidated. The descriptions do the work. This is what you are aiming for. If you are unsure about a particular smell or taste or even sound, Googling can provide impressions others have had of familiar things that can be adapted for your prose. I also recommend practicing by going to a mall or price club or anywhere else and sitting down to take notes of all the things your senses notice as they occur to you. This will give you practice not only at writing visceral (i.e., instinctive and emotional) details but also in noting how they naturally affect you and might also affect your characters.
You’ve probably deduced by now that description is the art of picking the right details at the right time. Stories are about movement, so be wary of stories where your characters reflect and remember a lot. Instead, action and discovery go hand in hand. As your characters go and do things, they discover sensory cues that provoke memories, emotions, and reactions and inspire further action. People move through life on two levels simultaneously: physical and emotional. Physical movement follows plot and events that unfold A, B, and C, while emotional movement follows character. The physical tends to move with the emotional. So meshing plot and character is the key, and good description is key to your ability to do that well. As Monica Wood writes in Description: “A story’s pace is controlled by the physical and emotional goings-on in the story, and those goings-on are controlled by description.”
Another element where description is especially important is context. Establishing the scope of a story can be vital to making it work, giving characters a scope in which to love and hate each other, to conquer or fall to adversity, discover or lose themselves. Context uses metaphors and symbols to reinforce emerging themes and organize the movement of a story into beginning, middle, and end. Wood writes: “The breadth of the story should dictate the breadth of the context.” Contextual details, small or large, reveal character and can serve to contrast with the story itself, adding power. The order in which details are noted can tell us much about a character’s values and priorities as well as how they view themselves in relation to those around them. Are they rich or poor? Powerful or weak? Confident or insecure? These details can reveal so much about them.
So, how do you choose which details to use and when? Well, that depends upon what you need the readers to know to understand and connect with the story at any given moment. Let’s look at an example from John Connolly’s Charlie Parker book A Song of Shadows:
The woman stank of cats and cookies, of piss and mothballs, but Cambion, whose sensory abilities had long been ruined by his disease, and who had grown used to the reek of his own decay, barely noticed it.
How do you not remember that? Ask yourself what you most notice about particular people, places, and things. What do you remember? What stands out about them? What did you notice first? What sticks with you most when you have been away from them awhile and remember? These are the beginnings of finding the most definitive choices to use in describing them because they hint at what stands out when you encounter those people, places, and things. Let’s look at another example from Brazilian author Jorge Amado’s Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands:
Delicate, pale, with that pallor of romantic poets and gigolos, black hair slicked down with brilliantine and lots of perfume, a smile that was a combination of melancholy and allure, evoking a world of dreams, elegant in bearing and attire, with large, pleading eyes, the Prince would have to be described by very high-flown words: “marmoreal,” “wan,” “meditative,” “pulchritudinous,” “brow of alabaster and eyes of onyx.”
So much said with just a few words but very colorful, visceral, and intriguing because every word count. This is what good description is all about.
One of our most cherished values, codified in our U.S. Constitution under the Bill of Rights, is freedom of speech. It’s covered in the First Amendment, under the same clause that establishes Freedom of Religion, and reads as follows:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
But one of the things people often forget about freedoms is that having a right doesn’t preclude one from the obligation to exercise said right responsibly. And more and more as we see politicians saying outrageous and untruthful things and mass shootings, hate group marches, etc. we are reminded that freedom of speech can have heavy consequences.
During the tragic shootings in El Paso last week, the Mayor of El Paso said something that really irritated me. In a press conference, and later interviews, he claimed that only an outsider could have done “something like this.” No El Paso native would do such a thing. Well, I lived in El Paso, and during that time I dealt with my ex-wife’s mental health crisis, so I was around the mental health and legal system a lot. I saw a lot. And I can tell you: that’s a dangerous promise. It’s creating false expectations that the Mayor may come to regret. I hope not. I hope El Paso and no other place has to face this again, but realistically, there will be other mass shootings. Even if laws are changed. And to claim that locals are not capable of violence or even mental illness on that scale (most mass murderers who have survived long enough to be examined thoroughly have been determined by experts to have antisocial personality disorder in various forms—a mental illness as defined by the American Psychiatric Association and other qualified bodies) is irresponsible and unwise. Sure, it makes him and his public feel better but it also promises something that may not turn out to be true and can certainly never be guaranteed. I certainly found El Paso to be a welcoming place. It s the only city I ever lived in where I, as a while male, was a minority. And I loved it for that. But racism existed there just like anywhere else. From the guy who once complained to me about “the browns taking all the jobs” seconds before I introduced him to my Latina wife (now ex) to people I heard complaining about illegals around me at restaurants, malls, etc., the reality is that not everyone embraces that diversity and this is Texas, a state with some of the most lenient of firearm laws in the U.S. So those people also celebrate their ability to conceal carry or own arsenals while at the same time objecting to browns. It is a recipe for problems, if not disaster, and with politicians using fiery rhetoric to rile up people with such worries, the Mayor would be wise not to appear to guarantee something he simply can’t.
I say all this not to pick on El Paso or its Mayor. I love that city despite the personal crisis I endured there. But I give it as an example of the importance of responsible use of freedom of speech. As with the flaming political rhetoric regularly employed by our current president (quite irresponsibly in many cases) and other politicians (in particular a young freshman senator from New York comes to mind), these kinds of exercise of free speech can have heavy consequences. They can incite people to action and not all of those actions in response will be positive or appropriate. Some may even be deadly. I think it is always important to weigh what we say, how we say it, when we say it, where, and about whom with thought to such consequences.
Even worse was Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson claiming white supremacy in America is a “hoax.” Ridiculous. And we’ve seen plenty of evidence of it from KKK and Neo-Nazi rallies in the past few years to the Michigan cop under investigation for materials found last week in his home. It is an utterly irresponsible thing to say, especially for a journalist with an audience of millions. It seems Fox has rightly sent Carlson on vacation. They oughta make it permanent, but I rather doubt they will.
Let me give you another example. The Twitter mobs. If anyone knows consequences it is the Twitter mob instigators. They employ tactics designed specifically to take advantage of consequences. Call someone a bigot or homophone or etc. and you will evoke a reaction: angry criticism of the target at the very least and sometimes even bigger consequences. People have been fired, had book publications cancelled, etc. It is one of the easiest things in the world to throw out these accusations and be confident they will undermine the credibility of your target. The problem is: they don’t even have to be true and often are not. More often they are exaggerated exploitations of someone’s unclear wording or statements taken out of context. The Twitter mob accusers know this and they don’t care. A friend of mine once asked one such person who had attacked me if they really believed I was all the things they accused me of being. The response was telling: “Who cares. He’s not one of us so anything goes.” For those of us watching the destructiveness that results, this should be unacceptable. Irresponsible exercise of Freedom of Speech at its core. Reprehensible even. An action solely designed to discredit and silence an opponent so the accuser can gain credibility at their expense. Ironically, the accuser can be lying and misrepresenting, but who cares about that?
I think all of us should. Don’t you? You certainly would if you were ever the target as some of these very online bullies have found out when they found their own mobs later turning on them.
When politicians go down to visit sites and report exaggerated claims about the awful conditions or situations they observed to manipulate public opinion and forward their agenda, how is that serving the public? How is that doing their jobs well any more than Twitter mobs slandering good people into silence and harm? Neither one serves to make society better if you ask me. Because the exercise of Freedom of Speech carries with it inherently a moral obligation to use it responsibly. And there’s the rub. All too many don’t fulfill this moral obligation. Argue what you will about different people having different moral standards, etc. The reality is that while we live in a world of grays—one all too many of us wish was more black and white, especially the morally outraged Twitter mobster—there remains a black and whiteness to basic rights and wrongs. Misrepresenting the truth to manipulate others is wrong. So is misrepresenting someone’s words to make them look bad or get them punished. If you poll people—and many have—the majority of the public agrees with this. But until the public starts fighting back against these kinds of abuses of Freedom of Speech, nothing will change. And that means the consequences for all of us will continue: divisiveness, anger, uncertainty about facts and what is fake or real, etc. Until we demand responsible Freedom of Speech from others and practice it ourselves religiously (so to speak), the gray haze of the world in which we live that so often makes people frustrated and unsettled will continue to hang over us.
