Write Tip: Keeping Out The Intruder Words

WriteTips-flatOne of the things you learn on the writing journey is the importance of word choice. Certain types of words have certain types of impacts on your story, not just in evoking emotions or images, but in setting the tone, creating the voice, world building, and more. Some words create intimacy and a feeling of closeness in point of view, carrying readers inside the mind of your characters, inside the world of the story. Others create barriers, distancing them. Among these are Intruder Words.

‘Wondered, felt, thought, saw, knew, heard,’ etc. are all ‘intruder’ words.  They intrude on the action, by stating extemporaneously what can be written more actively.  They pull us out of the intimate POV of the character and throw things into telling or passiveness.  There are times when one might deliberately choose to use intruder words. But these should be done with careful thought and sparingly.   Otherwise “She felt the wind blow across her face” is stronger as “The wind blew across her face”.  Or “She heard a bang” is better written as  “A bang thundered behind her.”

Can you see the difference?

One form describes something flatly, the other creates an experience of it.

One form is rather drab and ordinary, the other visceral and alive. And thus, avoiding such words can help you create prose that pops off the page, bringing your story to life for readers.

Like anything in writing, retraining yourself to avoid using Intruder Words takes practice. At first, you’ll have to go back through and weed them out, like the common passives “began to, seemed to, going to, starting to,” etc. These words are used so naturally in speech and daily living that they’ll pour out of you like maple syrup from a tree. And it will take building your conscious awareness to start relearning when and when not to use them.

Once you’re aware of the problem, however, the process of identifying and eliminating these words can actually be good practice. If like me, you struggle with descriptive phrasing and writing viscerally, they provide an opportunity to learn craft through lots of practice, because you’ll undoubtedly find these words invading your prose on every page. But over time, with practice, you’ll find your mind filters them as you write. “Stop, need a new word,” that inner voice will say. And then, after a while more, you won’t even think of them. At least, not automatically. And using them intentionally is the only way you want to do it when it comes to your prose.

Don’t worry. We’re not talking about something that will make you talk funny. There’s a difference between how people talk and how we must write, after all. As my English teacher Barbara Sackrider once said: “If you say y’all in my classroom, you get an F, but if you talk to me on the street and say ‘you all,’ I’ll look at you like a freak.” Okay, she was joking.  But her point was well taken by my 15-year-old mind. After all, English dialects are complicated and the rules of grammar are tailor-made to be broken by them.

Let’s compare two passages: one with Intruder Words and one without.

 

With

He gained consciousness sweaty and hot, lying on his back. It took a moment for the black spots to fade, replaced by the blinding sunlight and white sand stretching as far as the eye could see. Where am I?  The sandy landscape reflected sunlight and heat back at him as he sat up, shaking off the sleep. Scattered belongings—clothes, canteens, a shattered barrel and trunk, torn saddlebags—stretched off into the distance toward the remains of a wagon. He saw footsteps leading toward him, smeared and uneven as if perhaps he’d stumbled to where he lay. Sunlight glinted off flesh atop a nearby dune. Was someone else alive? Then he saw limbs scattered along the path away from the torso—an arm severed at the elbow, the hand still attached, fingers stiffened like claws, a leg severed mid-thigh, another cut off above the ankle—and he knew the answer.

Without

He gained consciousness sweaty and hot, lying on his back. It took a moment for the black spots to fade, replaced by the blinding sunlight and white sand stretching as far as the eye could see. Where am I?  The sandy landscape reflected sunlight and heat back at him as he sat up, shaking off the sleep. Scattered belongings—clothes, canteens, a shattered barrel and trunk, torn saddlebags—stretched off into the distance toward the remains of a wagon. Footsteps led toward him, smeared and uneven as if perhaps he’d stumbled to where he lay. Sunlight glinted off flesh atop a nearby dune. Was someone else alive? Scattered severed limbs—an arm severed at the elbow, the hand still attached, fingers stiffened like claws, a leg severed mid-thigh, another cut off mid-calf—provided the answer.

 

Which works better for you? Which is more powerful and draws you? Can you see the difference?

Don’t let Intruder Words intrude in your stories and on your readers. Instead, replace them with words that help bring your stories to life and draw readers in. It’s a sure sign of a writer who’s professional rather than amateur. It’ll help take your prose to the next level.

For what it’s worth…


The Returning Cover front onlyBryan Thomas Schmidt is the editor of Blue Shift Magazine and an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exoduswill appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends from Delabarre Publishing.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press (July 2013), headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age for Every Day Publishing (November 2013). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

INTERVIEW – Death’s Rival (Jane Yellowrock) 100 Q&A Tour Of Faith: With Faith Hunter

Faith Hunter has over 20 years in the writing profession, over 20 books written total in over 20 countries. Born in Louisiana and raised all over the south, she writes action-adventure, mysteries and thrillers under the name Gwen Hunter while The Skinwalker series, featuring Jane Yellowrock is taking off like a rocket under Faith Hunter.  SkinwalkerBlood CrossMercy Blade, and Raven Cursed have released so far with last two becoming New York Times Bestsellers. Another series, her Rogue Mage novels, a dark, urban fantasy series—BloodringSeraphs, and Host—features Thorn St. Croix, a stone mage in a post-apocalyptic, alternate reality, urban fantasy world. These novels are the basis for the role playing game, Rogue Mage (2012).  A co-creator and contributor to the MagicalWords.net blog for writers, Faith was a guest on SFFWRTCHT last May, and I fell in love with her Skinwalker series. So much so, in fact, that I included it on my 9 Great Urban Fantasy Series You Don’t Want To Miss list, which has been quite popular this month. To read our previous interview at Grasping For The Wind, click here.  Celebrating the release of her 5th Jane Yellowrock novel, Faith sat down with me here for a new interview to open her 100 Q&A Tour Of Faith blog tour, the rest of which can be found  at http://www.faithhunter.net/wp/2012/08/28/deaths-rival-urban-fantasy-blog-tour.

BTS: Nice to chat with you again, Faith.  This is your fifth time diving into the minds of Jane, Beast and the imagined New Orleans. What is the appeal for you of doing a series and revisiting characters and locations over and over?

Faith Hunter:  Thank you so much for having me here again. I had such fun the last time!

For one thing, my publisher loves New Orleans! Seriously.  And I was born and spent a large part of youth in Louisiana. Many generations of ancestors are buried there (along with the skeletons in their closets) in mausoleums and crypts and vaults. New Orleans was a port city and has long and amazing history to draw upon – hundreds of years – for my long-lived secondary characters. For instance, Leo Pellissier is 500 years old. If I want to go back in time and write a story of his early years, I have lots of historical data to draw upon. Having ongoing relationships with violent, nonhuman predators adds tension to Jane’s stories, and keeps the readers coming back.

That said, I do get tired of one setting, which is why some novels, including Raven’s Curse, which came out in Jan. 2012, and Blood Trade, which will be out in 2013, take place in other cities. Also, the short story Cajun With Fangs, which is in the compilation Have Stakes Will Travel (e-book to be released on Sept. 4,  2012) takes place in the very Deep South in a Cajun township and involves all new characters, which helps to keep the series fresh.

BTS: What ties the books together? Is there a through line or is it just world and characters?

FH: Jane’s life is the series story arc. Her self-discovery, her memories of her youth, which are slowly returning, her love life, and her future are part of that. But also the deadly relationship between the vamps and the witches, and the importance of the blood diamond – the dangerous magical artifact that is in Jane ‘s possession – will play a big part in the series ending.

BTS: In Death’s Rival, someone is after Leo’s job as top vampire of New Orleans, and, to top it off, a vampire plague is loose. How does your approach evolve with each new novel or does it?

FH:   Every book has to be based on something, a foundation that the returning fans can remember and associate with. So I try to use a lot of the same cues and clues, then add some new fillip to the mix that will grab them. The writer’s technique is called bait and hook, which means the writer dangles the known, with something hidden, the bites, and the reader is hooked. LOL

BTS: This series is classic urban fantasy with a mix of detective/vampire hunter and some paranormal. What, to your mind are the core elements of good urban fantasy?

FH: Good UF is a good mystery with danger to the main character or people the MC loves. Danger & mystery. And a few good fights. And some romance. (nods head) Gotta have romance in there somewhere!

BTS: Tell us about your writing office.            

FH: My desk is set up in my writing room, on the second story of my home. The lot is sloping so I am up in the trees, overlooking a creek. It is a wonderful place to write, though I often turn my back to the window while actually pounding away, to keep from being distracted by the hunting hawks and feral cats and the antics of the squirrels.

No music, unless I am writing a sweat-house scene where Jane’s Cherokee Elder friend leads her back to her broken and mostly-forgotten youth. At those scenes, I listen to AmIn (American Indian) flute and drum music.

BTS: You told me before you can envision 10 or 15 Jane novels. I know you’re an outliner, or as you put it “I outline wearing pants.” Do you have any kind of plan for those? Idea bank? Story bible perhaps? Or do you just find the idea when you need one?

FH:  I have a loose idea of how the series will end and I am slowly getting all the clues in place for it. As to firm outlines, I am only thinking one book ahead right now, so no future-story-bible. While I lay the foundation for the series ending, I am having so much fun!

BTS: What can we expect from Jane 6 and what’s it called? when will it arrive?

FH: Have Stakes Will Travel, the e-book compilation, is out on Sept. 4, 2012, Death’s Rival out on Oct. 2, 2012, and Blood Trade, Ap. 2, 2013. Blood Trade takes Jane to Natchez, Mississippi for fun, mayhem, a new form of vampire she has never seen before, and a lot of interesting men!

BTS: What do you want to write that you haven’t been asked to write or haven’t sold to a publisher?

FH: I want to do a few more Jane books, and maybe a couple of standalone spinoffs, one with Rick LaFleur as main character and one with Molly Everhart’s witch family. If I can find a publisher for them. The market trends will guide that, of course.

BTS: What do you see as the future of the fantasy genre?   

FH: The future is, as always, seen through a glass, darkly, but I’ll take a shot. I think people in general are very frustrated, so I foresee a lot more fighting and violence in the genre. I predict a new version of vampire, something not done before. I see a lot more historical settings and time periods emerging. And, because people are angry, lonely, and searching, I expect a lot more religion crossover novels. Ex: A character who is both Hindu and Orthodox Christian, and has no problem with the crossover religion, who brings his religion into the story, and the mythos of both affect the storyline and the character’s growth.

BTS: What do you have coming up next?

FH: The Rogue Mage World Book and Role Playing Game (set in Thorn St. Croix’s world) has been Kickstarted and is in production to sell to fans as I write this. It has Mega Fiction in it!

Have Stakes Will Travel is a short story compilation set in Jane Yellowrock’s world, releasing in September 2012.  I have a short (yes, it too is set in Jane Yellowrock’s world) in the anthology An Apple For The Creature (headlining Charlaine Harris) releasing Sept 4, 2012.

Death’s Rival will be out in October 2012, and it takes Jane deeper into her own Cherokee past as well as introduces a new story arc for the series. The cover copy says it all!

Jane Yellowrock is a shapeshifting skinwalker you don’t want to cross—especially if you’re one of the undead…

For a vampire killer like Jane, having Leo Pellisier as a boss took some getting used to. But now, someone is out to take his place as Master Vampire of the city of New Orleans, and is not afraid to go through Jane to do it. After an attack that’s tantamount to a war declaration, Leo knows his rival is both powerful and vicious, but Leo’s not about to run scared. After all, he has Jane. But then, a plague strikes, one that takes down vampires and makes their masters easy prey.

Now, to uncover the identity of the vamp who wants Leo’s territory, and to find the cause of the vamp-plague, Jane will have to go to extremes…and maybe even to war.

Faith Hunter can be found on Twitter as @hunterfaith, via her website at http://www.faithhunter.net, via www.magicalwords.net or on her official Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/official.faith.hunter.  Be sure and check out the rest of her blog tour stops and the tour schedule at http://www.faithhunter.net/wp/2012/08/28/deaths-rival-urban-fantasy-blog-tour. 


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: 15 Top New Year’s Reads For Writers

As my Holiday gift to fellow writers, who have been so supportive of the tips offered on this blog, I’ve compiled a list and brief descriptions of 15 really top writing resources to help you move forward in your growth as a writer. Links to either Amazon or Barnes & Noble are included for those who want to purchase the books or just read reviews. With the exception of one series, they’re individual books, organized by category. All on my shelf and well worth your time and money. Thanks again for the support you’ve shown me and this blog in 2011!

Standards:

On Writing by Stephen King — a go to book by a master storyteller. Part autobiography, part examination of craft and writing process. Widely recommended for all writers with good reason.

On Writing Well by William Zinsser — Yes, I know, the subtitle is about writing nonfiction. Don’t let that put you off. An amazing classic on how to write well which every writer of all genres and stripes should have on his or her shelf. Period.

Imaginative Writing: The Elements Of Craft by Janet Burroway — a standard textbook for MFA programs, very useful for any fiction writer. Really in depth examination of the elements of craft with exercises, tips and more.

 

Marketing:

Guerilla Marketing For Writers by Jay Conrad Levinson, Rick Frishman, Michael Larsen and David L. Hancock — Great tool to learn marketing on a budget. Walks you through all kinds of promotional resources you didn’t even know you had as well as breaking down the ones the pros use and how to plan your PR campaign like a pro. Very useful tool with great resources in the appendices as well.

Crossing The Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore — great marketing book on the psychology of successful marketing and pushing through to the next level. A standard in marketing.

Getting Known Before The Book Deal by Christina Katz — A new standard for how to build your platform and audience well before your book’s release. A must read for writers of all levels.

 

Craft:

Screenplay by Syd Field — One of the all time most important books on story structure, often used at film schools, of great use to novelists as well. Learn how to follow the three act structure and develop your plot in a solid, powerful way.

Writing The Breakout Novel by Donald Maass — written by a leading literary agent with years’ experience selling books and writing them. Agent to many big name authors. A really powerful book for any author on how to make your novel top notch.