And that’s why Freedom of Speech is so important. Not just because it gives us th right to say what we want but because it carries with it the consequences of doing so and those consequences should be considered before one opens one mouth. Until they are, Freedom of Speech may be our most cherished principle and right, but it will also be one of our most abused and dangerous ones. (Not that I’d give it up in a million years.)
At least that’s how I see it. For what it’s worth…
• A-Available/Single? Yes. • B-Best Friend? My dog, Amelie, and her brother Louie. I can’t imagine happiness without their unconditional love and enthusiasm. • C-Cake or Pie? I’ll have to go with Elvis and say cake. • D-Drink Of Choice? Sparkling Ice Black Cherry (after giving up Coke Zero Cherry) • E-Essential Item You Use Everyday? My iPad. • F-Favorite Color? Blue. • G-Gummy Bears Or Worms? Bears. I like to cuddle as I eat. • H-Hometown? Salina, KS • I-Indulgence? Candy Corn or Red Licorice. • J-January Or February? February. It’s my birthday month so no contest. • K-Kids & Their Names? Louie, Amelie, Lacy (pets) • L-Life Is Incomplete Without? Laughter. • M-Marriage Date? I don’t honestly remember. It only lasted four years and I’ve been out of 10. • N-Number Of Siblings? 3 • O-Oranges Or Apples? Apple, if we’re talking pies or juice. Orange if we’re talking fluorescents. • P-Phobias/Fears? Small space, heights. • Q-Favorite Quote? “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” ― Marcus Aurelius , Meditations • R-Reason to Smile? My babies • S-Season? Spring • T-Tag Three or Four People? I don’t know four people. • U-Unknown Fact About Me? • V-Vegetable you don’t like? Squash and several others • W-Worst Habit? Sweating the small stuff • X-X-rays You’ve Had? Too many and too personal. • Y-Your Favorite Food? Piranha (Brazilian steak cut) • Z-Zodiac Sign? Aquarius
I lived in El Paso for a while and part of it a mile from the site of the mass shooting yesterday. As of this moment, I still have not heard the status of a number of old friends, but seeing the area I frequented, even walked to from home and where I walked my dogs, on the news in these terrible circumstances was quite emotional for me today. I am deeply concerned and my heart and thoughts go out to all those affected—which is two entire cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez—at this terrible time. And I pray that you will somehow find peace and hope on the other side of this nightmare. I also continue to believe we need a change in this country to curb gun violence and I hope after El Paso, Dayton, the Wine Festival, even a shooting here in K.C.’s Crossroads the other day, that it can finally be approached with the seriousness it deserves.
This is the panel I moderated on Friday of Comic Con 50 in San Diego with authors discussing how they write and envision the future in their works.
Panelists: Gini Koch – National bestselling Author, Alien series Timothy Zahn – Number 1 New York Times bestselling Author, Star Wars Thrawn, Quadrail series, Cobra series Steven L. Sears – Screenwriter/Author, Xena, The A-Team, Riptide Jonathan Maberry – New York Times bestselling Author, Joe Ledger series, Rot and Ruin series, VWars Javier Grillo-Marxuach – Screenwriter/Author/Comic Writer, Middleman, Lost,Blood & Treasure Seanan McGuire-New York Times bestselling author/Comic Writer, Newsflesh, October Daye, Spidergirl, The X-Men
So someone asked me what it’s like a while ago to attend a tv taping and I never got around to posting. Here’s what BIG BANG was like.
You show up early, even noon for a 6 p.m. call to get in if you are General admission. I was VIP so I had to be there by 6:30 to keep my seat. I got there just in time due to unforeseen difficulties I won’t go into. Some shows bus you, because I was late, a security guy drove me in a golf cart, everyone else walked in escorted by ushers/security so they walked across the lot past sound stages for other shows and movies including The Conners, Mom, and Ellen. Once you got to the stage, they had metal detectors and collected cell phones and ID to identify them, putting them in zip lock bags. That was new. They didn’t used to do that but cells are much more common now. The seating is just like they showed on the making of special tonight. Bleachers raised and up stairs facing the sets with the most common apartment sets right in front of you and the rest stretching to each side.
A comedian starts warming you up around 7 and they start filming around 7:15 or 7:30. You play various games and trivia as you wait and sometimes they have you watch pretaped footage on monitors and record your laughter or just play it to bring you up to speed. In our case, they played a previous episode of the show they wanted to get better laugh track for. They had also pretaped a lot of scenes with the big name guest stars: William Shatner, Joe Magianella, Kareem Abdul Jabber, Wil Wheaton, and Kevin Smith.
So they announce the scenes and there is a loud alarm to let people know to be quiet, that tape is rolling, and then the actors play out the scene. They run it at least twice, sometimes more, and if the actors mess up, they may repeat various bits of it until they are satisfied. All the while, the warmup guy is encouraging you to act like you’ve never seen it and laugh accordingly.
They move from set to set with cameras on wheels, makeup and sound carts, etc. and a large number of crew from lighting and props people to writers, producers, sound people, cameraman, assistant directors, even hair and costume, and the director leading it all. They also have script people following continuity and taking notes or reading lines as needed for actors.
You go through each scene in order, pretaped ones being played at the appropriate time, so you can follow the storyline. The entire process can take from 3 to 6 hours or even longer. I was at one taping that ran 7 or 8 hours once. this was 3.5, mostly due to all the pretaped segments, which were over half the show. It was the D&D episode.
Somewhere in the middle, at this one, they fed us each a slice of pizza and gave us a small bottle of water. If you need a bathroom break, you just have to sneak out when they are between setups and an usher will take you.
That’s pretty much it. It can be long, the seats can be uncomfortable, and it can be cramped. But it is basically live theatre with a lot of cameras, lights, mics and stuff partially blocking your view and the sets are a bit more distant than a stage and spread out so they are sometimes off to the side and you have to watch the monitor to follow the action. In this case, they actually rolled screens in front of the set not being used at the time. Never been to a taping where they did that before and I found it kind of annoying as it helped further block our view, but that’s what they did.
Also, Kaley and Johnny came up and chatted with us briefly at one point as well.
So that’s what it’s like to go. Now, if you are guest of crew, which I was not this time but have been in the past, you get to go mingle with cast and crew on the set after the taping, but I didn’t do that here. I did it for CHEERS and CHARLES IN CHARGE and SEINFELD back in the day though.
When I started this blog, my goal was to help and entertain people with interesting experiences and posts based on my experience and knowledge. I also made a commitment to post twice weekly, and soon my blog was getting several thousands hits a month, at its height reaching into the 10s of thousands. Then I ran into some trouble and burned out, so I took a break. But I have missed it and missed my subscribers and the interaction. So I decided the time was ripe to give it another try. But before I do, there’s something I need to address.
I have zero tolerance for anyone who reads a post, asks the poster for clarification of meaning, then, upon receiving it, refuses to accept it. That is tantamount to calling someone a liar. And frankly, unless you can read minds, you are not in a position to deny the veracity of their explanation. I have even less than zero tolerance for people who never ask the author to clarify, choosing instead to read things into stories and then hold authors accountable for them when the authors insist that interpretation or meaning was never intended. It is the source of a lot of online bullying and attacks against authors and creators, and it is ridiculous.
One of the amazing things about art is how it can touch individuals differently. You put a piece out there and it takes on a life of its own drawing out meanings and emotions you never expected from people. But those reactions are based on their personal experiences, their culture, their references, etc. so blaming an author for them is ridiculous. The assumption that the author is some sort of bigot or -phobe or -ist of some sort is arrogant and self-serving and more about the reader and his or her inclination to take easy offense and be overly sensitive than it ever is about the authors being blamed or attacked. This makes it very difficult for some authors and leads to slander and ongoing acrimony that can last years. Having been through this two or three times, I speak from experience.
I wish people would accept and realize that what they bring to art has as much to do with how they experience it as any subliminal thing they might suppose the author brought, and nine times out of ten, is way more responsible than author intent for their own reactions. And the others who then jump on the bandwagon at that author’s expense to elevate themselves and act like high moral authorities are even worse. Generally, all of them together are people who have never done anything but talk about what they believe. Rarely have they put it into genuine, meaningful action.