Revising Fiction by David Madden — a great book full of tips on how to revise your novel to the minutest detail. Covers anything and everything with good organizational suggests for how to approach it and think through later drafts. Out of print but well worth tracking down used and easy to find.

Writer’s Digest Elements Of Fiction Writing series — a series of books by successful authors like Orson Scott Card, Monica Wood, Nancy Kress and more covering specific elements in each book: Plot, Description, Setting, etc. Very useful tools. Like a classroom in your bookcase.

The 10% Solution: Self-Editing For The Modern Writer by Ken Rand — life changing, hands down. A great, short, concise editing methodology which will improve your writing over night. A must have for writers. The one writing resources I seared in my brain and use daily.

 

Resources:

The Writer’s Guide To Creating A Science Fiction Universe by George Ochoa and Jeffrey Osier — useful for any writer needing to learn worldbuilding. Although it’s specific to science fiction, the reasoning and tools apply to any genre. Very useful. Also out of print but easy to find used online.

Negotiating a Book Contract: A Guide For Authors, Agents and Lawyers by Mark L. Levine — Step by step guide to book contracts covers standard clauses, negotiation, and how to identify what you want and get it. A must read for anyone involved with book contracts by an author who also happens to be an attorney.

English Through The Ages by William Brohaugh — Another out of print gem which covers the origination of English words through history. Helps authenticate your language usage in writing novels set in particular periods, especially historical or fantasy ones. Easy to find used.

I Have This Nifty Idea…Now What Do I Do With It? by Mike Resnick — A collection of book proposals for best selling novels compiled and edited with commentary by Mike Resnick. If you hate writing outlines, proposals, synopses, etc., this is the book for you. How the pros did it. You can emulate it. Can be hard to find. Small press. But well worth the hunt.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎

4 5-star & 9 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

 

Write Tip: 10 Tips For Writing Dialogue Better

Writing dialogue can be a challenge for some writers more than others, but it’s an extremely important part of good fiction. There are many tools and techniques one can use, the most important being to use your powers of observation. By listening to dialogue of the real people around you, you can learn how people talk, especially people of different socioeconomic, educational and age groups. But there are craft elements involved as well. Here’s 10 Tips For Writing Better Dialogue:

1) Use Simple Tags Sparingly. Fancy tags like “he expostulated” or “she espoused” are less clear and more distracting than anything. So keep the tags simple when you absolutely must use them. Instead, convey the manner in which a character speaks instead. Make it obvious from what is said.

2) Instead Of Tags, Use Actions. People talk while actively engaging in activities. So should your characters. Giving them business to do during dialogue allows you to identify who’s speaking without resorting to overused tags. Some can come in the form of characterizing the speaker: “His eyebrows lifted with menace,” for example. “Bob’s fist clenched as he spoke.” “Tears rolled down her cheek with every word.”

3)  Avoid Expositional Dialogue When Possible. We’ve all violated this rule, but especially when two characters should already know the information being imparted, it seems unnatural and distracting. In such cases, internal monologue is a better tool and more natural. Characters may think about stuff they already know but they wouldn’t tell each other stuff each of them knows.

4) Keep It Short. People talk in choppy sentences. Long soliloquies are rare. So in dialogue, use a combination of short sentences to make it flow and feel like real people talking. Let them interrupt each other, too. People do that in real life. It adds to the pace, tension and drama of it.

5) Avoid Phonetic Spellings For Accents. They are difficult to read. Indications of dialect can be used instead to get the reader to do the rest.  Overuse of a dialect becomes distracting to readers and can actually take them out of the story. Keep the words your characters say as unobtrusive as possible so your story flows seamlessly.

6) Dialogue Is Conflict. Conflict keeps the story moving. People talk like they’re playing table tennis–back and forth. This moves the story forward. Lace your dialogue with conflict. It adds dramatic urgency to every line the characters say and keeps the story’s pace.

 7) Use Other Characters. Let a character imply who’s speaking to them by saying something specific to only that person. If you use business well (see number 2 above), having a character refer to something the other character is doing is a great way to do this.

8 ) Give Each Character A Distinctive Voice. Overdo it and its caricature but we all have our own speech tics. Create some for your characters and sprinkle them throughout. Readers will learn them and know who’s speaking. For example, Captain Jack Sparrow loves the term of affection: “love” and uses that a lot. He also says “Savvy?” a great deal as well. He has others you can probably remember, too. Study characterization and see what other writers have done.

9) Speak It Aloud. Talk it out. Get inside the heads of your characters and say the lines. Play out the conversation you’ve written. Does it sound natural? Does it flow? Your ear is often a better judge than your eyes and hearing it will give you an idea how readers will hear it.

10) Remember What Medium You’re Writing For. TV and Film dialogue and novel dialogue are not necessarily the same.  There is no third party to use intonation, facial expressions and/or body language to bring it to life. Your words alone are the conduit between yourself and the reader and your prose skills and the readers’ imaginations make it work.

Well, those are my 10 Tips of the moment for writing better dialogue. Do you have any others? We’d love for you to share them in the comments.

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Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

3 5-star & 6 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh$14.99 tpbhttp://bit.ly/qIJCkS

Preorder THE RETURNING here for June 19th release!

Writers, Be Who You Are: A Process Of Discovery

I love when I come across an article, as I recently did on a blog, where a person is so enamored with their way of writing that they insist it’s the only way to do it correctly. Pantser v. Outliner: it’s an old debate. And I think it takes most of us a long time to sort out where we fit on the very broad scale. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say it may vary by project. Sequels, for example, do take more planning than the books they follow, perhaps. And certainly much experimentation is involved as one learns and develops writing craft to sort out what works and doesn’t for him or her. The only advice I feel absolutely confident in offering to everyone, as much advice as I tend to offer on this blog, is to Be Who You Are.

Don’t get me wrong, these advisors mean well. They’re very passionate about what they do. They have rightfully put a lot of thought into it and develop the understanding an comfort with it over time. But the writing journey for me, and most writers I’ve spoken with, has always been a process of discovery. You try something for a while then hear something knew and try it on to see if it fits. Sometimes you adapt it in full, sometimes you just take parts, and so on it goes as you fill your toolbox and learn new skills. In the end, much of it tends to become intuitive anyway. Some things need to be intuitive to be effective, others need more thought and deliberation every time they’re used.

And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. We are individuals, after all, unique beings with none exactly like any other. So why assume that such unique beings could have only one way to do something as complicated as writing? It doesn’t even seem possible when you think about it. No, I mean really think about it, setting aside those preconceived ideas. There. See what I mean?

So don’t succumb to any pressure to be like some other writer, no matter how famous they are, how much money they make or how much you like their work. You will never approach writing exactly like them. And that’s absolutely fine. Your journey is not their journey, and their journey is not yours. You have to find your own way. Sure, you can learn from their mistakes sometimes. You can even borrow their shortcuts, but there is no real shortcut to being the best writer you can be except trial and error and writing itself.

Along the way, you choose your tools, and no, they don’t all have to come from Sears. Ace Hardware has good stuff, too, and so does Target sometimes. Even Walmart. It doesn’t class down your writing to use what works for you and toss what doesn’t. That’s just smart. After all, writing is a personal activity and it’s also a business. Run it the way that allows and enables you to be most successful and never look back.

Be Who You Are, writers, and be proud of it. It will continue to change as long as your on the journey, and here’s hoping it’s the journey of a lifetime.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

Lessons In Letting Go: The Author And His Babies

One of the more important lessons I’ve learned since I started on the path to writing professional fiction in 2008 is about letting my babies go. There is a point with every manuscript where you are so close to it, you want to just hold it tightly and keep chipping away its deficiencies, molding it gently and lovingly into the best baby it can be no matter how long it takes. And don’t get me wrong, revision is a good thing. Striving for quality is important and professional. Insisting on perfection, however, is not. Did that just rock you in your boots? Was it unexpected? It shouldn’t be. If there’s anything writing should teach you it’s that you’re not perfect.

Writing is often like holding a microscope lens up to the world and pointing out all the flaws and tears and imperfections. And the more you do it, the more uncomfortable it can sometimes be as things hit close to home and remind you of your own failures, weaknesses and imperfectness. Do you know what I mean? So many parts of me as a writer wind up there glaring at me from the page. And so many things come out through the writing which wake me up from my vain self-ignorance and glorious denial to provide a reality check. There’s always that point where I just can’t stop rewriting. I tell myself time and again “Just another little polish on those adverbs” or “Just another little trimming of expositional diarrhea” and the next thing I know I’ve done a whole new draft. Sometimes I even recognize myself putting back in things I’m sure I took out before as unnecessary. And that’s the first sign it’s time to set down the manuscript and think about what you’re doing.

Does anyone out there know what I’m talking about? And the more you study craft and listen to writers talk about it and read reviews and critiques and read other writers, the worse it can get. You realize “maybe I’m not there yet. I’m not good enough.” And you  know that if this work gets published it will be out there forever representing you. And you just can’t let that be your legacy. Am I right?

Why am I thinking about this on the eve of the release of my debut novel? It’s because my friend Patty saw the 4 star review I posted of my novel on Goodreads and lambasted me for giving my own novel anything less than 5 stars. I started researching and found bestselling novelist Kat Richardson, a friend of mine who’s also on Goodreads, has given her novels 4 star reviews. So I asked her for advice.

She said this: “I believe in honesty, not self-inflation. I don’t think the books are perfect and I think 5 starts ought to imply near-perfection. I have rated some higher than others because I, as the author, feel some are actually better realized products of my intent. ”

And that made me reflect on the times since I handed in the manuscript when I’ve gone through and nitpicked the novel, worried what reviewers will say, worried what readers will think, worried about the pros I respect whom I asked to blurb my book. And then the blurbs started coming in and they were so positive. And although yes, the authors may not be telling me the flaws they see, they are willing to have their name associated with my book in a sort of endorsement and that means something, right? It’s like being accepted into an exclusive club of sorts…like my writing just became legitimately professional level. Even if it’s beginning professional. After all, it doesn’t matter how big a name, every author had a first novel. And most of them have written better books since. So letting go is part of the process, isn’t it? And as hard as it is, it’s a healthy part of it.

For me, I would never rate my own book 5 stars out of 5 because I know it’s not perfect. I know I’m not perfect. I mean, I gave Robert Silverberg’s “Lord Valentine’s Castle” 5 stars. I gave “The Lord Of The Rings” 5 stars. My book can’t even begin to compare. In fact, by those standards, I’m thinking three would be stretching. I am no Silverberg. And I am no Tolkein. But Silverberg and Tolkein started somewhere, didn’t they? And it’s probably a place very similar to where I am right now as far as how they felt about their own work. Silverberg has criticized his own early work as not very good. I read it and thought it was still brilliant. So given that reality, should I really feel too concerned about putting something out there at this time that’s not the best I’ll ever write? My answer to that is: Of course not! What I have to worry about is putting out something right now that’s less than the best I can do at this moment.

Since handing in The Worker Prince final draft to my publisher, I’ve written short stories and most of the next book in the trilogy. I have found myself breezing through certain aspects of the writing which I really struggled over and agonized through when I wrote Book 1. How can that be? And through my chat with Kat and considering Patty’s pushing me I realized it’s a natural part of growing as a writer, learning craft and internalizing what you learn. Of course things you’ve learned get easier over time because they become like instinct. And other things need to be learned. I’m sure when I finish Book 2 and turn it in, I’ll be wondering if it’s good enough. Book 3 as well a year after that. My whole career I’ll probably release every novel I ever write with the same reservations. It’s natural. It’s normal. But that doesn’t mean it’s not time to let them go.

In so many ways for novelists, our books are like babies. We do our best to guard them, nourish them, raise them up to the best they can be. But then they reach 18 and it’s time to set them free, let them face the world on their own two feet and come into their own. It’s a natural part of the lifecycle of a novel or short story. And I’m pretty sure after what I’ve experienced that as flawed as my first novel is no one is coming to stone me or insist I retract it or apologize to every other person who’s a real novelist for besmirching them by daring to label myself the same, you know? Okay, it doesn’t release until October 4th so I may be wrong, but somehow, I don’t think so. Somehow I think I’m ok. And you know what? That’s a good lesson to learn.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

Write Tip: 8 Tools For Using Humor In Your Fiction

Humor can be an important part of both character development and reader engagement. When used well, it can endear both writer and characters to readers. When used poorly, it can ruin an otherwise successful tale. Here’s some tips for how to use humor effectively in your stories and novels.

 1 ) The Running Gag– This tool is one of the stand-by tropes of good comedy. Typically employed following the rule of threes, the running gag will repeat three times, with each one increasing in absurdity and corresponding laughter inspired. The first two act as set-ups for the big pay off of the third. Study any sitcom or romantic comedy and you can always find running gags used to great effect. For example, a character slips on a banana peel on the sidewalk in front of his paramour’s door, embarrassing himself. The next time he goes there, he looks around carefully to avoid something similar but this time, something falls from above, knocking him down. The third time, perhaps during the finale of the story, he winds up ignoring the fear and facing running after her behind a banana truck whose cargo is falling out scatters across his path, leading to all kinds of slippery footwork. This is a basic slapstick example. Most running gags or more complicated. But I think it gives you the idea.

2 ) The Love-Hate Relationship– Nothing brings out humor better than two characters thrown together who are constantly at each other’s throats–not in the “I want to choke you to death” sense, but rather in the “hurling biting insults and cutting down” sense. Watching them each attempt to outdo the other can be mined for great humor and,  at the same time, used to build character. One of the best ways is for them to exploit each other’s flaws for their comments.

3 )  The Flawed Character– No one’s perfect. We all know this about ourselves. Your characters become more real when you also show this about your character. And the worst part of flaws? The way they embarrass us or put us in difficult situations where we look bad in front of those we want to impress. Exploit these situations, and you’ll find all kinds of humor in them. Another advantage is that readers are drawn to characters who are flawed in relatable ways. “Oh man, I know just how he feels!” That response endears your character to your reader and draws them into your story. It’s just part of using your character’s humanity to build empathy and sympathy and connect him or her with your readers, which, in turn, keeps them more involved and interested in your story.

4 ) The Subverted/Misunderstood Context– While creating empathy is helpful, at the same time, your character needs distance from readers for them to see the humor. If they identify too much, they won’t laugh at the humorous situation in which the character finds him or herself. It helps to have the character see the humor in the situation, nor matter how painful it may be, but again, make sure it is not too painful or offensive or the readers will be turned off. Key to this is subverting or applying misunderstood context. People interact daily with different worldviews and understandings of the context in which that interaction occurs. Mining that for misunderstandings and humor or allowing circumstances to subvert one character’s correct understanding of the context can be used to mine humor in the situation for readers.

5 ) The Fish Out Of Water– There’s always humor to be found in situations where a character is put in situations or places with which he or she might be unfamiliar or even made uncomfortable–a priest visiting a crack house, for example, or a Sunday School mom in an NFL locker room. The interactions with other characters who are comfortable in that world and even the character’s reactions can be used for great humorous effect.

6 ) Exaggeration– Exploiting a character’s perspective through exaggeration is a great tool to create humor. Pushing the character to the edge of their limits can result in funny reactions, dialogue and situations for readers and interesting ways of building or wrapping up a scene. It makes everything a bit more outrageous, but to use it effectively, everything the character does needs to have elements of exaggeration throughout. It starts small and builds to be most effective, until they are pushed to a point where they explode (figuratively, of course, in most cases).

7 ) Surprise– Another great tool is the element of surprise. If a character walks into their apartment to find all their furniture turned upside down or a totally unexpected situation, or if events unfold in ways that catch both characters and readers by surprise, humor can result. The surprise can be either physical or emotional, but as mentioned above, it can’t be too painful or offensive that it would alienate the reader. The character’s discomfort is fine and can be used for humor, but the reader’s own discomfort has more limits and must be carefully considered when using any of these tools. Be sure to arrange the elements of the scene to maximize tension and release. This will make the effect of the humor more powerful.

8 ) Satire/Parody– South Park, The Simpsons, and many other popular TV Shows employ satire and parody to mock socially relevant attitudes or even current events and point out flaws or ironies in these situations and you can too through your characters and plots. These two can be tricky to pull off well. Avoiding preachiness, for example, can be hard when it’s a subject on which you feel passionate. Take great care never to push the humor too far. Most especially, allow readers to draw their own conclusions. A few prompting remarks can be carefully exploited through dialogue but don’t overdo it. Especially if you yourself have spoken out publicly about such issues, readers will tend to see right through it and the moment may be destroyed. Still, satire and parody are classic humor tropes which should always be a part of your toolbox when writing humor.

So there they are: 8 Tools to be employed in adding humor to your fiction prose. Like any tools, using them takes practice and development of skills. Some do tend to have more natural instincts than others, but like most tools, these can be learned and incorporated instinctually into your writing arsenal. Despite being age old methods, they remain popular because they consistently work. If they work for other writers, you can be sure that, when done well, they’ll work for you.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

Why I’m Not A Fan of FanFic

My take on fan fiction:

This past week I saw a blog post where someone pointed to “the real canon of Harry Potter.” Now, I’m not a Rowling fan. I have yet to read any of her books, although I’ve seen a couple of movies based on them. I have heard many people criticize the Rowling books for various reasons, and, in a nation of free speech, that’s your right, of course. But this particular situation took it too far and really riled me up. They implied this fanfic was better than Rowling’s version, the only true version. It was a complete alternate history of HP, told by this fan, who explained herself with diatribes about her issues with it. Boy, do I have an issue with that. And then a few days later, I saw a post about writer whose entire book had been plagiarized almost word for word and posted as fanfic by a person who changed the character names and then even went as far as to make up posts about their challenges during the writing process.

I have never written fanfic and I long ago stopped even attempting to read it. Like many, I sought out fan fiction as a way to get more time with characters and in worlds I’d fallen in love with. My hopes were high for a new escape and recapturing all the emotions I felt when I read the original. Unfortunately, I found that most fanfic is a poor imitation. Are there talented writers writing fanfic? Yes. But it’s not my point that no talent exists in the pool. Some even practice their craft and develop it writing that. I get it. But from quality and style to plotting and other factors, a majority of it, in my experience, just isn’t the same, and, frankly, all too much of it was just not good at all.  But on top of that, I always had doubts because of an inner belief that it’s not legitimate. And although I’ve not written anything popular enough to inspire such imitation, I’ll respond as if I had, because this is pretty much how I’d feel if it happened that way.

Basically, in my mind, fanfic is someone else ripping off a creator’s world and work and twisting it in whatever way they see fit. And that’s not freedom of speech, it’s copyright infringement, plain and simple. Fanfic might be said to be a form of flattery or mockery or criticism, but to me the latter two are more applicable and neither justifies it. You want to critique, write a review. What gives you the right to take a world I or someone else created and make up your own alternate history for the characters? Don’t get me wrong, I’d be flattered if anyone liked my world enough that it inspired them to create. But the flattery stops when they publish something using my intellectual property. It’s mine, not yours. For you to go in and mess with the plots, characters or worlds is disrespectful to my vision along with being illegal use of my intellectual property. Okay, maybe you don’t like how I write it. I don’t care. It’s mine, not yours. And I reserve the right to take whatever legal action necessary to shut you down. No, I don’t care if that alienates you.  Go make your own world and characters. Sell them. Get rich. Get popular. Great. But leave mine alone. You may be a talented writer, but if all you’re doing is writing about someone else’s characters without their permission the implication is you lack the creativity to create your own world.

That being said,  I have a couple of friends who got their start through fanfic.  Both are talented writers, but I respect them on the merit of their own original work, not their fanfic. One is even a bestselling novelist now. I understand fandom and the attachment one can feel to certain properties. I feel that way about Star Wars, Star Trek (to a lesser degree), Majipoor, Narnia, and Middle Earth. I love visiting them over and over and imagining them. I love wondering about characters and various aspects. It can be wonderful fun. But no, that doesn’t change my mind at all. I don’t like fanfic. It’s not a legitimate use of someone else’s intellectual property and never will be. The sole exception is cases where an author sets up a fanfic site and encourages it. Then permission to play is implied by the site’s creation and the official authorized publication. But that fanfic still is just fans playing, not creating canon. And yes, I know it’s established in fandom. So is selling drugs on street corners, which doesn’t make it legal. The established existence of patterns does not make the pattern less of a violation. If I joined a cult and the cult leader was sleeping with young girls and I objected, should I accept his argument that it’s their tradition and I am just ignorant of their ways? And don’t give me the argument about the damage caused by sex v. fanfic. I’m talking about the morality of violating one law v. another. Both are equally violations regardless of consequences even if the law treats them differently in sentencing.

I would think that if you write fanfic on my world and characters, you obviously are impressed with me. You may not like what I did with it, but it’s my right with my property, not yours, plain and simple fact.  I won’t read it, honor it, or in any way attempt to recognize its legitimacy or allow it to influence my writing, worldbuilding or plotting. I will ignore it as if it never existed. If I violate it in every way, I won’t care if you complain your is better. It’s not better. It’s a bastard distortion of the real property I created. It has no bearing on canon. It’s not even related to canon. It’s not real. It’s not true. It’s lies. It’s someone’s attempt to piggyback on my hard work without putting in their own sweat.  I never bothered to invest myself in Star Wars, Star Trek, or other fanfic (I am not talking about tie-in books) because I knew all this already and believed it. So what if it’s good? Why emotionally or mentally invest myself in something Roddenberry or Lucas could turn around and undo in a month? They have the right to decide what happens, and only they do. I want the real story, whether it turns out how I expect or like. Whether they revise it and change it so much it loses its power or not. Yeah, Lucas did a crappy job with 1-3. Yeah he made some changes to the originals I wish he hadn’t. His property. His right. I’ll cherish the memories I have of the original versions. Even save the VHS’ and DVD’s so I can watch them that way. That’s my right. But at least the person whose blood, sweet and brain power originated it is doing what they want. I salute them. If on the other hand, an author, such as S.M. Stirling, chooses to encourage fanfic, that’s their right. I respect that.

I respect fans. I honor their passion. I honor their desire to see more of the characters and worlds they love and their desire to be creative. But at the same time, I think a line is all too often crossed. And their time would be better spent pooling that creative energy and passion into creating stories like they’d like to read with their own characters and worlds than by copying someone else. Oh, I know many will disagree with me, but if they have not sold or written their own works, they really are missing a key point of reference to understand where I’m coming from. So, I’ll give notice, if my work ever actually gets that popular (which seems unlikely, yes, now that I’ve alienated a bunch of fans), keep this in mind: Don’t piss in my pool. Consider the sign posted.

NOTE: After careful thought and consideration, I have decided not to allow comments on this post. I rarely see comments on my blog anyway, despite getting 1500+ hits this month. And given the vitriol with which all too many express their opinions about this volatile topic, I don’t want to get into a situation of fighting off trolls or arguing. While certainly good debate is healthy, in this case, I am posting my personal opinion on a topic I feel strongly about and about which I prefer not to debate. You and other authors can have your opinions, I respect that. But I have formed this opinion since I first discovered fanfic twenty-four years ago in college and believe me, you’re not going to change my mind.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

Write Tip: 10 Tips For Doing A Good Interview–As Both Interviewer and Subject

Interviews are a fact of life for successful people–especially entertainment people like writers. At some point, you’ll be asked to do an interview about your work. How do you prepare? How do you stay calm and fight nerves? How do you overcome introversion or shyness? Interviews require different things from an interviewer and an interviewee. I do both, so here’s some suggestions to help you in whichever role you find yourself.

As INTERVIEWEE:

1) Be Yourself. The interview was requested because of a desire by readers and the interviewer to know the person behind the stories. So don’t let them down. Be you. Yes, you should try not to be you at your most obnoxious, but don’t overdo it either. Relax, take a deep breath, and be honest.

2) Ask To See The Questions In Advance. Most interviewers will happily supply a list of potential questions in advance. If they don’t, don’t assume they’re out to trip you up or embarrass you. They may just be unorganized. But if they do, go over them, think through and practice potential answers, trying to smooth out the rough edges so you can give them good soundbytes. Public speaking takes practice and even if the interview takes place in private or by email, it will be published in a public foreign so practice makes perfect.

3) Practice. As I started to say above, practice is a vital part of your preparations. Ask someone you trust–your agent or a friend or spouse–to interview you. Sit down like you would in a real interview and field questions. When you stumble, stop, and do it again. Get used to talking about yourself. It’s something many of us are not good at and never comfortable with. That’s okay but you should at least be able to exude confidence and calmness. And that may take practice.

4) Be Prepared To Say No.  You don’t have to talk about anything that makes you uncomfortable. Sort out in advance where your boundaries are and stick to them. Personal and professional can and should be separated for your own mental health. Some people are more comfortable sharing things than you might be. That’s fine. Being yourself means knowing where to draw line and not being afraid to do so.

5) Have Fun. Interviews are more fun both to participate in and read if you have a sense of humor. Don’t be afraid to use it. Figure out the things you like about what you do and share them with a healthy dose of humility. People like those who can laugh at themselves. And your attitude goes a long way in helping you fight off nervousness and relax.

6) Keep It Short. Don’t ramble on and on. Be as concise as you can in answering questions. It’s the interviewer’s job to ask follow up questions if he or she needs or wants to know more. Besides, holding back leaves you with more to talk about later in the interview. Don’t use all you’ve got on the first few questions.

7) Know The Audience. Who’s the interview for? Fellow writers? Talk about how you write, why you write, what your writing day and approach to craft are like. Readers? Where’d the ideas come from? What are the themes and how did you develop them? Who are these characters and why did you write them the way you did? Etc. Knowing who will be the target audience for the interview will help you comfortably shape your answers to  keep them interested.

8 ) Dress Comfortably.  It’s not a job interview. So don’t dress to impress. Dress to be comfortable so you can just relax. If you like wearing a tie, wear one, but if you don’t leave it at home. Don’t dress hot. Don’t dress cold. Be yourself but look presentable so neither you nor the interviewer are distracted by other issues. You’re there to relax and have a conversation. Make that easy on yourself.

9) Arrive Early. Don’t put the pressure on yourself of running late if you can help it. You don’t want to be disheveled or out of breath. You want to be able to relax. So arrive a few minutes early to give yourself a chance to get comfortable with the location and the interviewer before you get down to business.

10) Bring Bottled Water. Many interviewers will provide this for you. Sometimes your publicist will. Don’t be afraid to ask in advance and, if you forget, ask when you arrive. Have cool water to drink when your throat gets dry. Skip the soda or juice or other thick liquids which coat your throat or cause belching or otherwise inhibit smooth speech. Just have water so you can stay lubricated when you need to.

There’s 10 Tips to help you as subject of an interview. Now here’s 10 more for conducting one.

As INTERVIEWER:

1) Do Your Research. Research not just the subject, but read their books. Read past interviews they’ve done. Talk with people who have met them. Get to know how they talk, their speech cadence, typical vocabulary, hobbies, marital status and anything else which can help you. The more knowledgable you are, the more comfortable they’ll be. Know which subjects to avoid, too. Unless you’re working for a tabloid, your goal should be to make both yourself and the subject look good.

2) Prepare Your Question In Advance.  Don’t wing it. Follow-up questions can be done on the fly but your main questions should be written down and refined before you show up. Whether you memorize them or read them off a cue sheet is up to you but have them ready. Know what the intended audience wants to know so you can word your questions appropriately. Also know what the interview subject most wants to discuss so that you can be sure and ask about that. Be prepared.

3) Dress Appropriately. Like the subject of your interview, things will go better if you’re relaxed, but don’t show up looking like you just got out of bed. Be well groomed and well attired. It doesn’t require wearing a suit and tie, just not dirty or torn clothes and shoes. Look professional, even if it’s casual. So the interviewee feels respected and takes you seriously. A confident interviewee is a better interview.