For example, I so believed in the cause of bringing arts education opportunities to the disadvantaged that I founded a nonprofit and lead teams of artists overseas for eight years to the developing world to teach workshops. It required me to take weeks at a time off from work and to raise thousands of dollars in funding. The reward was not monetary but spiritual: I learned as much from them as they did from me and made some friendships to last a lifetime. But I also stayed in cinderblock homes with no heat in winter the hottest of heat with no air conditioning, I suffered diarrhea and other consequences from unusual dietary changes and other circumstances, even dealt with lack of proper sanitary facilities. And I did it without complaint because I knew I was making a difference. To this day, I have students who have gone on to great success in the arts in Mexico, Ghana, and Brazil and do me proud, and I maintain lifelong friendships with dozens of them. Most of the online trolls perpetrating these attacks wouldn’t dream of such sacrifices nor have the willpower to found a nonprofit and actually make it happen, and it’s too bad, because if they did they’d learn there are a lot of people in the world they claim to support who don’t see the world the way they do about things either. Many of my students who are Facebook friends are aghast when They see me treated as I have been and accused of various biases that seem the opposite of their experience of me. That’s because they know the real me, not the manufactured one of my accusers.
So I am putting it out there clearly for all to see: if you have questions about the meaning of something I post, the onus is on you to click the contact link and ask me for clarification. If you can’t be bothered, neither will I. I won’t take responsibility for explaining myself, and I won’t entertain or interact with those who try and twist my words to use them against me because they perceive me to be “not one of them.” I just have better things to do with my time. I enjoy and value relationships with people of all backgrounds, cultures, races, religions or lack thereof, etc. and I appreciate the perspective it provides. This blog will continue to celebrate that. I am moderating comments but I will only disallow trolling. Everything else is fair game. No one has to agree with me or others it it must be done respectfully. Anyone who tries to engage in oneupmanship, insults, or trolling of any kind—including that described earlier in this post—will have their comments deleted and ignored.
My blog. My rules.
And I hope that helps make this a place people enjoy coming to. Not a place they and I dread. Because I’m still all about extending it forward and helping people so we can succeed and grow together, not wasting my time with those who want to cut people down or tear them apart.
The scene is the basic building block of dramatic structure for any story. If written correctly, each scene leads to another scene and another. According to Jack M. Bickham, in his book Scene & Structure, all well-written scenes use the following pattern:
Statement of goal
Introduction and development of conflict
Failure of character to reach his goal or a tactical complication/disaster which creates a new goal
Notice how these parallels the three-act dramatic structure of the entire story. It is not an accident. Scenes have three acts just as the entire story will. Scenes are not static. At their heart lies conflict. One character or group has a goal and others have other goals, and these meets and create obstacles to be overcome. Hence, conflict. Most scenes start with the point-of-view (POV) character walking into a place with a clear goal in mind. (As discussed in Chapter 4 the point-of-view character is the character from whose vantage point a particular scene is told.) Success of the scene dramatically depends upon your ability to interpose obstacles between your hero/heroine and the obtainment of this goal. Sometimes the goal carries over from the previous scene. Sometimes it is the overall goal in the story. Other times, it is a sub-goal required as part of the many steps to reaching the overall story goal. In any case, usually the goal is stated early on either through internal monologue or dialogue of the character.
For example, Luke Skywalker enters the workshop and cleans the droids per Uncle Owen’s instructions (goal). In the process, he finds something jammed in a slot on R2-D2 and tries to free it, unleashing the video of Leia pleading for help. When the message is unclear, he asks R2 to play the whole message and R2 refuses by first pretending not to know what he is referring to, then saying that the restraining bolt is preventing it in order to get the bolt taken off (obstacles). The disaster comes as R2-D2 escapes, forcing Luke to chase him down.
To work well and increase dramatic tension, all scenes must end badly. Whatever the goal going in, whatever the action taken, the result must be a failure of some sort. It can be an actual failure, a twisty complication, or additional unexpected tasks, but it constitutes a delay to success regardless.
But there is another key element at play as well. When the character’s goal is stated, the reader asks a question.
Goal: To get the golden key to the temple where I can retrieve the sacred scroll.
Reader Question: Will (character) get the key?
Whatever the question, the resolution (or answer) must be a negative. Sometimes a character does the get the key, but other objects are required to find the temple or open the door, and the character must go seek them before getting the scroll. The answer to the question, the disaster, the end of the well-written scene, always creates further complication on the character’s journey through that story.
There are several key points to keep in mind when determining goal, conflict, and resolution:
1. The goal of each scene must clearly relate to the larger story question; the question evoked in readers by the stated goal of the character for the major story arc.
2. The conflict must be about the goal.
3. The conflict must be external, not within one’s self. Either with an object, animal, or person or more than one.
4. Point of view should be maintained from goal to resolution in the same scene. It is best not to break it up into different points of view to avoid confusion and loss of tension.
5. Disaster always works by pushing the character away from his or her goal.
6. Readers will tolerate much if you keep making things worse and worse in every scene. This is how you build tension and suspense and create a compelling read.
7. Since the end of each scene dictates what will happen after, scenes cannot be written in isolation from the overall arc, goals, conflict, etc. of the story itself if they are to work well.
Plots are made up of a series of interconnected scenes that create a larger story. Since a plot is the storyline arc of the overall book, and the book is a story that is like an argument with a premise, a plot consists of a series of questions asked and answered. What you ask when, and how soon you answer it, affects the tension and pacing of the overall story. Some questions get asked and answered in the same scene or chapter. Some carry over multiple scenes and chapters. Some may carry over to another book. Some carry from chapter 1 to the final chapter. The questions have various levels of stakes to them. More intense, important questions tend to take longer to answer. One great way to figure out if your story makes sense and has good pacing is to go through and identify all the questions asked and answered and when and where they are asked and answered. If you are missing any answers or questions, you have a problem that needs fixing.
Since some stories have several plots—usually an overarching main plot and subplots—and not all scenes relate to each plot, but all relate to the main arc in some way or affect it. All plots and subplots have three acts just like the overall story, so sometimes identifying which plot and subplot(s) relate to each scene is key to making them work and determining in what order the scenes need to occur to best tell the story. To be clear, a subplot is a lesser plot that is less important than the main driving plot and sometimes focuses around a specific character, location, or aspect of that larger plot and points readers back to it.
It is also important to know which characters are in a scene. Too many characters can make a scene confusing. And too few can make it ineffective. Most importantly, the person with the most to lose is usually the best POV character for that particular scene, so keep in mind whether you have multiple POV characters or not. That will determine your character use in each scene. Remember also that individual characters can have conflicting goals, and that can further complicate scenes by creating competing tensions or conflicts that add layers and depth to the scene and further obstacles to the resolution as well.
In Medias Res
The last point I’ll make is the number one rule of good dramatic writing I learned in film school: Get into a scene as late as possible in its action, and end the scene as soon as you can after that. The literary term for entering a scene when the action has already begun is in medias res.
Scenes are more dramatic when they start within tense moments of action or conflict, so skip all the slow buildup and setup like greetings and small talk, how the characters got there, etc. which would slow things down, and instead get right into it. Telephone scenes, scenes sitting around a table, on couches, or in a car, etc. have a casual, slow feel that does not lend itself well to drama, so these use sparingly. The pacing and power of your story will go up in spades, and your readers will thank you for it.
Here’s another example, one of my favorites: the opening scene from the film Lethal Weapon 2.
The film opens with Riggs yelling and pounding his palms on a dashboard as horns honk and traffic roars. Then he and Murtaugh are arguing about speed and strategy. They are in a car chase. We don’t yet know who they are chasing or why, but we are immediately thrust into the center of tense, fast-paced action, and the details will come. We soon learn there are two car chases with two teams of cops, and as they fight traffic and near misses with other vehicles and race to keep up with the fleeing criminals—Murtaugh driving his wife’s station wagon, which hardly seems up to the task—the bad guys start shooting and taking more and more chances. The goal is to catch the bad guys. The conflict comes from disagreements between cops and from all the obstacles.
When the bad guys ditch them in airport traffic, Riggs jumps out and continues the chase on foot until Murtaugh untangles the station wagon and catches up. Riggs then insists on driving, and he pushes the car even more to its limits, practically destroying it in the process. So now they are fighting each other as well (more conflict). Then the other chase ends at an intersection, where cars collide and a helicopter comes in to rescue the bad guys with automatic gunfire leading to a shootout with cops (Failure 1). Riggs and Murtaugh, meanwhile, continue their chase until their baddie flips his car over a black-and-white cop car that blocks its path and crashes into a building. By the time Riggs and Murtaugh get to the car, the bad guy is gone (Failure 2), but they find Krugerrands, the currency of South Africa, and so their quest begins.
This is a great example of getting in as late as possible and out as soon as possible (in medias res) while still including all three core building blocks of a great scene.
To download a free copy of How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, click here.
I just had the opportunity to watch the movie GREEN BOOK for the third time as I shared it with my parents (their first), and what continues to resonate with me is how much this film speaks into the divisiveness of modern American culture. We live in an age where people all too often regard people who disagree with them as enemies rather than friends, as people to avoid rather than to friend, as evil rather than ill-informed even, and the result has been a lot of hostility and anger with accusations of bullying from cyber attacks, accusations of this-phobia, that -ism and so on such that people feel they can’t exercise their right to free speech or even to be themselves freely anymore. And it’s a sad state of affairs.
GREEN BOOK is about the relationship between two men who come to discover how much they have in common and how the expectations and biases they imposed on each other at the start of the relationship are barriers that hindered, not helped their interactions. Tony Lip is a blue collar Italian-American bouncer who struggles to get by and feed his wife and kids, just survive in a dog eats dog world. As an Italian and lower class, less educated man, he is often looked down on by other whites, especially those of means. And he has learned to do what it takes to stand up for himself and get by. Doctor Don Shirley is an African American pianist who lives an elite life surrounded by the wealthy. His apartment is above Carnegie Hall, for example, and he finds himself distanced from his own people because he can’t relate to their daily lives and they can’t relate to his.
When Shirley decides to launch a tour of the Deep South, his record company puts out a call for a driver, and Lip—having been temporarily laid off when his club shut down for remodeling—responds. He’s rough, curses a lot, and even looks down on blacks similarly to how other whites look down on him. But he needs the work and Shirley needs a protector, so they wind up together. Of course, they clash. Ironically, Lip can’t understand Shirley’s lack of affinity for popular music and food often enjoyed by other African Americans, while Shirley tries to help Lip modify his own attitude and presentation to fit in better with the white upper crust they will encounter on their trip. Both resist, but through dialogue and continued determination, each starts to see wisdom and logic in how the other thinks. But only because they push through the discomfort and listen to each other.
By the end of the film, Shirley stands up for himself much as Lip has done for him, and he even learns to enjoy the popular music and food common to African American culture. Lip changes his attitude toward people of color and also begins learning how to communicate in more sophisticated, thoughtful, and polite ways as well as confront conflict with words not violence. The result is they forge a genuine friendship and respect for each other, despite their differences and each change a bit to be better men. Now, this movie is based on a real story, which makes it that much more moving to me because the possibility exists for all of us. All of us can come together with people who don’t see the world the way we do and don’t agree with us on important topics and, by listening and actually hearing and being open to what each other are saying, come to deeper understandings about the world and ourselves that can change us for the better. It’s a message of hope for those of us struggling in modern society, and much needed reminder, if you ask me, of times when disagreement was not automatic enmity and could be respected instead of scorned.
GREEN BOOK is nuances and subtle in its message, however. It does not slam you in the face with it. None of this is stated overtly. Instead it flows out of the story naturally and subtly over its course and the results are quite moving and powerful. In fact, each time I see it, I find something to think about that I’d missed the prior viewings. And to me, at least, that is the sign of a great film. We need more films that speak to this because our society is becoming more divided, not less, more hostile, not less, and more angry and resentful, not less. We compromise less than ever and so do lawmakers, with the result that we all pay a heavy price not just mentally but financially and physically as laws and decisions sorely needed fall by the wayside and nothing changes.
I have had several friendships similar to that of Tony Lip and Don Shirley, and they are among my most cherished relationships because those people are friends I can count on to hold me accountable and make me think through and question myself when I need it most. It’s so easy to shut one’s self off in a box and avoid conflict—surrounding one’s self instead with like minded friendlies—but the danger of that is when you are operating on half information and assumption, you may never correct your course and may carry on with false understandings that can do real harm. Instead, the Tony Lips to my Don Shirley are the very antidote needed to make sure this doesn’t happen to me, and I hope I am the same to them, because I think these kinds of relationships leave us better people for the results. And I don’t know about you but one of my goals in life is to constantly strive to be a better me.
National bestselling author and Hugo-nominated editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt has sold film rights to his hard science fiction thriller novel SHORTCUT to Roserock Films. Based on a story and characters by Hunt Lowry and Bryan Thomas Schmidt, SHORTCUT is the story of a math genius whose formula for speeding up space travel between planets in our solar system leads to the abduction of a loved one. Racing against time, he must not only perfect his formula but locate and launch a rescue to get her back and simultaneously convince NASA and the powers that be to support it.
Schmidt is the author of The Saga of Davi Rhii Trilogy, the John Simon thrillers, and official tie-ins in franchises including Fox’s Predator and The X-Files amongst others. He’s edited 13 anthologies and hundreds of novels, including being first editor on Andy Weir’s International phenomenon The Martian. His past credits also include television programs for NBC, A&E, and The History Channel.
Roserock Films partners Hunt Lowry and Patty Reed are attached to produce and will be developing the project. Lowry’s credits include A Time To Kill, A Walk To Remember, Donnie Darko, White Oleander, Striking Distance, and Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, amongst others. With Reed he’s produced Grind, Pure Country Pure Heart and they are in development on The Testament from John Grisham’s novel, amongst others.
Schmidt is currently shopping the novel to publishers. His screenplays The Art Teacher and Out Of Nowhere are also making the rounds. For information on Schmidt, contact Jay-Bry Productions at 818-275-4311 or make contact via his website www.bryanthomasschmidt.net.
Titan released the cover of my next anthology, releasing November 5th I hardcover, at the Barnes and Noble blog today. The follow up to my bestselling Infinite Stars, this is another collection of the best space opera and military science fiction, a big, thick book titled Infinite Stars: Dark Frontiers.
Again, it features 27 stories, 15 of them brand new, including authors writing in some of their most famous and bestselling universes alongside some of the genres most award-winning and classic tales. A complete list of contributors follows. Names marked with an asterisk have contributed new stories exclusive to this anthology.
George R.R. Martin
*Susan R. Matthews
*Orson Scott Card
E.E. “Doc” Smith
*Curtis C. Chen
*Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
*Larry Niven and Steven Barnes
Alan Dean Foster
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
*Kevin J. Anderson
Arthur C. Clarke
This series is designed to be a must have for space opera and military science fiction fans or anyone looking for a good survey of the sub genres as well as libraries and educators wishing to teach on the topic. I was able to get a few stories I hadn’t managed for the prior volume, including the only known short piece from E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensmen series. Considering he is regarded as the grandfather of the space opera sub genre, I am immensely pleased to finally include him. There’s another new Ender tale from Card, as well as a new Wayfarers from Becky Chambers, the newest star to space opera, alongside a number of other key writers (and franchises) not previously represented.
As you can see, Julia Lloyd’s cover is quite stunning as well.
The novel Shortcut is finished in first draft and we are negotiating the film rights contract now. This could take a while I am told by knowledgeable industry friends. In the meantime, I will be working on a new screenplay from an old idea called The Art Teacher so I will fill you all in when I can. Meanwhile, have a Happy 2019. I hope 2018 was a good one for you all!
I am currently launching a new novel in association with Hunt Lowry, a film producer who produced A Time To Kill, Donnie Darko, and is currently developing Grisham’s next movie adaptation, The Testament. It will be all consuming so I will likely not have much head space for the blog for a few months. But stay tuned. Will post some updates from time to time on my Facebook and Twitter.