4) Practice. Just like the interviewee needs practice so do you. Once your questions are prepared, run through them. Practice enunciating and talking slower than you might normally so that you articulate well and can be understood. Think up follow up questions which might need to be asked based on various answers the subject provides. Get comfortable with your wording so that you can avoid confusion and stay in control.

5) It’s Your Job To Set The Tone. If you’re relaxed, the subject will feel more relaxed. If you’re tense, so will the other person be. So be prepared to set the appropriate tone. People who are relaxed and comfortable talk more freely and longer.  Make it like a conversation between friends, not a police interrogation and you’ll have more success not only getting through interviews but scheduling the next one.

6) Choose A Good Location. You need a location where both of you can sit comfortable and relax with minimum distractions. If you’re interviewing a celebrity of any level, you don’t want fans interrupting for autographs every five seconds. You don’t want tons of friends hollering ‘hellos’ across the room at either of you. The best location would be somewhere quiet and out of the way, not public. Follow Hollywood’s example and scout the location, even if it’s an hour before. Give yourself time to adjust what needs adjusting, even the location itself.

7) Don’t Be Late. The Subject can be late but you can’t. Keeping somebody waiting whom you’ve scheduled for an interview is not just unprofessional, it’s rude. They are giving you their time out of a probably busy schedule. Any time you miss, will be time you lose, if they have somewhere else to be right after. Also, you’ll want time to relax and feel prepared so be on time. Early even.

8 ) Bring Liquids. Don’t let yourself or your subject suffer from dry throat. Have bottled water or a pitcher of water and cups ready to help lubricate your throats as needed. Don’t even let them ask. Just have it there where they can see it and help themselves. Your preparedness is part of setting the right tone to help them be comfortable as quickly as possible. And your consideration will go a long way in helping a stranger feel like you’re a friend.

9) Make Small Talk. Before you jump right in, make sure the person is comfortable with you. If you’ve met before, it may require only a few quick greetings, but if not, a bit of small talk goes a long way. Ask them about their day, offer water, make sure their happy with their chair, etc. Set a the relaxed tone with your attitude of treating them with respect and care and they’ll assume you’ll do that through the interview and feel much more at ease quickly.

10) Get It Right. Don’t put words in their mouths. If something’s missing or unclear as you review the interview notes or recording after, call or email to follow up. Clarify. Don’t assume. One of your goals is to capture their voice, so be sure it’s them, not you. On the other hand, take out any pauses or stutters or stumbles. Fix obvious bad grammar. Make them look and sound good. They’ll be pleased with you and both they, their publicist, and their friends will be more willing to interview with you in the future.

Well, those are 10 Tips For Conducting Interviews from a guy who has done a lot of them. I hope all 20 tips in this post are helpful. If nothing else, you can understand the responsibilities and concerns of both sides of the interview. Going in informed is always helpful. Have other tip? We’d love to hear them in the comments. Don’t be shy. We’re here to help each other.

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My latest project:

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

Works In Progress

I don’t know that I have a big following really but lots of other writers do it, so here’s an update on what I’m working on right now.

My primary focus at the moment is two projects:

“The Returning: Book 2 In The Saga Of Davi Rhii,” which is at 65840 words out of 90000 planned. I have outlined the next several chapters, have the ending, now I really need to get back on the stick tomorrow and write a bunch of it. Finishing another Chapter by Monday would still mean I’m behind but at least keep me on track.

“Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales 6,” is my first gig as an anthology editor for any press. So far I have bought a story from Mike Resnick & Brad Togersen, an original as my headliner, and have several other stories in from Sarah Hendrix, David Lee Summers, Dana Bell, and Jaleta Clegg, amongst others. Tomorrow I have to read a bunch and see where I stand on this first batch before more come in, which they will be. We need 18-19 total. I also have to write my own story for it, which I have started, and which is a sequel to The Worker Prince, or actually, book 3 of that saga, but which actually has to be written to make it into the book.

Other projects:

Novels in the works:

“SANDMAN” — novel 1 in an epic fantasy trilogy. First draft completed except final two chapters but stopped due to wife’s medical crisis and need to polish The Worker Prince for publication. Lots of notes on worldbuilding and other changes. Needs a second draft and the ending written then out to betas. Will start this sometime this fall.

“THE EXODUS: Book 3 Of The Saga Of Davi Rhii”— This one is outlined and will complete the trilogy. I imagine it will be easier to write than book 2 has been, a) because the crises in my life are dying down and b) because it’s simpler in many ways. But it will wait until January or February as I try and get the North Star short stories and epic fantasy saga polished and on to their next phases.

“NOVO RIO”— my future steampunk story about an entrepenuer whose carbon cleaning toaster sized home machine revolutionizes the Brazilian city and becomes the object of industrial espionage, lawsuits, etc. Can’t wait to write this but lots of research needed. Will be a standalone but not sure if I can fit it in before Book 3.

Short Stories in the works:

BRASILIA — a tale of colonists starting their Brazilian utopia and discovering its harder than they thought it would be. Growing lengthy and may become my first novella. Only partially done.

THE DAY BOBBY BONNER WOKE UP STRIPED — comedic science fiction story about a failed college chemistry experiment which I got notes on and need to polish and rewrite the ending of.

THE NORTH STAR SERIAL Episodes 14-25 — these are outlined and commissioned and a book deal for all 25 stories pending. Now I just have to sit down and write them so Digital Dragon Magazine can continue running the serial. This will be a priority when “The Returning” is done.

DUNCAN DERRING AND THE STOWAWAY — comedic science fiction story originated because I loved the character and noir style I created in writing a story for the “Wicked Weeds” anthology my friend and fellow novelist Jaleta Clegg is editing, but also because Jennifer Brozek was doing SPACE TRAMPS and invited me to submit. But this one has only just gotten started and needs work. I missed that deadline.

THE HAND OF GOD (Worker Prince)— sequel story after the events of the WP trilogy which I am writing for “SPACE BATTLES” and which will be a priority over the next two months before I have to turn that anthology in.

THE UPRISING (Worker Prince)— prequel Xalivar story about the famous Delta V incident which haunts him throughout the WP trilogy and explaining what happened in that historical event. Needs to be written.

ESCAPE TO FAIRYLAND–one of my favorite stories which has gotten compliments from some professionals but still failed to land a home and really needs to be polished, reexamined and then out there submitting again. Story of an enslaved girl who escapes her captor while flashing back to how she got where she is.

 

There are a few more short stories in various stages but these are the main ones on my mind. At least it gives you an idea of where I am with major projects and what I have coming. Hope it’s of interest to at least a few of you.

For what it’s worth…

Thinking Up Ideas…It’s A Process, Okay? (video)

112232 — Click here or below to view.

 

Write Tip: 10 Tips For Finding Time To Write

One issue writers who work around dayjobs face is finding time to write. From job demands to family demands to everything else, it can be a real challenge. So how do you do it? Here’s some suggestions:

1) Write When You Can. Carry your laptop or notebook with you and write whenever you get a free moment. Whether it’s five or fifteen, such moments can add up and you’ll get more words than if you wait for the elusive big chunk of writing time which may never come.

2) Set Goals. It seems obvious but if you just write when you feel like it, you’re unlikely to be as productive as when you actually set goals. If you have a word count to meet, you have motivation to write. So set goals and work hard to accomplish them.

3) Treat Your Writing Like A Job. Can’t find time to write? What if you tried telling your boss that? If you’re serious about writing, you have to treat it like a job. Especially if you aspire to a career as a writer. That means setting aside time somehow and sticking to a schedule. It means being disciplined. It may require you to get family members on board so they won’t interrupt you during this time or will at least respect your goals for it. It will certainly require you to act like that time is work time and be productive.

4) Make A Time Budget. A time budget is a spreadsheet of your entire week, 24 hours a day, where you record all the ways you use your time. Some items have set times, like work hours, which must be blocked off. Others are more flexible. Start by blocking out what you absolutely must do, then see how much time is left and start blocking in other things you’d like to accomplish. If writing and reading are important, make time for them, then stick to it. Even if writing time isn’t an issue for you right now, making a time budget might be a good exercise. You’ll be surprised how much time you waste every week which could be put to better use.

5) Write With Others. Google+ has reminded many writers how productive peer group writing can be. You not only get to network and fellowship a bit, but the pressure of hearing clicking keys during writing time is a great motivator. Even greater is the encouraging support when you check in about word counts. Writing in a group setting like this can really be quality time.

6) Submit Your Work. Okay, you have to write it first yet, but the greatest way to encourage yourself to keep writing is to get positive feedback, especially when you sell a story. When someone else actually thinks what you’re doing is good enough to publish, it’s a huge motivation to set aside time so you can write more.

7) Use Beta Readers or Critique Groups. Unlike submitting your work, where you might get form rejections instead of feedback, working with beta readers and critique groups gets you guaranteed feedback. Some may be negative, but inevitably some will be positive too, and just knowing someone enjoyed what you did tells you you’re on the right track and motivates you to keep going. Finding time to write is easier when you know someone appreciates the results.

8 ) Hang Out With Writers. Even hanging out with writer friends without any specific writing time group goals is a great motivator to write. Hearing about their projects and accomplishments makes you want to have some of your own. After all, who wants to be the only one without a great new brag to share?

9) Learn To Say ‘No!’ One of the biggest obstacles to writing time is overcommitting yourself. Don’t do it. Learn to say ‘no,’ one of the first words most babies learn. If you don’t leave time for your writing, you can’t write. Set priorities and make writing one of them.

10) Reward Yourself For Success. If you meet your word count goal or writing time goal, reward yourself. It may be an ice cream cone or buying that special book you’ve been craving after a period of success. Whatever the prize, find ways to reward yourself as positive reinforcement for sticking to your goals. Ultimately, the greatest reward will come in other ways but you have to finish the book or story first. 

There they are, 10 Tips For Finding Writing Time. I hope these help you with your writing goals. What are some ways you find time to write? Please add to the list in the comments below.

F0r what it’s worth…

Write Tip: 15 Web Resources Invaluable To Writers

We all have our favorite tools we use when writing. But one of the advantages of the modern age is having a lot of great resources available right here on the World Wide Web. What are the tools you never write without? Here are 15 of mine:

1) www.dictionary.com This great website is a quick and easy way to look up any word you need and quickly right on the web. Other similar sites exist, such as http://www.merriam-webster.com/, but this one has become my go-to source. In addition to the dictionary, it also has a companion http://thesaurus.com as well as a reference, translator, quote engine and more. Very useful for writers of both fiction and nonfiction.

2) http://www.behindthename.com/ A source for etymology and history of names which can be invaluable for helping pick names not just at random but for their deeper meanings. Again other similar sites exist, such as http://www.thinkbabynames.com/. Either way, they’re quite handy to have around for naming characters.

3) http://geology.about.com/ and www.geology.com. Great resources for current and past information on everything geological. Wanna build a realistic world? Don’t forget your geology. What kinds of plants and trees grow in which type of environment? What might a map of your world look like? What exotic plants exist in a climate far from your own? These sites can tell you, stimulating your creative process and helping you make a more believable world.

4) Reference.com offers hundreds of links to references of all shapes, sizes and types from almanacs to dictionaries and literature. Sister site to www.dictionary.com but worth its own separate listing because it’s such a great resource.

5) Encyclopedia.com an online encylopedia with short articles on all kinds of topics to aid your research or even story generation. Offers links to published resources like Oxford University Press and Britannica right online.

6) Internet Public Library  a site offering links to full text books, articles and references for free.

7) Library of Congress access photos, manuscripts and an online library of books from the U.S. government’s key gatekeepers and copyright warehouse.

8) http://www.authorscopyright.com/ a blog offering news and other up to date information on copyright which every writer should be aware of.

9) Creative Writing Prompts offers over 300 writing prompts for writers to help stimulate you and get you started.

10) http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/ a site from SFWA providing information helping weed out scams. There are lots of people preying on our dreams out there. It’s good to have a resource to help avoid them.

11) querytracker.net find agents, see sample query letters and schedule email follow ups on your queries all from this handy database.

12) writenews.com Up to the minute news for writers on the publishing business.

13) http://duotrope.com/index.aspx Looking for a home for your story? This is a go-t0 source for many writers. View listings by genre, pay rate and more. Get weekly reports sent to your inbox. Easily find new markets. All in one handy online database.

14) English Usage, Style, & Composition A collection of reference works which includes American Heritage, Strunk & White, Fowler’s King’s English, and other indispensable public-domain works.

15) http://www.copyright.com/ The copyright clearance center is a go-to resource for finding out what’s in the public domain and what isn’t. Especially invaluable for nonfiction writers.

These are just a few examples of the numerous resources out there. What are your go-to web tools for writing? Please add to the list in the comments. In the meantime, I hope this list proves helpful to you.

For what it’s worth…

Write Tip: 10 Tips For Naming Characters

One of the most important tasks for a writer is creating character names. Everyone has their own approach. Some find it more challenging than others. Here’s 10 Tips which might help you with the naming.

1) Keep A List. Mary Robinette Kowal kept a spreadsheet of names when writing Shades Of Milk And Honey as a handy reference. So keeping a list is a tool professionals already know about. For one thing, when researching a particular period or locale, names are often unique to the period and locale. Keeping A List is a way to stay true to your research. For another, sometimes you’d rather focus creative energy on other details than stopping to think up names. Having a list can save time and focus.

2) Write The Story First. Some people use filler names until their plot, characters and worldbuilding are complete, naming the characters Scott or Bill or Mary or Linda as they write with the plan to go back later and research appropriate names. This seems particularly useful if you’re a pantser, when the characters don’t reveal themselves until late into a project, well into their arcs. In this way, you can write with the filler names but later find names which fit them better.

3) Draw From People You Know. My friends and family get a kick out of their names popping up in my stories. I’ve named both characters and worlds after my mother, for example. Sometimes I spell it differently just to make it more science fictional or something. Still, they know where it came from. I usually don’t even have to ask. In your case, if you don’t know how they’d feel, always ask. And one other bit of advice: don’t choose unlikable characters to name after them. No one wants a jerk to share their name. And in this case, they’ll be wondering if it’s a reflection of your opinion of them. So use them but do it respectfully and with permission.