Some of you know that in late 2017 and early 2o18, in association with Inkitt, a new young publisher that is still finding its way, I wrote and hosted a series of novel writing videos which were short versions of material I later wrote in How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, my first nonfiction book which was published by Inkitt this Fall. Well, the videos—there are 10 of them—are now live and you can watch them for free. They are slickly produced and I am proud of them. They also tease material I develop more fully in How To Write A Novel, so you can check that out too here.
One of the biggest struggles of modern life for maintaining mental wellness is escaping toxic people. We’ve all seen them: people who choose to elevate themselves by cutting others down. These types are particularly prominent on social media. Some of them even post as part of this campaign. Their sympathy for themselves never extends to others. Instead, they choose to target others for various reasons: mostly because someone disagrees with them or represents some group they object to. Their comments and attacks can be cruel and are mostly unwarranted and rarely based on truth. It can be very hard to ignore these people, and impossible to avoid them. But what you can control is engagement.
When I first encountered them, I thought I had to defend myself. But over time I’ve come to realize that defense is unnecessary. For one thing, mounting any defense lends credence to their slander. If you ignore it, it will go away faster and your silence tends to discredit it in most people’s eyes. Defending yourself, on the other hand, not only risks further slanderous attacks and expends negative energy that can be stressful but it gives ammo to these people to say what they said was true or why else would you bother defending yourself?
Toxic People are really cowards. They are insecure and wounded and feel they can appear strong by putting themselves above others. Borrowing from an old sermon, these people are like rotting meat looking for a place to stink. There’s something rotten inside and they just can’t wait to find a place to let it stink. But just because you can smell it, doesn’t mean you have to savor the smell. And you certainly don’t have to stink yourself. Whether motivated by hatred, jealousy, or some other combination thereof, Toxic People are a road hazard of modern life. But they are also speed bumps as opposed to barriers. If you let their words pass unchallenged and just continue focusing on putting out positive energy and contributions into the world, they will fade away. Yes, a few may believe what they say and continue attempting to perpetuate it, but these people ultimately appear small for attacking someone who rises above the fray and contributes positively to the community. The toxic person has nothing to offer but poison and negativity, but you are offering goodness and opportunities to learn or experience joy. In the end, people value the latter far more, and your time, stress level, and positive outlook will benefit greatly by ignoring the Toxic People and doing your thing.
If you’re like me and worked hard to get where you are, and did so by trying to help people and create opportunities alongside you, then you especially shouldn’t waste time giving them the satisfaction of responding. People can say what they want, but you can choose to not let it define you. Words are words, but actions are truth. After all, we’ve all been victims of bullies or gossipers from very early ages typically, and most of those people fade away with time and disappear into the nothingness from which they came. So too will the toxic people if you don’t empower them with engagement. Let them ramble. Let them poison. Be the antidote by being positive and a source of light. No one can extinguish your light if you hold onto it and nurture and cherish it, after all. And I’d rather be light in the world than dark any day, wouldn’t you?
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is a Hugo-nominated bestselling author and editor of 13 anthologies and hundreds of novels including The Martian by Andy Weir and books by Alan Dean Foster, Tracy Hickman, Angie Fox, and more. His anthologies have been published by St. Martin’s Press, Baen Books, Titan Books and IDW and include official entries in The X-Files and Predator as well as Decipher’s Wars. His original anthologies include Infinite Stars, Galactic Games, and Mission: Tomorrow amongst others. His short stories and novels include Simon Says and The Saga of Davi Rhii trilogy.
I was first diagnosed in 3rd grade at the world-renowned Meninger’s Clinic in Topeka, Kansas: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. For my physician and nurse parents, this was a huge relief. Finally an answer to their son’s odd and frustrating behavior. For me, it was the day I found out I would never be normal.
There’s nothing like slapping a label “disorder” on someone to make them feel like a freak. And for years it was “did you take your meds?” or “go chill out, you’re hyper” and other dismissive remarks whenever they found me annoying, odd, or difficult. It was never about celebrating and appreciating how these things made me unique–how the intense focus and energy bursts could result in huge bouts of productive creativity. How the racing mind could sort through so many more scenarios and options at a faster rate than anyone around me and keep juggling them all there even while discussing or writing–giving me a lot of info to utilize. It wasn’t about how I could get more done in a focused bout of 45 minutes than most people could do in 2 hours. It was always about the “disability.” No discussion of benefits. (My parents are not altogether bad or unsupportive people, by the way, I am talking about one particular circumstance only).
As a result, it took me a while to identify these traits as having positive benefits. And to adjust my life to live in ways that utilized them and made the most of them, rather than just trying to medicate them away and hide my abnormality. That’s a terrible burden to live with, by the way. A terrible burden to put on a child.
Now don’t get me wrong. ADHD is a real thing and I always cringe at parents who both over diagnose with it or ignore it because they think it’s overdiagnosed. Let the experts really tell you. Get a second or third opinion if you must. For your child, knowing and helping them learn to cope is really important. I just wish my parents had handled that differently. It wasn’t until I got to be an adult that I discovered adjusting my working habits and lifestyle, diet, etc. would all be things I could use to make the most of my “unique gifts” and live more productively and get along better with others. Before that, I had “disorder” on the brain. It was a curse, some horrible burden God put on me for some unknown reason–why did he hate me?–not something I could overcome and use.
It wasn’t until my early thirties that I really grasped the concept that no one is normal. Everyone has quirks and issues. The so-called “normal” people love to talk about and bandy about like a standard is really a matter of point of view, perspective. There is no catch-all, set absolutely, scientifically determined state that constitutes “normal.”
What really brought it home to me was events that started in 2009, when my beloved wife, a Brazilian (who doesn’t like me to use her name about this so I am not) began acting very strangely in ways that were dangerous. When her flight to St. Louis got layed over in Chicago for a long delay, she called me in the middle of the night from downtown Chicago where she was wandering around pulling her suitcase just to “sightsee” alone. Yep. We knew no one in Chicago. She’d never been before. And she just went downtown to see the city alone, at night. With a suitcase. To say I was panicked is an understatement. I woke up a lot of people that night seeking help. And I didn’t hear from her again for several hours, making it worse.
A few months later, she started being up at odd hours, running around hectically, cleaning obsessively, etc. all night. And then one day, while I went to Mexico to teach free music classes, I sent her off to the bus to attend a seminar for her new hospitality job at a hotel. Once I crossed the border, the phone went off so I could avoid the expensive “international roaming” cellular phones on the U.S.-Mexico Border struggle with at great expense for their owners. That night, I arrived home to multiple messages on both my voicemail and answering machine of an increasingly aggitated, worried, and then angry wife berating me for not calling her back and coming to get her.
Despite searching, calling her cell and friends, etc., I did not see her again for over 6 hours, until the El Paso PD brought her to my door at 5 a.m. It turns out she’d never made it to the bus and had wandered the city on foot, eventually discarding her shoes–which fell apart–her jewelry, ID (including key immigration documents like green card), and more and was found wandering on Interstate 10, dodging semis (she was actually struck on the shoulder by a semi’s mirror and stayed standing with only a scratch), babbling about trying to get home. The Police thought she was suicidal. The gibberish she was speaking scared the hell out of me.
By 2011, we were divorced and she had gone back to Brazil, but this was after 5 forced hospitalizations, dozens more incidents, my losing my day job and so much more that really made our life chaotic and turned it upside down. I lost the love of my life. I lost my partner, lover, and best friend. I lost a really well-paying job I enjoyed, a house we wanted to buy, and many friends who were alienated along the way not understanding the drama or the situation. I wound up on dozens of meds for heart rate, blood pressure, depression, and so much more. The doctors thought I’d have a heart attack at 45. For two years, the meds seemed to be doing nothing to help. A month after we divorced and my ex went home to Brazil with family, my levels went back to normal and the meds were no longer needed.
THAT, my friends, is stress.
Why do I tell you this? I tell you this because my ex’s biggest struggle with her illness was her frustration, fear, and pain of being told she was not “normal” anymore. That really destroyed her self-esteem. She didn’t want meds, she wanted a miracle. She wanted to be the normal person she’d been before, not some mentally ill person. What I had realized with my Ritalin was that sometimes the medicine IS the miracle, but that was a concept she was not ready to accept. Her self-identity was too threatened, her sense of esteem too violated. So she didn’t medicate consistently, she blamed and lashed out at those around her, and various side effects occurred that made things worse, not better.
Now as I watch another family member going through that 6 years later, my heart breaks for them daily. I want to reach out, hug them, impart all this wisdom, and tell them: “It is okay to be you. Normal is relative. You are awesome as you are.” To take away the fear, pain, paranoia, and more so they can just face up to their new reality, take the meds, and live a relatively similar life to what they did before. But they are not ready yet, just as my ex was. Then, as I said, it took me years to accept that I had my own “normal,” and I was fortunately diagnosed as a kid. These two people (my ex and relative) are adults. How much harder must it be for them to adjust to that idea?
So here’s the thing. No one is mainstream. No one is straight normal. No one. We are all unique. If you believe in God, He made us that way. Or perhaps you’d prefer to think of the amazing science of genetics and DNA. Either way, there is a reason DNA can identify people. We are all unique. And for the love of God, there is nothing wrong with being unique. There is nothing wrong with not being “normal.” Be yourself. THAT was the lesson I needed to learn, and the lesson all “mentally ill,” “disabled,” and family members of those afflicted must learn to accept. “Normal” for you is different than anyone else. And that is okay. It is not a disaster. It is nothing to be ashamed of. It is something to figure out and adjust for and live happily and well with. And anyone can do it. You just have to believe, accept, and put in the work.
I’m not saying I don’t still struggle. I am not saying ADHD does not still affect my life and relationships. It does. I still can’t always read others’ reactions to me well in social situations. My overabundant, hyper energy can still be offputting. It has made it hard to keep steady day jobs. But that is my “normal,” and I have adjusted by becoming freelance, by becoming more blunt and open about who I am in relationships, and by continuing to take whatever meds and dietary things help and adjusting my working style, etc. accordingly.
What is normal? It is that label that is the “disorder” or “disability” if you allow it to be one. But it is one you can overcome if you have the patience and determination to try, to do it. It takes time, yes. It is hard, yes. But it is accomplishable. It is possible. And realizing and accepting your unique you is a better way to live than under a label of “abnormal” or “disorder” will ever be. Trust me. I’ve learned the hard way and it took me almost 37 years. Hopefully, this post might help a few people get there faster and avoid a lot of heartache. That’s what I hope for, at least.
For what it’s worth…
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and Hugo-nominated editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online and include entries in The X-Files, Predator, and Decipher’s WARS, amongst others. As book editor for Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta’s WordFire Press he edited books by such luminaries as Alan Dean Foster, Tracy Hickman, Frank Herbert, Mike Resnick, Jean Rabe and more. He was also the first editor on Andy Weir’s bestseller The Martian. His anthologies as editor include Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek, Mission: Tomorrow, Galactic Games and Little Green Men–Attack! (forthcoming) all for Baen, Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6, Beyond The Sun and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age. He also coedited forthcoming anthologies with Larry Correia and Jonathan Maberry set in their New York Times Bestselling Monster Hunter International and Joe Ledger universes.
With pleasure, we announce the final table of contents for the first anthology of stories written by others set in the New York Times bestselling Joe Ledger universe created by Jonathan Maberry. This will be released from St. Martin’s Press in 2017 (cover and details pending).
JOE LEDGER: UNSTOPPABLE
Edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt & Jonathan Maberry
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Foreword by Tony Eldridge
Introduction by Jonathan Maberry
The Honey Pot by Steve Alten
Confusion by Nicholas Steven
Target Acquired by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon
Vacation by Scott Sigler
Banshee by James A. Moore
Red Dirt by Mira Grant
Black Water by Weston Ochse
Instinct by Bryan Thomas Schmidt and G.P. Charles
No Guns at the Bar by Aaron Rosenberg
Strange Harvest by Jon McGoran
No Business at All by Javier Grillo-Marxuach
Ganbatte by Keith R.A. DeCandido
White Flame on Sunday by James Ray Tuck
Wet Tuesday by David Farland
Prince of Peace by Jeremy Robinson
Rookie by Joe McKinney
Three Times by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks
Psych Eval by Larry Correia
Crash Course by Dana Fredsti
Atoll by Jonathan Maberry
In addition to the numerous New York Times bestsellers writing stories here, we have crossovers with Sigler’s Nocturnal, Tuck’s Deacon Chalk, McGoran’s Doyle Carrick, Robinson’s Chess Team and Fredsti’s Plague World novels. The anthology has a foreword by Ton Eldridge, the Hollywood producer developing Ledger for film and by Grillo-Marxuach (Lost, Charmed, Middleman) who wrote a previ0us Ledger pilot film.
With pleasure, I announce the final table of contents for the first anthology of works by other authors set in Larry Correia’s New York Times bestselling Monster Hunter International universe. This will release from Baen Books sometime next year (cover and details pending).
THE MONSTER HUNTER FILES
Edited by Larry Correia & Bryan Thomas Schmidt
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION by Albert Lee, MHI Archivist
“Thistle” by Larry Correia
“Small Problems” by Jim Butcher
“Darkness Under The Mountain” by Mike Kupari
“A Knight Of The Enchanted Forest” by Jessica Day George
“The Manticore Sanction” by John C. Wright
“The Dead Yard” by Maurice Broaddus
“The Bride” by Brad R. Torgersen
“She Bitch, Killer of Kits” (a Skinwalker Crossover Tale) by Faith Hunter
“Mr. Natural” by Jody Lynn Nye
“Sons Of The Father” by Quincy J. Allen
“The Troll Factory” by Alex Shvartsman
“Keep Kaiju Weird” by Kim May
“The Gift” by Steve Diamond
“The Case of the Ghastly Specter” by John Ringo
“Huffman Strikes Back” by Bryan Thomas Schmidt & Julie Frost
“Hunter Born” by Sarah A. Hoyt
“Hitler’s Dog” by Jonathan Maberry
The stories involved not just Owen Z Pitt and his usual team, but Agent Franks and lesser known monster hunters from history, including stories set in the Revolutionary War and World War I periods as well as a crossover with Faith Hunter’s New York Times bestselling Skinwalker series.
Editor Jonathan Maberry has announced the Table of Contents order for his third anthology of new officially sanctioned, canon stories from The X-Files, for which Kate Corcino and I wrote a fun story set in El Paso. Here it is:
Seek and You Will Find by John Gilstrap
Perithecia by Andy Mangels
Give Up the Ghost by Jade Shames
Transmissions by Marsheila Rockwell and Jeffrey Mariotte
Desperately Seeking Mothman by Jim Beard
Love Lost by Yvonne Navarro
Thanks and Praise by Joe Harris
Border Time by Bryan Thomas Schmidt and Kate Corcino
A Scandal in Moreauvia, or: The Adventure of the Empty Heart by Nancy Holder
George Lucas set Star Wars in a Galaxy far, far away, but also a long time ago. What is the importance of setting his saga in the distant past? How would our perceptions of it have been different if it were set in our time in a galaxy far, far away or if it had been set in the future?
Bryan Thomas Schmidt (Moderator), Kevin J. Anderson, Matthew S. Rotundo, Anna Raftery
Come join Baen Executive Editor Jim Minz and an assortment of Baen authors for the Baen Traveling Road Show. Learn about their new and upcoming releases. See the pretty covers. Win fabulous prizes. There will be free books for a lucky few…
Jim Minz (Moderator), Dr. Charles Gannon, Joelle Presby, others–I will be attending in case my books are discussed and to sign free copies given away
Saturday Aug 20, 2016
Kaffeeklatsch: Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Downtown Marriott, Lobby-2nd level
I am offering my own unofficial kaffeeklatsch and will be giving away signed books and cover flats, maybe even a couple manuscripts. Sign up here.
Professionals talk shop about editing and publishing anthologies. What does it take to craft an anthology that people actually want to read? What are the dos and don’ts when pulling together stories into a single book? We’ll identify some examples of well-done anthologies and how the editing process differs between anthologies. Join us for an indepth discussion and find out what our panelists enjoy most when working with anthologies.