4) Use a Name Generation Tool. There’s all sorts out there like: The Fantasy Name Generator, Dwarf Name Generator, Character Name Generator,  Elven Name Generator, etc. Some are charts you use to compile names, others generate them. Either way, you can come up with interesting names or even prompts. My tendency is to generate names then modify them to make them my own. After all, other writers probably use the same tool. But the value of them is stimulating your thinking and generating ideas as much as actual names themselves.

5) Use A Baby Name List. Lots of these exist, even whole dictionaries. If they fit your time period and milieu, they may be the perfect solution.

6) Use A Dictionary of Names. These often include both modern and historical names from which you can pick with more variety to better fir your characters. Again,t hey must fit your time period and milieu, but they can be an important resource for names.

7) Science Fiction Names Don’t Have To Sound Like It. Combine common names to make a new one: Veronica and Donna, for example, can become Donica. Use mythological or biblical names. Whatever you do, make sure they’re both easy to pronounce and spell. Readers and reviewers may use them a lot.

8 ) Use Terms Of Endearment. People often refer to each other by nicknames or pet names, why shouldn’t your characters? This should not be used in lieu of actually naming them but can be the name their most known by and remembered by from your story.

9) Pick Opposing Names. If you name your antagonist and protagonist with opposing  names, the names themselves add to the conflict between characters.

10) Use Names From Other Cultures.  It can be very interesting, for example, to name aliens with African names or Brazilian names or mix in names from various cultures to add spice to your worldbuilding. Names not only tell you a lot about a character but also about their world. Employ that to make your world more vivid.

There you go, 10 Tips to help you name characters. I hope they give you some ideas you haven’t thought of and maybe even some resources.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

Write Tip: 10 Tips For Fighting Off Writer’s Block

It’s the bane of any writer’s existence–Writer’s Block–like a monster in the closet, creeping out when you least expect it and stalking you with relentless determination. It can be devastating to your sense of creative flow in a project and frustrate your word count and other goals, when you’re on a deadline. For years writers have debated what to do about it. I’ve interviewed a lot of writers this past year and frequently ask advice on writer’s block. All of them have their ways of dealing with it. And many agree. Here are some tips to help you.

1) Write Anyway. As author John Pitts puts it: “Concert pianists and pro football players practice every day. Why shouldn’t writers?” Whether the music is good or bad, musicians work on their technique and craft daily to succeed. So should you. Don’t let this bane block you from your necessary exercise. Write anyway, even if the result is a crumpled page in the trash can. Some suggest this is a good way to get the block out of your system. Others merely that by writing you may push through it. Either way, you exercise your writing chops and that practice does you good.

2) Always Have Multiple Projects. Writer after writer has told me that when they get stuck on one project, they switch to another. I frequently have short story projects going while working on a novel just for such contingencies. And I also work on revising other projects, when I’m stuck on my main one. I find this keeps my creative juices flowing in ways that help me feel good and productive that day. Positive reinforcement and good psychological satisfaction is important for writers because motivation can be easily lost. It’s more fun to sit around and imagine the story than to actually work it out in words. So having multiple projects allows you to get word count and make creative progress on something, even when something else is blocked.

3) Identify The Block. To get past a block, you have to first identify the blockage. Where does the problem lie? Author Mary Robinette Kowal suggests: “Look at what’s causing the block. The way you react to working on the story can often tell you what’s wrong with it.” What spot are you stuck on? Where is the stress occurring which makes you just stop? Figure it out and you’ll be well on your way to figuring out why you’re blocked and seeking a solution.

4) Skip It. Author Paul S. Kemp writes scenes out of order: ” I’ll write according to my mood or as inspiration strikes. ” As a result, he struggles less with being blocked. There’s no one who says you have to write scenes chronologically or in any particular order. If one scene is giving you trouble, put a place holder in and move to another. Write something you have a good image of, where you know what to do. It’s better than not writing at all. You’ll keep to your word count and you’ll avoid the distraction of frustration by getting back to it later when you know what to do.

5) Change Your Approach. One way to work through a block is to approach what you’re trying to write a different way. This does not refer to pencil and paper instead of laptop and Microsoft Word, but rather to changing the Point of View of the scene or starting it in a different place or even changing the sequence events. Experiment. By finding a new approach, you can often overcome the block.

6) Ask Fellow Writers. One of the things authors often say about the community of writers is how advantageous the encouragement and support is that they get from their peers. After all, no one understands what you’re going through like someone else going through the same thing. Wherever they gather, authors discuss things like contract terms, agents, publishers, stories, and sometimes problems like blocks. Just by running through the issue with another writer, you can find yourself sorting it out before they say a word. And sometimes, they’ll solve it for you with a creative suggestion or by giving you a needed perspective. Don’t be afraid to make use of this resource. After all, the next time around, it could be you helping them.

7) Take A Break. Nothing frees up the creative juices from a block like walking away. Don’t just sit there getting more and more tense. Author/Editor Jennifer Brozek suggests: “I go exercise because then I realize how much I’d rather be writing.” It may not fix your exercise block, but it can fix your motivation block and motivation is key to writing.  Similar to getting a fresh perspective, it’s like getting a second wind–of motivation by reminding yourself how much you enjoy writing, something it’s very hard to remember when sitting at your writing station in a block.

8 ) Turn On The News. Author Nnedi Okorafor says: “All I have to do is turn on the news–stories galore.” Whether it’s to find a new project to work on when you’re stuck on the one you’ve been writing or to find a new way to look at the project on which you’re blocked, news stories are often full of varied perspectives which can shake you out of your thinking box and help you look at it with new eyes. And sometimes new eyes is all you need to break the block.

9) Switch Art Forms. If you’re creatively blocked in your writing, try making music instead. You paint? Switch to that for a while. Stimulate your creativity in a different way. It’s not only satisfying to your muse but it gives you the joy of creating and gets your mind off the issue. If you’re not obsessing over it, sometimes a solution will present itself the next time you sit down to write.

10) Accept It. Sometimes life just overwhelms you. In two years, writer Ken Scholes had major deaths in his family along with the birth of twin daughters and other crises. Despite signing a contract for multiple novels, he found himself unable to write. And he had to give himself permission to let that go and focus on what he needed to at the time. Once he dealt with grieving and family, the freedom to write returned. Sometimes you just won’t be able to get past it. Sometimes you just won’t be able to write. And sometimes there really are more important things you need to be doing. Forget the deadline. Forget the pressure. Get your priorities straight. Dealing with what you need to is the quickest way to get back to writing again. It’s hard to do for many of us. But sometimes the best thing you can do get over a block is accept defeat and refocus. This doesn’t mean you’re accepting it forever. Just for the moment. Once you’ve focused your energy on what you really need to, you’ll be writing again.

Well there they are, 10 Tips For Fighting Off Writer’s Block. Lessons learned from my personal experience and that of many successful writers.  Have others? We’d love to hear them in the comments. In the meantime, I hope you find something you can use. Happy writing.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

Write Tip: 10 Tips For Writing Good Action Scenes

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been a fan of action. Movies like the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard series always entertained me. I like action in my reading, too. Space opera is my favorite science fiction genre and sword & sorcery tops my fantasy favorites. Is it any wonder that I find myself often writing action in my stories? But writing action can be a challenge for writers. When making movies, you have visual and other clues to use to inspire the tension and pacing in the audience, but when writing prose, this can be more difficult. So here are a few key tips I’ve learned.

1) Write in short snippets as much as possible. Action scenes are not the time for long internal dialogues by characters. Think about a time you were involved in a high adrenaline situation. You didn’t have time to take long pauses for deep thinking. You had to react and do so quickly and so must your characters. The same is true of long speeches. People tend to be interrupted in speaking by the need to act or react. So dialogue and even action should be described in short spurts. If you have more than four sentences to it, think twice about whether it should be split up.

2) Use action to break up dialogue and dialogue to break up action. Intersperse the two components in short segments to add a sense of pacing and tension. Writing long sections of dialogue and long sections of action will tend to read slow and thus stall the pacing. This is especially true of dialogue as noted above. Alternating them adds a sense of realism and keeps things moving.

3) Get to the point. Long descriptions of weapons and scenery don’t belong here. If things need to be set up, do it before the sequence occurs so you don’t have to interrupt the action to do it. You want to focus on sensory details–what the characters see, feel, touch, etc. Are they sweating? Are they hurting? Not on what the building behind them looks like or even the street itself. You don’t want to spend pages like Tom Clancy describing their weapon here. We need to know what it is and how it works and their skill level so we can not be surprised by their actions, but set that up elsewhere. During the action, we should already know.

4) Don’t make it too easy. Yes, the hero will likely win. But make it a challenge. Be sure and make the opponents threatening enough that the hero is in real jeapordy, otherwise the dramatic impact will be greatly lessened. No matter how skilled your hero is, he or she must have to face obstacles. In action sequences the odds should seem stacked against him.  Let them bleed from a wound. Let them misfire or miss with the sword. Let them sweat and even have to run, barely escaping. Sometimes it’s even good to let them lose one time only to have them win later on. Force them to stretch themselves in some way to succeed. Make them human or the reader’s will struggle to care.

5) Keep it believable.  This goes hand in hand with number 4. Real people are imperfect. They make mistakes. They fail. Make sure your action sequences are well researched and realistic. Besides humanizing the hero, don’t have vehicles or weapons performing beyond their capabilities. You may assume readers won’t know the difference but some will. And writing without limits rings hollow. Make sure you respect the limits and use them to up the tension. A man stuck with a sword fighting men with guns will face tense moments. A man against incredible odds is a man we root for.

6) Keep it tight. Anything absolutely not necessary should be cut. This includes long descriptions and dialogue as mentioned in number 1 but also the scene openings and closings. The rule I learned in film school was to get in a scene as late as possible and out as soon as possible. Nothing hurts pacing more than disobeying this rule. Be sure you start the action as fast as possible and end it the same. Don’t drag it out unnecessarily in your desire to make it more dramatic or a “cooler” sequence. Make it exactly as long as it really needs to be to serve the story and no longer.

7) Give the readers breathing space. Be careful about putting too many action sequences too close together. Movies build to a climax which may have twenty minutes of action but before that action scenes are interspersed with slower moments. Make sure you intersperse your action sequences with moments of character building and reflection, dialogue and discovery–slower sequences which allow readers to breathe a bit before the next intense action scene. In between scenes are where you make action sequences matter.  Action is not just about a character we care about surviving but about stakes he or she has in that victory. What is the character’s driving need or goal? This gets set up in other scenes and provided driving undercurrent to the action which makes us care.

8 ) Pick your moments. Action stories tend to have several sequences spread throughout. Be sure you consider in choosing which sequence to include where the overall dramatic level of them. You want the biggest action sequence in the entire piece to be either at the closing of the piece. Those in between should leave room for a build up to the major action sequence to come. Ideally, each scene builds up to those that follow but this can be accomplished in ways besides upping the stakes and tension or odds. With proper character arcs, character’s emotional stakes can be developed in such a way that each later sequence matters that much more, making the readers care more as well.

9) Make it matter. Action scenes do not exist solely to entertain readers and add tension. They have a greater purpose to serve the story. Something must happen which ups the stakes or increases the challenges with each scene in your story and action scenes are no exception. Don’t write action for the sake of action. Write action because it serves the story. Every action sequence should move the story and characters forward in their journey, if not, they don’t belong int he story.

10) Incorporate humor. Humor is a great tool for not only breaking the tension but building character during action sequences. It’s no accident characters like LEthal Weapon’s Riggs and Die Hard’s McClane engage in witty banter during such moments and your characters can as well. From funny actions to funny dialogue snippets, this makes the action both more enjoyable and less tense when done at the right moments and can add a lot to reader enjoyment. Don’t be afraid to incorporate it when you can. It doesn’t have to be cheesy catch phrases either. It’s all in the wording.

Just a few tips I hope will help you in writing action scenes for your stories and novels. I know these lessons have helped me.

As an example, here’s an excerpt from my debut novel, releasing October 4th, The Worker Prince: http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/2011/04/26/novel-excerpt-the-worker-prince-chapter-1-opening/

For what it’s worth…

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Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

Hangouts: The Value Of Writing In Good Company

Tonight I had a great experience with my first Google+ hangout. Basically, myself and several other writers came together, connected by microphone and webcam to write. We chatted for fifteen minutes at the top of each hour, then wrote for forty-five. And it actually was helpful.

I don’t know about you but I’ve always thought of writing as something I do in solitude. I go to my office, shut the door and immerse myself. It’s always been something I needed to avoid interruptions. No phone, no TV, no spouse, no pets. Getting that time has sometimes been a struggle but my most productive times were always writing in solitude.

All that changed last March when I went to Rainforest Writer’s Village, a retreat in Washington state I had long heard about and wanted to attend. For four days, we wrote in mass, gathered in a lodge, and I must say it totally changed my way of thinking about the value of writing with others. Again at RWV discussion time was limited. But the energy in the room was invigorating. I sat next to the Vice President of SFWA, Mary Robinette Kowal, a published author and respected leader in our field and just being able to write next to someone of her caliber was encouraging. I felt like an equal, and I was in that process. And somehow that energized me to be productive.

So when the opportunity to do these Google+ hangouts came up, I was excited to try it. It was a very similar experience to RWV.  Mary was there again as were Jason Sanford and Paolo Bacigalupi–three very well respected published authors. Others were there like me who are just coming up. But we chatted as equals and wrote as equals. And it was quite encouraging. In fact, Jason Sanford and I both felt we got a lot of writing done we might not have without it. That alone makes it invaluable.

One interesting and challenging aspect of the writing life is how, as one grows in craft and experience, one adapts methodology, etc. Learning the value of writing in good company is one of those moments. I’m already signed up for Rainforest Writer’s Village again for 2012, and I can’t wait. In the meantime, these Google+ hangouts will be an awesome substitute.