Ellen Datlow (Moderator), Erin Underwood, Jonathan Strahan, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Kathryn Cramer
Still time to order copies of my books for that special someone. I have copies of all of my titles. Tell me which one you want and if you want it personalized too or just signed.
Email me at bryan at bryanthomasschmidt.net. I will tell you how much to paypal and then priority mail the bubblewrapped, signed books wherever you want.
Typically I charge $15 per trade paperback plus $5 priority mail but international I’d have to calculate. This helps me. It helps your loved ones and friends by giving them good materials. And it helps you save time shopping. A 3-way win.
Today, my friend Gail Martin stops by on her Days Of The Dead blog tour for a talk about writers and research. – BTS
By Gail Z. Martin
I love research. In fact, sometimes I almost think the book is an excuse to do the research. Almost.
Okay, I was a history major, so I came into this predisposed to be nosy about other people’s business. History is the best reality show. Forget the structure artificially imposed on history by textbook authors. History—the rise and fall of kingdoms, the great explorers, the conquest and colonization—was done by people who, on closer inspection, make the Kardashians look well-adjusted and the Mafia seem morally upright.
It’s really the story of grifters, grabbers, con men, connivers, liars, manipulators, opportunists and truly dysfunctional people who clawed their way to notoriety less from noble purpose than from unresolved psychological issues. And those are often the good guys.
Seriously, when you delve into real history—the letters and diaries by historic figures and the people who knew them and the contemporary records—you get a juicy, scandal-laden, slugfest that rivals any Jerry Springer episode. We like to make our historical figures into cleanly-delineated heroes and villains, but they weren’t—they were real people, no different from us today, no more noble or evil. A few people were in pursuit of a higher cause, but don’t cha know it, that cause usually included some benefit to them and theirs. People lied, cheated, stole, played politics, rigged the game, and had hissy fits. They also loved, grieved, wanted revenge, sought forgiveness, pondered the meaning of life, wondered if it was all worth the cost, tried to do the right thing, and occasionally rose above human nature to do something really heroic and awesome.
I write epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk, so there’s a lot of research involved. Some of it is tactical, like double-checking just how far a trebuchet can throw something, or when an invention was patented, or when a word came into usage. But along the way, you stumble down more rabbit holes than Alice, finding unexpected and wondrous tidbits you can use in your story, historical oddities that add realism and interest, quirky or intriguing facts about people and situations that you can borrow and twist for your fictional universe. That’s when research is the coolest, most fun thing in the world.
Whenever I get stuck on what needs to happen in a story to get from where I am to where it needs to go, I research. Every time, I’ll find something either by design or serendipity that provides exactly the imagination fodder to get me around where I’m blocked. Often, this means poking around on the internet, following links from one site to another until the right bit of information appears. Sometimes, I go to my library and see what I can find in my books, where my memory can be jogged about a cool detail I’ve forgotten about that is perfect for the situation. Or I’ll go watch something on the History Channel, usually on military tactics or equipment. Maybe I’ll watch a movie with good fight scenes and pay attention to what happens for ideas. Research is better than WD-40 for getting you unstuck.
Research is also how you ground a story in its time and place. My urban fantasy series, Deadly Curiosities, is set in modern-day Charleston, SC. The steampunk series I co-author with my husband, Larry N. Martin, is set in an alternative history Pittsburgh, PA. A lot of the research we do—both online and by visiting the cities—helps to impart a sense of place and make the setting one of the characters. When you set a story in a specific place, ideally it becomes so much an outgrowth of its location that you (and readers) couldn’t imagine it being anywhere else. Even if you’ve lived in a city or region, you don’t know everything about it. In fact, sometimes we know less about places we’ve lived because we never even take a tourist’s view and do the landmarks, let alone a scholar’s view. Once you start digging, you’ll find tidbits of history, important historical figures, old controversies and buried incidents that provide great mental fodder.
One of the most valuable things research does for me is to take historic figures out of their wax-museum frozenness and the myths that have been built up around them and reveal their humanness, good and bad. (Read the bitter campaign feuding between Founding Fathers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson if you don’t believe me.) While many of these figures were well-known in their own time, they had achieved nothing near the mythic stature we’ve given them since then. Some were actually dismissed or overlooked in their own time because the ramifications and importance of what they did was not yet clear.
By returning historic figures to human scale, I gain perspective as an author on how to create fictional characters who change the world. One thing I learned is that aside from a few megalomaniacs like Napoleon, most of these larger-than-life historical figures were pursuing their own personal agendas, not obsessing over their historic legacy. They were trying to solve a problem or gain an objective, beat a rival or win a prize. That their actions would leave ripple effects throughout the rest of history wasn’t on their minds. They were—as we frequently are now—oblivious to the fallout from their actions, at least in the grand scheme of things. So a general might want to win a battle, and have no clue that by doing so, the stage is set for a disastrous insurrection fifty years later that will topple the very empire he represents. A person in a position of power won’t countenance a new idea because it threatens his ego, and the ultimate advantage goes to his rival, changing the course of history.
Research makes the writing world go ‘round. It’s not only the font of ideas, it’s also entertaining in a guilty pleasures sort of way, like reading tabloid headlines in the grocery line. Just remember to bring popcorn!
My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with never-before-seen cover art, brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for my stories and for books by author friends of mine. You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat! Details here: www.AscendantKingdoms.com
Book swag is the new Trick-or-Treat! Grab your envelope of book swag awesomeness from me & 10 authors http://on.fb.me/1h4rIIe before 11/1!
More Halloween loot! Read an excerpt from “Coffin Box,” one of my Deadly Curiosities short stories http://bit.ly/SDCIjx
About the Author
Gail Z. Martin is the author of the upcoming novel Vendetta: ADeadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (Dec. 2015, Solaris Books) as well as the epic fantasy novel Shadow and Flame (March, 2016 Orbit Books) which is the fourth and final book in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga. Shadowed Path, an anthology of Jonmarc Vahanian short stories set in the world of The Summoner, debuts from Solaris books in June, 2016.
Other books include The Jake Desmet Adventures a new Steampunk series (Solaris Books) co-authored with Larry N. Martin as well as Ice Forged, Reign of Ash and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) from Orbit Books and the urban fantasy novel Deadly Curiosities from Solaris Books.
Gail writes four series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures,The Deadly Curiosities Adventures, The King’s Convicts series, and together with Larry N. Martin, The Storm and Fury Adventures. Her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies. Newest anthologies include: The Big Bad 2, Athena’s Daughters, Realms of Imagination, Heroes, With Great Power, and (co-authored with Larry N. Martin) Space, Contact Light, The Weird Wild West, The Side of Good/The Side of Evil, Alien Artifacts, Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens.
Today, my friend, Howard Andrew Jones, one of my favorite writers, shares with us about his writing process. His latest Pathfinder Tales novel, Beyong The Pool of Stars, is out now from TOR and Paizo. But I’ve enjoyed his previous Pathfinder and original novels very much as well. Check them out and enjoy his wise words.
A writing career is a work in progress. I’m always striving to better my writing process.
I suppose I still live in hope that I’ll produce 5k or more of workable prose every day like some of my friends do. And it happens for me, sometimes. More often, though, I’m a 2k to 3k guy. And I’ve decided that might just be the way it works for me, so more and more I’m trying to make sure that the 2 or 3 thousand words I produce are useful ones.
Bit by bit, tweak by tweak, I’ve come to my current method, and it’s served me well for Beyond the Pool of Stars as well as for the book that immediately preceded it and the two books currently on my hard drive. I’ll detail it for you in the hopes you’ll find it useful.
First, three steps I have to take once I have the germ of the novel’s idea:
It probably goes without saying that you have to know your characters. Develop principal characters – and keep that number small – that fascinate you. If you don’t find them interesting no one else will.
Find out what their goals are, then find a way to keep them away in an entertaining way.
Know your villain and what she wants. And make her interesting as well, or you’ll be just as bored as your readers whenever your characters interact with her.
Once I have those pieces I set to work on the outline. I block it out loosely, imagining important scenes. I try to take my characters to fascinating places. Why not create backdrops of wonder with a few lines of description it would take a film company millions to create?