If you’re like me and you can’t imagine writing with others around, I encourage you to take a chance and try it. If it doesn’t work for you, no one will fault you for just closing the window. But don’t miss the chance to share the vibes and network with awesome peers. It may change the way you look at your writing in good ways.

For what it’s worth…

Thank God For Beta Readers

Working on the sequel to my debut novel has been an interesting experience because of the unique pressures of a) trying to live up to the first novel which was well received enough to sell and generate some buzz from readers of excerpts and b) being a write as I go non-outliner in the midst of an employment crisis and divorce, focus has been hard. I have often felt lost. But I have the good fortune of some smart friends who volunteered to beta read and they have saved me in one very simple way: feedback. First, I deliberately chose three beta readers who had not read the original novel because I wanted to be sure the back story was a) poured out like sand through a tight hourglass and not b) like dropping a huge load of sand off a 747. I wanted to introduce only what was needed when it was needed and avoid the trap many writers struggle with and critics complain about in 2nd books of trilogies. I wanted a book which could stand alone for new readers. The advantage was of new readers was a) getting three creatives who are fans of space opera who can analyze the book on a level some of my non-creative readers couldn’t and b) getting feedback as I write which can help me better shape the book. In the process, they have had to wait for long gaps between chapters, deal with me rewriting earlier stuff to make new stuff work (I frequently just make stuff ut up as I need to to make the story work and go back later to make the other chapters work with that). They have been very patient. But recently I reached a point where I just felt totally lost. Writing the last half of chapter 5 and all of chapter 6, with 7 or 8 being the midpoint of the novel, I just felt like I had it wrong. So I brought in a beta reader from novel 1 and had him go over it. Boy am I glad I did. 1) he assured me right away that it felt like a novel that flowed from the other in style, voice, etc. 2) the characters were developing well and things seemed paced well and 3) he helped me sort out some ideas on story I really need to clarify to keep this thing going. Not only did Chapter 6 come together with a fun 10-page action scene at its close, but I also immediately outlined Chapter 7 which came together with good ideas for the various twists I want to include in the rest of the book. Oh, I don’t know everything that will happen yet, but I know the ending and I know the twists leading there, so the rest should flow. Thank God for betas. Some writers tell me they like to write in a vacuum, letting no one see their work until they’re sure it’s ready. The advantage is the manuscript may have less warts when readers see it, but the disadvantage is, when you’re on you’re on and you’re stuck, it’s all on you. My readers know the final draft will be much better: a) because one of them has seen the progression of book 1 and b) because they are also writers. And as they now all read the final book 1, they’ll realize that I will polish this up and add many nuances and fine details later, right now I just want to get the story down. I also know that I learned from the many drafts on novel 1 and novel 2 won’t, hopefully, require as much work as a result. And I know that they will enjoy rediscovering the book in its final form because other betas have and that’s the joy of publishing–taking a rough cut stone and polishing it into a precious gem. So you may decide you don’t need betas, but I am thankful for mine because they’ve already kept me going when I felt like it wasn’t worth the effort, and they’ve reminded me it’s actually pretty good, in spite of my distracted lack of focus, even when I don’t feel it. That alone is worth the trust I’ve placed in them. For what it’s worth…

Struggling Through Writer’s Block

Okay a few weeks ago, on a total whim, I fired off 7 Tips For Being Good Beta Readers, a post that rocked this blog. It has gotten more hits than anything else I ever posted. I have yet to see a single Retweet but yet readers keep coming. Since I had not been very good about blogging or writing at all, it was admittedly a thrill to write something people took such interest in. I’ve been trying to come up with a follow up ever since. My blog post on writing grief has had some hits, slowly. But my post on “Lessons From Editing” went largely unnoticed.

And now I can’t seem to think of anything I can actually finish. I offered to guest post on a friend’s blog while he takes some time after the birth of his daughter and his request for proposed topics sits unanswered. Sorry, Everett, not ignoring you, I just don’t have a clue. It’s almost like I wonder what I have to offer?

Now before you all start thinking I’m too hung up on my Site Stats link, it’s not the lack of hits that’s at the heart, it’s my depression. I am just generally down in the dumps. After all, in the last two years, I lost two dream jobs, a house we wanted to buy, went through several major medical crises with my wife who now divorced me. And I still can’t find a new job and I spend most of my time alone. Who wouldn’t be depressed? Writer’s Block has always been a bitch but this is taking on epic proportions.

Ironically, despite my blog block, I have been able to write on my novel. Oh I switch between excited about the stuff written and lackluster, yes, but at least I am getting words on the page. The story is progressing. Anything truly awful can be fixed later. But you can’t edit until you have a finished draft. And at least I’m getting somewhere.

Even my usual answer to writer’s block, the great standby which has seen me steadily through over the past few years, is not working. I always had several short stories going at the same time as I worked on a novel, so that I could always switch between them when ever the gnarly bitch reared her head. But right now, I just have a couple novels, and I still see no way out of the blog block, so I am resorting to the last chance.

That’s right. I am going to tame this bitch the only way I know how: write anyway.

Most of us are tied enough in ego to our writing, especially if you’ve made any sales or started networking enough to have people whose work you respect pay attention to your career, that we really loathe writing crap. We’d almost rather do anything than write when we know we don’t know what we’re doing. And although it’s often tossed out as advice at workshops and conferences to “write even when you don’t feel like writing,” such advice is often relegated to the category of good in concept, poor in practice and ignored. Because we don’t want to commit to paper words we will later read and say “I should NEVER have written that” as we scowl in horror.

But I’m doing it anyway. I am going to tame this  and write anyway. So here it is. Not a lot of great advice here for fighting off the block, the dreaded nemesis of any writer. But the advice I do have is write something, even when you don’t feel up to it. You never know what you’ll end up with and maybe, somehow, to someone, it’ll actually be helpful.

For what it’s worth…

How To Let Your Characters Grieve Well

One of the keys to good writing, writing which pops off the page and carries the reader away, is depicting characters’ emotions realistically. If we can feel what they feel, if it moves us to laugh or get angry or cry, we are hooked on the characters and their needs become ours. So how do writers learn to write emotions? Much has been written on stages of emotions and descriptive language cues, etc. But what really makes them pop is using our own experience.

As per my previous posts, I have been going through a very difficult time dealing with my wife’s mental illness and now with our divorce. I have dealt with anger, dismay, exhaustion, frustration, sadness, etc. But ultimately, the mental illness destroyed who she was in ways that she has not recovered from. She insisted on a divorce and I knew we could not remain together. As much as I was ready for it at the time, as many times as I couldn’t wait for her to be gone, what I am left with now that she is gone is overwhelming grief.

People define them with slight variations but according to rec0ver-from-grief.com, these are the 7 Stages Of Grief:

1. SHOCK & DENIAL-
You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may last for weeks.

2. PAIN & GUILT-
As the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs.

You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn’t do with your loved one. Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase.

3. ANGER & BARGAINING-
Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the death on someone else. Please try to control this, as permanent damage to your relationships may result. This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion.

You may rail against fate, questioning “Why me?” You may also try to bargain in vain with the powers that be for a way out of your despair (“I will never drink again if you just bring him back”)

4. “DEPRESSION”, REFLECTION, LONELINESS-
Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be “talked out of it” by well-meaning outsiders.Encouragement from others is not helpful to you during this stage of grieving.

During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one, and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair.

5. THE UPWARD TURN-
As you start to adjust to life without your dear one, your life becomes a little calmer and more organized. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your “depression” begins to lift slightly.

6. RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH-
As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life without your loved one. You will start to work on practical and financial problems and reconstructing yourself and your life without him or her.

7. ACCEPTANCE & HOPE-
During this, the last of the seven stages in this grief model, you learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the pain and turmoil you have experienced, you can never return to the carefree, untroubled YOU that existed before this tragedy. But you will find a way forward.

The odd thing is the stages don’t actually progress in order necessarily. Sometimes you experience waves of them in mixed up order. It’s not just step one then on to step two, etc.

So where am I? I went through Stage 1 a lot during the whole medical crisis. Just feeling like “I don’t care if she’s gone” or “I can’t wait to be rid of her” or “I don’t love her anymore.” It was easy to do when she was telling me how much she hated me every day or verbally abusing me in other ways. It was easy to do because she was, in many ways, unrecognizable as the person I had once loved. Manic people are hard to love.

Stage 2 was a minor factor at first so I’ll skip it for now and address it more fully later because it’s where I am now.

I went through Stage 3 a lot as well, lashing out at her family for not telling me of her illness, for not making more effort to come and help me, and for being in denial of how difficult it was. Now that they’ve been here and dealt with her, they have a much better idea of the nightmare I was facing, but it was hard for me to communicate due to language barrier (they are Brazilians and speak mostly Portuguese) and cultural barrier. And because mental illness changed Bianca so much that you really had to see her to believe she was behaving that way.  When you’re in the midst of it though, you don’t have that logic. You just want them to empathize and act according to how you think they should act, period.

Stage 4 was a constant as well. I was in medical treatment for depression with meds and counseling. And it didn’t help that I had lost my job or that friends had turned their backs on us due to reasons I don’t full understand. Some of it was not knowing what to say or do to help us. Some of it was Bianca’s behavior. Some of it was my anger, too, I suppose. But I am left lonely, depressed, and reflecting on why and what went wrong and feeling abandoned. That makes it so much harder to deal with the other stages at the same time. You just have to tell yourself to breathe sometimes. You have to force yourself to leave the house and move just to remind yourself it actually feels good to get out and be alive.

Stages 5-7, I can’t even fathom right now, because I am stuck in the middle of Stage 2. The pain I feel is so constant and so overwhelming it almost chokes off my breath. It makes it hard to laugh or play or do anything joyful for more than a second or two. It makes it impossible to imagine a way out. Do I feel guilt? A little. Yeah. I didn’t express my love as well as I could. But then don’t all men fail at that or most? I also lashed out at her in anger. I regret so much those little instances, because her mania is not something she can control, but even knowing the person is not in their right mind is not enough to calm you when the stress and exhaustion overcome you. I spent months living with sleep deprivation and intense, constant stress. If you add to that my anger and depression, etc., it was a combination which led to me not loving her well sometimes. After all, as I said, the person I was dealing with was a manic person, not the woman I fell in love with. So now I feel guilt over that. Irrational? Maybe but it’s still there. Mostly, though I just feel pain.

I hurt because I feel like she died. The woman I waited so long for (see this post) died to me. I haven’t seen her since early this year. I have been dealing with someone else inhabiting her body and using her voice. And that person was impossible to live with and deal with–constantly out of control, constantly verbally abusive, selfish, childish. That person had no pleasant traits at all. Even her eyes looked wild and crazy, not at all the eyes I used to stare into and feel so loved. So I feel denied, robbed, assaulted. Fate, God, mental illness–choose one or all–stole my lover, my best friend, my companion, my wife. In a sense, they stole my life, my future, my happiness and my hope. And I feel so much pain and loss and anger and dismay, I couldn’t begin to describe it. Or can I? Maybe I have in this post. To make it all worse, I never really got closure. One day I left for Seattle on a writer’s retreat, and when I saw her again next, she was this manic person, not the woman I love. I never got to say “goodbye.”

In any case, I don’t know how my story will end, but I am sure I will continue to blog about it. I’m sure I will get to the last 3 stages at some point. Right now, I have to get through where I am. But why am I sharing all this? Why am I making this about me?

I am sharing it because this is real experience we can all draw from in our writing to make it better. Using our experiences and others helps us create real characters and empathetic ones and those are the ones which pop off the page. Yes, grief is but one emotion, yet it has stages involving many others. I am sharing this opening because I know there are things here writers can use to write well, and I want this blog to provide such information whenever it can. And all writing comes from our own experiences to some degree and the experiences of people we know or encounter.

So use it in your writing if you can. I know I will come back to it and do so. Right now the emotions are raw and fresh so that comes out in the words I use to describe them. If you deal with any situation calling for grief in your stories, read the stages, read what I’m experiencing and use it. It will make your characters and story come alive in ways that powerfully impact you and your readers. It will make your story/book memorable. And that’s what we all want, isn’t it? To write something that people will carry with them forever after and remember?

So now take what I’ve written and think about your own life and experiences and those of people you’ve met. What resources do you find there for improving your writing? What stories can you tell? What emotional experiences can you include in your characters’ journeys to help readers connect with them? Make a list. Keep a spreadsheet.

For what it’s worth…

 


Lessons From Editing

We finished the final edit on my debut novel The Worker Prince today. And while there’s still a road to publication, from sending out ARCS for reviews and blurbs, to racheting up marketing, to copyedits, artwork, etc., it’s a good feeling. This was my first time working through this process with an editor. And I put on hold writing the second book in the series to do it. Am I glad I did.

Amongst things my editors did, besides grammatical corrections and questioning passages for clarity, was to help me bring out nuances and aspects of the characters and story which I had glossed over or failed to exploit fully. This will make the novel richer and more meaningful overall, and it also had the bonus of helping me identify strains which can be exploited in the sequel. Their insights also went to worldbuilding, allowing me to exploit things like terraforming which are appropriate to my world but which I had not specifically touched on. Overall, I know the finished book is a lot stronger than it would have been without their help and I will be forever grateful to Randy Streu, Jen Ambrose and earlier editors Paul Conant and Darlene Oakley for their insights.

I continue to evolve in not just my craft but my approach to writing, and experiences like this only push me to self-examination and discovery of new ways to approach my work. For example, The Worker Prince being only my second novel, I have done more drafts of this book than I will of future novels, I suspect. In this case, my first draft was a basic concept of plot, characters and scenes. A lot of the gritty nuances and details came out in later drafts, where I sought ways to lend not only balance but connectivity throughout using various elements. For example, my protagonist has two names: his birth name, Davi (Dah-vee) Rhii, and his adopted legal name Xander Rhii. For much of his life, he goes by Davi, a name his adoptive mother liked because it was unique and non-stereotypical in their culture. But many of his colleagues and his uncle refer to him as Xander. As Davi seeks to come of age and discover who he is as a man, he really comes to own one name over the other. But the nuances of having some characters refer to him by one name over the other were important aspects of characterization and development of story I missed–which we discovered during editing.

There were also times I overstated things, either by repeating them too much or telling too much, which I could do better in showing or hinting at and letting the readers sort it out. Those are areas where my editors’ voices helped me find a wiser path for which I am grateful.

There were also little details, such as using more military-style language in battle and fight scenes, and setting up even minor characters as potential catalysts for action in the sequels, which came out in the editing. These things helped point me to a more focused understanding of what Book 2, The Returning, needs to be, and even to discover the arc of that story in a clear way I had failed to even as I’d started writing it. I typically write with a let the story unfold as it comes approach. But writing a three book series where the story has to flow from one to the next and the overall arc has to be well considered, this editing process on The Worker Prince helped me come to clearer understandings of the books to follow in ways that still allow some “letting the story come as it will” while also writing with a clearer plan. That will, no doubt, make those books stronger and better, and I am indebted to my editors for their assistance with that.

I don’t always get as detail oriented as I should in drafting stories. I tend to go back and add those things later, but learning to note little details and how they can be used throughout a story to bring out themes and deepen the world has been a great lesson for me.

So how does this help you?

1) Names/Language Matter–not only in the origins and meanings they may imply but in how they are employed by characters. How can you utilize the formality and informality with which characters address each other to not only reveal their relationships but deepen tension and characterization? How can you use terminology better in your story? Adding military language or creating formal language for various settings enriches the realism of your world for readers and adds a richness in texture to your story.

2) There Are No Little Things–little things like the necklace a character always wears, a notebook he/she always stops to write in, etc. can be employed to develop not only character but deepen the symbolism of the story. Do you employ any off these and are you using them to their fullest? Every little detail you include has the potential to be exploited for stronger nuance in the story. A few throwaways may exist but be careful to examine what you include and why and how they can be used to provide stronger meaning for readers.

3) Don’t overtell–We’ve all hear the warnings about Showing v. Telling but sometimes we feel the need to revisit plot aspects or character details we’ve already introduced because we fear the reader might not remember them. It’s a fine line to know when to do this and when not to but seeking specific feedback from betas and others on it can be of great help because this is one area where you can end up talking down to readers and nothing turns them off more than that.

4) Consider Future Stories–if you go in knowing you will be writing multiple books, spend time looking for ways you can exploit characters, props, and other details in the first book to set up things which will complicate or be expanded upon in later books. You may not be able to see it in the first draft or two, but as you move further in, you need to really look for this and develop those things well enough that readers will remember them by the time the sequels roll around.

Just a few lessons which I hope can help you on your writing path as they have helped me.

For what it’s worth…

Write Tip: 7 Tips For Being A Good Beta Reader

One of the things I’ve learned in the past year from working with editors and beta readers is how important a role these folks play in the creative success of any published product. Now there are good editors and bad editors, good beta readers and bad beta readers. I’ve been lucky with my editors so far but had a few beta readers who left things to be desired. (Actually my current crop are fantastic but took a while to find them.)

What you need to understand as a beta reader is that the author needs your focus and honesty to make a good book or story. In fact, without you, the story can’t be all it can be, so you’re actually participating in the creative process and can have huge influence over the final product. If it’s good–and even better because of your thoughtful attention–you can proudly brag about that, and I’m sure the author will credit you in the Acknowledgements as well.

So what does it take to be a good beta reader? Here’s Seven Tips:

1. Pay Attention. You need to read with focused care. Note everything that engenders a response in you. You don’t necessarily have to report them all in your notes, but pay attention, nonetheless, and analyze how that works as you assess the story. Because the author needs to know what works, what doesn’t, etc. This requires you to read with more effort and thought than you might be used to. So it may challenge you. But it will also enrich your reading life in later efforts by teaching you to look at things more deeply in ways you hadn’t imagined.

2. Ask Questions And Seek Answers. If you have unanswered questions or are confused, those are the first notes the author needs. Often we’re so wrapped up in our story with all its details, we don’t realize we’ve underexplained things or done so in a convoluted way. We desperately need you to point it out to us. And we’re thankful when you do. Sometimes what seems perfectly clear to us won’t be to you. This has happened many times editing my novel, and I’m always grateful for those chances to make it better.

3. If You Get Annoyed, Let Me Know. If I over explain or over foreshadow and ruin the surprise, I need to know. I need to know what bores or annoys you. You’re smart enough to realize when it was unintentional, so tell me, because I need to know.

4. Offer Me A Little Praise Too. I’m nervous and excited to put my work out into the world. I need to know the bad stuff, yes. But it’s also helpful to know what you liked. What made you laugh or smile? What surprised you in a good way? What made you want to shout and read it to someone else? Those things matter, and hey, the process is so long, I need the encouragement to keep going. Please let me know.

5. Don’t Be Afraid Of Hurting My Feelings. If I ask you to beta, I am giving you carte blanche to be honest. I need it to make my work all it can be. If I asked, you’re probably someone I trust or at least whose opinion I value enough to believe you can help. And although some of your notes may frustrate me, I won’t take it personally or hold it against you because I need your help. And in the long run, my writing will be better for it not just with this project, but every project to follow.

6. Take good notes. Either on the manuscript itself or via comments in Microsoft Word or on paper. Whatever the case note page and paragraph numbers and be as detailed as you can. The more you give the author, the more helpful your notes will be and the more impressed and grateful the author will be for your time and effort.

7. Check your political, religious and other opinions at the door. You should do this any time you read if you want to actually be informed by the experience. If you are only reading to reinforce existing opinions, your goal is not to grow. Being a beta reader is a challenge, growth is inherent for both you and the writer. It is liberating to set aside preconceived ideas and look at things in a new light, through someone else’s eyes. Reading it fairly doesn’t mean you have to agree or change your mind. But if you intend to help the author, you cannot operate under your own prejudices. Writers are human, our own biases do shape how we see the world and how we project it in our writing, no matter how hard we try to avoid it or how often some deny it. But it’s not your book. The beta reader’s responsibility is fair feedback, untouched by bias, to help the author make his or her book the best of theirs that it can be.

Well those are my seven. No list is perfect. But if you take my advice, you’ll have good success as a beta reader and probably get lots of chances to read stuff before anyone else. How cool is that?

For what it’s worth…

Space Opera: The Junction Between Worlds

Guest Post by John H. Ginsberg-Stevens

“But there was little sense, in criticism and reviewing of the fifties, of ‘space opera’ meaning anything other then ‘hacky, grinding, stinking, outworn’ SF stories of any kind” – Kathryn Cramer & David G. Hartwell, The Space Opera Renaissance (pp.11-12).
“Space Opera” always sounds so majestic when you first hear the term used. It conjures up a Wagnerian aesthetic, a vast, significant drama about to unfold. It evokes a grand canvas of interstellar wonders, of great empires and uncountable fleets clashing for the greatest prize: the galaxy itself! And then, you go to WIkipedia:
“Space opera is a subgenre of speculative fiction that emphasizes romantic, often melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in outer space, generally involving conflict between opponents possessing advanced technologies and abilities. The name has no relation to music; it is analogous to soap operas . . . . “- Wikipedia entry for “Space Opera.”
Well, heck. Space opera, while sometimes a magnificent, even ostentatious form of SF, is not the literary equivalent of “an extended, dramatic composition”(as dictionary.com puts it); in fact, its name signifies a past of pulpish adventures, base entertainments, and corny characters and ideas. 
But this is as much of a stereotype as the former idea. As Kramer and Hartwell also make clear, there is no widely-accepted idea of space opera. Like a lot of genres, it is something that we recognize, rather than delimit. Space operas may be “space fantasy,” but there can also have rigorous science behind them. Of course, even when grounded in science, space operas are rather fantastical. Even the most logical novum is overwhelmed by the combination of high and low drama that the stories contain. And, for me, the key element of space opera is drama, in space, of course. It is the transposition of two very human sorts of story, the epic and the romance (in the classical sense) into the vastness beyond our humble little planet.
The first SF book I ever read was space opera. When I was about 5 years old I was looking through some books at a yard sale, bored to death of Little Golden Books, Dick & Jane, and even Classics Illustrated comics (I had started reading when I was 3). I saw some paperbacks but they had pictures of swooning women, frowning men in suits, or bucolic scenes that were about as thrilling as watching a tree grow. But then, I found something that I had not seen before: a book with a rocket ship on the cover! It was expensive ($2!) but I convinced my father to buy it, and I brought it home and read it over the weekend, twice.
I have only two clear memories of the book: Jerry’s constant need to overcome a string of obstacles, and the small rock hitting their ship. But it inspired me to find more books like it. The adventure was a draw, but so was the combination of drama and different worlds. It was not just the future that was compelling, it was the place, the venturing out to unearthly realms. The aliens may not have been terribly alien, but the otherness of the setting made the adventures more consequential to me.
I eventually abandoned westerns and dove into SF. I soon found that I liked certain types of books: I favored Heinlein over Asimov, Burroughs over Smith, Reynolds over Clarke. The big ideas were cool, but what made the stories compelling to me were the effects on regular people. Heinlein’s juveniles were as much about coming-of-age and finding your way as they were about technology and galactic wonders. Burroughs’ books, while more planetary romance, and Reynolds more socially-oriented works wedded high and low drama together. That fusion was what drew me to space opera, the mixture of (sometimes bombastic) epicness and (sometimes melodramatic) prosaic in the stories. My heroes were Bill Lermer, Podkayne, Rex Bader, and Tars Tarkas.
A few years after discovering SF I was pulled away from it by my family. When I started high school years later I picked right up back and read more Heinlein, Niven, Cherryh, Poul Anderson. I exhausted my tiny school library’s resources, which turned out to be a good thing, because it pushed me out of my comfort zone and, with the assistance of an SF-loving teacher, I branched out and discovered the scope of not only SF, but all sorts of fantastika. But I still sought out stories like those I had looked for in space opera, what we nowadays call “character-driven” tales. I credit my early discovery of space opera with inculcating that proclivity in my reading habits, of the need to know how even the most cosmic,massive events affected regular folks.
That to me is the value of good space opera: thrusting average people into extraordinary situations in a world that might be possible someday. That fusion of spectacle and a good yarn was an excellent basis for becoming a good reader, and eventually a writer. Space opera taught me a few things about life, but more than that, it taught about how to look at life, to appreciate the great and the mundane and how they interacted with each other. Despite the roots of the word, space opera not only entertained me, but got me to appreciate the juncture between the marvels that could be and the people we are.
John H. Ginsberg-Stevens blogs at http://eruditeogre.blogspot.com/ is my writing blog. A frequent columnist for Apex, SF Signal and other sites, he’s a writer, husband, Da, ponderer, anthropologist, geek, bibliophile, bookmonger, anarchist, and generally cranky malcontent.


Can you really tell within a few paragraphs if something is good?

Guest post by Patty Jansen
Many people are surprised when agents and editors say that they often don’t need to read an entire story to know that they’ll reject it. Some writers are even insulted. But if you read five to ten story submissions a day, and you keep this up for a few years, you tend to develop an eye for picking the 10% or so of submissions that show reasonable promise to pass onto editors. How do you do it? Here is a quick checklist I use to weed out the stories that I’ll reject immediately from the ones I’ll continue reading—in the first few paragraphs (I usually do read a bit more, or skip to a different part of the story to see if the story redeems itself). I want to stress that this is my list, and that other people may well have different criteria. That said, the issues below will raise their ugly heads at some point in the selection process.
A decent magazine gets hundreds, or even thousands of submissions each year. They typically have a number of first-line slush readers. Those people will see hundreds of submissions. They don’t need to read an entire submission to know that they’re not going to pass it to the next level. Sometimes they don’t need more than the first sentence.
Why?
There is a myth in aspiring writer-land that grammar and style don’t matter all that much. That it’s the story’s content which determines its publishability, and that beautiful prose alone won’t sell your work.
Yes, yes, and yes.
That said, what sinks a lot of stories is a lack of what I’ll call natural flow in the text. It comes both from not listening to writing advice to taking it way too seriously. It comes from trying too hard to sound interesting and from lack of cohesion in the writing. It comes from tics every writer picks up somewhere along the line.
The most important reason a story gets rejected after a paragraph or two is that there are issues with the writing style and occasionally the grammar.
What do I mean by this, and what sets red flags?
Apart from the obvious (is the text grammatically correct and are there spelling mistakes?), an experienced slush reader will see:
If first few the sentences are unwieldy and trying too desperately to fit in too much ‘stuff’. Chances are that the rest of the story follows this pattern. Sure, this is fixable, but a lot of work for the editors, and a lot of communication with a writer who may not be ready for quite this much red ink. Too much effort. Reject.
The first few sentences contains odd word choices. The writer may be hanging onto the ‘no passive language’ or ‘use interesting verbs’ mantras too much. Again, this takes a lot of effort to fix because it will be insidious throughout the piece. Too much work. Reject.
The first sentence and the second sentence don’t follow one another. There needs to be a flow of logic in the text. If the first few sentences jump around like crickets in zero-gravity, chances are that the author has a problem expressing logic in a format readers can follow. This takes a huge amount of time to fix. Reject.
The first three sentences all start with the same word, usually a pronoun. A quick scan reveals that this continues through the text. Or the sentences start with some other repetitive pattern, like a participial clause (a clause containing the –ing form of a verb) or a prepositional clause, like: In the kitchen, there was…, or, After he did this, he… Writers often use these and participial clauses to avoid some other structure (never start a sentence with ‘There was…’ says the bogeyman), but the end result can become a repetitive mush of too-complicated sentences and death by ten thousand commas.
The story starts with an unnamed character and a quick scan reveals that there is no reason for the name of the character to be mentioned for the first time only on the third page. That by itself is not a great sin, but often, the lack of a character’s name will signal POV problems that may be more confusing.
The first few paragraphs contain words that are repeated several times, for example a four-sentence paragraph in which the word ‘door’ is used five times. Again, this is fixable, but if the writer hasn’t pick this up him or herself, it will likely occur throughout the story.
And an experienced slush reader will see these things even before he or she has started to take notice of the story’s plot or its central premise. The easiest way to make it past a first slush reader is to polish your style, and the best way to do that is by writing more and reading what you want to write. Meanwhile, try to volunteer as a slush reader some time. It’s a crash course in what works in fiction.
Besides a writer of crazy fantasy and hard Science Fiction, Patty Jansen is slush reader and editor at Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. She blogs at http://pattyjansen.wordpress.com/, about writing, about science and about editing and slush piles. Patty is a winner of the second 2010 quarter of the Writers of the Future Contest and has published in the Universe Annex of the Grantville Gazette and has a story forthcoming with Redstone SF.