Once I have a basic feel for beginning, middle, and end, I get to plotting chapter by chapter and scene by scene, and my current favorite trick is to block it out like a play.
I write entire scenes with just dialogue and occasional stage direction. It might be that I can perfectly picture the tone of voice or even a moment of description, and if I do, I go ahead and drop it in even during this rough “stage draft.” There aren’t any hard and fast rules for what I can or can’t do at any stage, after all, and if I picture something I really like I try to get it down, even if it’s just a few quick notes.
Once I get the scene working I can either move on to the next section, or punch away at it, getting the dialogue just right. If the scene’s working properly then the more I work on dialogue, the better I can picture it… and the more solid the scene or chapter becomes as I polish. I add detail as I work until that dialogue is surrounded by useful prose and the stage descriptions of what characters are doing transforms into fluid actions.
A stage draft enables me to experiment with the dialogue and flow without investing a whole lot of energy into finessing metaphor and getting into a character’s internal thoughts. If something doesn’t work and the scene goes off the rails, I haven’t wasted hours polishing fool’s gold. And believe me, I’ve done that before.
Neither this method nor any other can work for every writer. If a method worked perfectly for everyone, there wouldn’t be so many writer self-help books out there.
I think it’s been successful for me because I’ve always found that dialogue comes easily. You should always be aware of your weaknesses and work to overcome them. But during the initial composition stages, whatever methods you, try to play to your strengths.
Howard Andrew Jones is the critically acclaimed author of The Desert of Souls, The Bones of the Old Ones, and Pathfinder novels Plague of Shadows, Stalking the Beast and the hot off the presses Beyond the Pool of Stars. A former Black Gate Editor, he also assembled and edited 8 collections of historical fiction writer Harold Lamb’s work for the University of Nebraska Press. He can be found lurking at www.howardandrewjones.com. Follow him on Twitter @howardandrewjon
Well, I said I was going to do it, and so here I am. At present, I don’t do general open calls because I just can’t read through all that would come in for the 3-4 anthologies I do a year. But one reason I got into anthology editing was to create opportunities not just for me, but for other writers, so instead I have decided to offer two week annual submissions periods for basically earning your way onto my invite list. So that first period will begin Monday and run two weeks, through September 21st. Here are the parameters:
1) Send your best story in RTF, DOC or PDF format. Make it easy on me to read your work. If I can’t open the file, I won’t read it.
2) Send me the best thing you have, published, unpublished, etc. I am NOT BUYING. All my current projects are full, BUT I am starting to pitch for anthologies in 2017 and 2018, so I will need writers when they sell, which means, I want to see what you can do. If I like your voice, craft, and style, then I will put you on my list.
3) Expect to wait a while. I am going to read through what I get, but it will take a while to read it because other ediitng and reading priorities must come first. The good news is, you can go about submitting elsewhere and living your life, because I am not buying right now so I don’t need exclusivity.
4) Please use standard manuscript formatting. I.E. double spaced, serif font, 12 point type, italics instead of underlining, wordcount and contact info above title on front page, etc. Also, NUMBER PAGES so if I read offline and drop one, I can easily find where the pages go and in what order.
5) If you story is over 7500 words, please contact me first.
6) If I have already bought stories from you or you know I own your books or stories, you just need to ask to be included. Please feel no need to submit pieces to this call. I will have enough to read already.
That’s it. That simple. Send these files to bryan at bryanthomasschmidt.net starting Monday with the subject: OPEN CALL (story name).
I will read and let you know if you’re invited to my list.
Oh, a couple notes on taste:
I like adventure stories more than lesson stories, but if you can do both, I will be awesomely impressed and pleased. I like character driven stories. I like heroes I can admire, but if the story is strong enough, of course, any of this won’t matter. I also do not like overuse of foul language or gratituitous sex and violence, so keep in mind that since I do PG themed anthologies mostly, your story samples should fit those parameters as much as possible. Beyond that, I like all kinds of genres, but I am not a huge vampire or zombie fan, just a warning.
I do reserve the right to just say no. I don’t owe you a slot, nor do I owe you an explanation. Unfortunately, this has to be said given the nature of the www world today, sot here it is. It is not that I plan to just arbitrarily say no without some kind of explanation, but I probably don’t have time to give long notes on every story. I don’t promise to read the whole thing either. If I don’t like it, I will treat it like any other slush. Time management is key. It is not personal. It is subjective and ruled by my personal taste, yes. I am open to people of all beliefs, lifestyles, ethinic backgrounds, cultures, etc. In fact, I strongly seek it out and don’t get enough from POC and non-western writers, so by all means, let me see what you’ve got.
I appreciate the opportunity to look at your work and your patience through this process, and I look forward to working with many of you in the future.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and Hugo-nominated editor of adult and children’s science fiction and fantasy novels and anthologies. His debut novel, The Worker Prince, received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases of 2011, and was followed by two sequels. As editor, his anthologies include Shattered Shields (Baen, 2014), Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, 2013), Raygun Chronicles (Every Day Publishing, 2013) and Space Battles (Flying Pen Press, 2012) with two more forthcoming from Baen Books and St. Martin’s Griffin in 2015 and 2016. He is also developmental editor for WordFire Press, owned by New York Times Bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta. Books he’s edited include The Martian by Andy Weir, My Big Fat Demonslayer Wedding by Angie Fox, The Outpost by Mike Resnick, A Game Of Authors by Frank Herbert and more. From December 2010 to earlier this year, he hosted Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat the first Wednesday of every month at 9 P.M. ET on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht and is a frequent guest and panelist at World Cons and other conventions. His website is www.bryanthomasschmidt. Twitter: @BryanThomasS
As most of you know, I am a very busy anthologist, with 8 projects in various stages of contract and development through 2017. Most of these have their allotment of writers already, but as I develop new projects, I hope to expand my stable. Because of budget and busyness, my reading time is limited and so slush is just not something I can manage at the moment, however, I have come up with an option that will appeal to some of you.
I am ending Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat in August. This is because of sheer exhaustion from four years, fading enthusiasm from me and regulars, and also needing time to read for both fun and work that I can’t find anywhere else. Interviewing people, even twice a week, and reading one of their books to do so, is a tremendous time commitment. I have had to put in 20 hours a week to it since starting in 2010. I just can’t keep up with that and slush, and I can’t read novels by friends or colleagues for fun, blurbs or more. Add to that my work in Acquisitions and Development for Wordfire as a Junior Editor, and I just am falling further and further behind. I hate that, so something had to give.
So the solution is that I will be doing an open submission period of two weeks, starting this Fall (September 1 through 15) where writers can send me their best work. The idea is to give me a chance to get to know your work–voice, style, etc. for consideration toward future projects with openings. I am not going to buy these stories. So send your best, whichever speculative genre you want. The sole exception is erotica. I don’t publish or buy it so it won’t be the best sample for me. I don’t promise quick turn around. It may, in fact, take me months to get through the submissions. But if you are professional quality in your writing, you will be considered for invites to future anthologies. You will be in the door. I will limit the word count, probably 6k words and under, but those details shall be announced when the Fall comes. And I will limit to one piece per writer as well. I need to be able to see an end game here if I ever hope to do it again. Published work is fine. I will be flexible on format as well. I will make it easy for you, so please do the same for me.
Further details will be announced when the submission time gets closer. But since many busy anthologists just don’t have time and resources to do many open calls, consider this a great chance to get into projects that may interest you in the future. If you are put in my pool, I will notify you and invite you to appropriate future projects. You also have the right to ask about openings when I announce projects you want to be invited to. Yes, people do that anyway, but if I don’t know your work, I almost always say no. Just a practicality. In any case, get those submissions ready. Reading stuff I’ve edited for taste might be a great way to see what I like in the meantime. I look forward to discovering new colleagues to work with.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and Hugo nominated editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. His anthologies as editor include Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek for Baen, Mission: Tomorrow, Galactic Games, Little Green Men–Attack! and Monster Hunter Tales (with Larry Correia) all forthcoming also for Baen, Joe Ledger: Unstoppable with Jonathan Maberry for St. Martin’s Griffin (forthcoming 2017), Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6, Beyond The Sun and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter as @SFFWRTCHT.