Writing my First Sequel

At the beginning of February, I started writing my first sequel novel, tentatively titled “The Returning,” which carries on the story of my forthcoming first novel “The Worker Prince.” An epic space opera series, the books tell the story of Davi Rhii, born a slave but raised a Prince, who helps his native people of birth win their freedom and full citizenship in the Borali Alliance.

Whereas the first book is a space opera coming of age story set against political intrigue and a revolution, the second book is more of a thriller/mystery with forces rising to try and upset the balance and restore the Alliance to its pre-revolution state with Rhii and his people enslaved again.

It’s an interesting experience to revisit a milieu you know so well. On the one hand, I feel very comfortable writing these characters and much world building is already in place. On the other,  I felt the need to start with a multi-chapter outline through Chapter 5. While I reserve the right to change the outline as I go along, and I have, the desire to connect the story and capture the feel of the first novel compelled me to do more planning than usual.

It’s interesting to work within the parameters I’ve already set forth with a different type of story.  On the one hand, banter between characters is fun and easy to write, and I am finding it easy to just drop in the back story in little chunks in trying to avoid the common mistake of sequels known as the info dump (I was criticized for this some on my first novel and endeavored to fix what I could). On the other hand, because I know it so well, I have no idea how much is too little or too much, and I find myself seeking beta readers who have not read the first book to better guage their sense of frustration at knowing too little or desire to know more and when. So far, the betas have not even mentioned this, so I may be doing okay, although I have asked them to write questions which occur to them and where in order to give me an idea if there are pressing questions readers need answered at certain points along the way.  


While it took me a bit to get back into the swing of things, so to speak, it’s delightful to write these characters knowing them so well because I can actually enjoy the scene as it unfolds almost like a reader would, much more so than the first time around. Of course, when I run into a new character that’s a bit different, but so far it’s mostly been the old regulars. I have dealt with mostly new settings however, and that allows me to introduce some new technologies (i.e. gadgets) and other ideas to build the world further. In some ways I think introducing new settings with familiar characters will make it easier for the reader. It provides them with familiar guides to lead them into the new parts, which keeps them still feeling like they’re with old friends rather than disjointed and on totally unfamiliar ground.


I also notice how my craft has evolved. Although I will still need many drafts to polish, I am adding more detail in this first draft than I did in the past and setting up story arcs, inner monologues, etc. much better. So far the beta reader who wrote back to me said “I’m not bored” implying he was intrigued and it challenged him to give notes as a result. I’ll call that a good sign that the book is on track.


Interestingly, I just finalized the contract on Book 1 at long last and will probably sign it officially this week. So we are off and running with a projected publication date in late Summer. Next week, I go to Rainforest Writer’s Village from Wednesday through Saturday to do nothing but write, so I hope to get two chapters done there. Since I just wrapped chapter 3 today and plan to do another before I travel, that would put me at seven, around half way. Exciting stuff. What have your experiences with sequels been like?



The Worker Prince Synopsis

When I was a teenager, I dreamed of telling stories and one of the stories I came up with was a Star Wars-type space opera with elements of the Moses story mixed with action and intrigue. Somewhere along the way I lost my notes, but three things stayed with me, the name Xalivar, the name Sol, and the opening lines of the novel.

Twenty-five years or so later, in August of 2009, I sat down to write the novel. It was my second attempt at  a novel, my first in science fiction. Sixteen months later, I am preparing to sign a publishing contract for that novel and have two sequels I need to write. I’ve gotten a lot of good reader response to this, and I’ve taken numerous drafts to hone and refine it. People frequently tell me I captured the feel of “Star Wars” very well. That’s exciting, because it means I accomplished exactly what I set out to do.

Now, I’d like to share the synopsis with you.

THE WORKER PRINCE

For as long as Davi Rhii can remember, the Boralians and Vertullians have been enemies. After years of fighting, they left Earth to colonize the stars. Who knew they’d wind up neighbors again. Now the Boralians have held the Vertullians as slaves for years, and Davi Rhii uncovers a secret. Although raised as a Prince, he was born a slave.

As he sets out to discover who he is, he comes into conflict with his family and friends. Then a tragedy occurs and he finds himself on the run. Aligning himself with an underground slave movement, soon he’s training slaves to pilot fighters as they prepare to launch a war for freedom.
In the midst of the revolution, he meets Tela, a beautiful pilot. Judging him as the typical cocky fighter jock, and an enemy to boot, she wants nothing to do with him. But Davi sets out to win her over, and they wind up falling in love.

While Davi learns more about the Vertullians’ culture and begins to think of himself as a slave, he struggles to win the acceptance of slaves who question his loyalty as well as the family and friends he left behind on Legallis.

The High Lord Councillor of the Borali Empire, Xalivar is used to people obeying his every word. Then his nephew, Davi, fresh out of the military academy, begins rebelling. He shows sympathy for the ancient enemy Vertullians, and worse, he starts spending more and more time with them.

Xalivar overhears his sister, Miri, confessing that she adopted Davi secretly. He was born a worker. Stung by the betrayal, Xalivar is torn between his love for the boy he raised as an heir and his hatred for the slaves. 
When Davi finds himself hunted, Xalivar sends him away to cover it up. Davi returns and begins helping the slaves, and Xalivar sends Davi’s old Academy rival to hunt him down.

As the Boralian Council and people begin to question the treatment of the workers, Xalivar prepares an army to take them down. When the slaves attack two starbases and escape with fighters, the war begins. Xalivar’s family honor and way of life are at stake, and he’s determined to win at all costs.

When even his sister begins to scheme against him, Xalivar does whatever it takes to bring the situation back under his control. Finally, the Council overrules him and forces a Peace Conference. But Xalivar initiates a secret plan to conquer the slaves and capture their leadership, including Davi, at the same time.

Xalivar mistakenly lets word slip out of his plan while taunting Miri and finds himself confronted from both sides–by both the Council and the slaves. He’s losing the battle and now he’s the one fighting to survive. 


(FYI, in the novel, the slaves are called “workers”, hence the title. But for ease of understanding I just refer to them as slaves here.)

Painting With Words: Imagery In Fiction

I don’t know how many of you have ever tried to learn a foreign language, but believe me, English is one of the harder languages to learn. As the husband of an immigrant, I can attest to my wife’s continuous learning curve with our crazy language.It’s been eye opening for me as a writer, someone who’s always had a gift with English words, to watch this process. And what I’ve discovered is that one of the biggest challenges in learning English are some of my greatest tools as a writer: figures of speech.

The tropes otherwise known as “figures of speech” are expressions not intended to be taken literally but instead used to symbolize related things in some way. The five most common figures of speech are:

Metonymy – one thing is represented by another thing associated with it. Ex: “all the crowns of Europe” wherein crowns refers rather to “kings”

Synecdoche – a part stands for the whole. Ex: “all hands on deck,” with hands standing for men.

Personification – in which human characteristics are bestowed on nonhuman things. Ex: “the gentle breeze” or “the calming storm

Metaphor – a comparison which assumes or states a comparison without acknowledging that it is a comparison. Ex: “the woman is a peach” or “the eye of a needle

Simile – a comparison between two things using “like” or “as.” Ex: “the woman is like a peach

Other common tropes are:

Hyperbole – extreme exaggeration. Ex: “when she smiles her cheeks fall off.”

Oxymoron – the linking of two contradictory words. Ex: “act naturally” or “random order
Pun – a play on words using either different senses of the same word or similar senses/sounds of different words. Ex: “when it rains, it pours

Imagine being a foreigner trying to sort all those out?
For fiction writers, the simile and the metaphor are our most vital tools for painting with words, i.e. creating imagery in our fiction. It’s the tension between the two compared items which holds the power of such statements to inspire pictures and images in our readers’ minds. How alike or different are they? Good metaphors and similes get readers’ brains working to imagine how the writer could come up with such a relationship. They are intriguing, inspiring, interesting, even surprising. They contain an abstraction or judgment but yet are brief, condensed. At their best, they make us look at things in a new way.
From childhood, we are taught to learn by comparison. By being told to “be careful” when we fall, we learn that “be careful” is a warning of impending harm, which we will then apply to other situations. Our past experience forms a basis by which we predict the future and soon we are using language so full of similes and metaphors that we don’t even realize we’re doing it.
A pitfall of this phenomenon is clichés. “Her heart broke as he said it” is so overused it fails to have impact any more. “Her heart shattered like glass with the impact of his remark” is different altogether. Most writers spend a lot of time developing the craft of using these kinds of comparisons. Often one has to focus intensely on these aspects of his or her fiction. I know it’s something I continue to wrestle with. But when successful, metaphors and similes form the core of rich prose. 
So next time you laugh at a foreigner struggling with English, think about your own efforts to learn craft. Maybe you’ll understand better where their struggle comes from. You might even empathize.
For what it’s worth…

Tomorrow I’ll share some exercises on how to build up your skills with imagery.

Writer’s Tip: The Value of Receptivity

A section I read in Jeff Vandermeer’s wonderful “Booklife” last night reminded me of one of the most important lessons I’ve learned through a decade of international travel and cross-cultural work: be receptive to other world views. I cannot emphasize enough how valuable it is for characterization and description to see the world through someone else’s eyes in as unbiased a manner as possible.

From a particular character’s point of view, you might write: “the crisp leaves sparkled in the sun, its rays accentuating the luscious green of their color.”

But what if you went inside the head of someone else who saw the same scene through different eyes. “The leaves’ sheen reflected the sun in blinding ways of blue-tinged light.”

There are people out there who see things very differently than you. And the more you know about how those people see the world, the richer your writing can be.

I remember a conversation I had with a friend in Ghana once, a student of one of my workshops, who insisted that God loves white people more than black people. Hearing a black African state that just blew my mind.

“Why would you think that?”

“Because white people are more blessed.  Look at their countries — wealth, power, success. Everything we wish we had and don’t.”

Another student once asked me what it was like to walk on streets of gold in America. And he literally believed the streets were paved with gold.

I visited an African coastal town once and was mobbed by children wanting to touch my skin. They rarely saw white people, our guide explained, you are like a god to them. Hearing that made me mad. I never wanted anyone holding me to that standard especially when it diminished the esteem which they held for themselves.

In Mexico once, I went to play with a friend’s daughters.  I love kids and playing with them delights me. But in this case I quickly noticed how everyone in the house kept a very close eye on me, and the older daughter kept her distance, only smiling occasionally but rarely actively participating in our game. Later, I was told that in the culture men are not expected to be able to control their natural sexual instincts, so they cannot be trusted with girls. I was horrified. I am no molester. I wouldn’t dream of it. Was that what they thought of me?

I bring these examples up (and I have many more) not to argue the merits or truth of the reasoning but to point out how different their view of the world is than someone from my background and culture.

The world is filled with such peoples of different views and by meeting them, interacting with them, and getting a glimpse of the world through their eyes, my world is richer. It doesn’t matter if their view of the world shocked or offended me. It doesn’t matter if it made me sad or angry. These examples inspired all four in me. What matters is that before I couldn’t imagine viewing the world through such lenses but now I can and as a result, I can now better write characters who view the world through lenses far different from my own.

Many of us meet people every day who see the world differently than we do. Those encounters are opportunities to expand our arsenal by engaging them in dialogue and trying to learn who they are and how they see things.  You don’t have to argue with them or agree with them to do that. In fact, I would urge you to avoid either. You’ll get a more honest perspective if you do. But what you can do is discover, through the powers of observation all writers are urged to cultivate and must to succeed, new ways of thinking and looking at things which can use to enrich your writing and your characters.

That’s why I love foreign films and stories and novels. I’m a much deeper, more well rounded person because of such encounters. And the box in which I place my world has grown much larger many times over as well. Grow your box. Build your arsenal and write better stories. The world will thank you for it…on many levels.

For what it’s worth…

Second Draft

Preparing to revise my third novel, the first in a multi-part epic fantasy series.  It’s tentatively titled “Sandman,” for reasons obvious to the story. It took 9 months to write the first draft, and although I knew where it needed to go, I never really ended it completely.  I got most of the way there and burned out. I struggled for six weeks to write something and finally decided I’d do better to set it aside and then come back to it. There are a number of things I had already made a list of which needed to be addressed in the next draft and I really believe clarity on how to write the ending will come as I work those into the manuscript, so here I am.

I don’t know how others approach their revisions. For every writer, the approach tends to differ, so I can only write about my own process. In first drafts, I try and get the scenic structure, characters and plotlines down. I focus on the key conflicts and personalities and less on full character arcs and detailed descriptions. Some might call it a skeletal approach, but what I end up with is often a lot of stuff I can use but which needs editing to cut excess and then thickening to fill in the meat on the bones. I also make a lot of notes as I go about things I need to foreshadow, flesh out, etc. For example, as with “The Worker Prince,” I reached a point in the first draft of “Sandman” where I needed something to happen which I had not set up in the parameters of my world building. Rather than stop and go back, I just made it happen and made a note that I will need to set that up earlier to make it plausible for readers.  I also found character traits which I want to emphasize throughout and need to go back and add in. Character relationships developed which can be mined for humor and also character growth, but I need to set that up, too.  The biggest development was finally sorting out what secret there is about a central character everyone is fighting over. Now I have to go back and foreshadow the reveal earlier and revise scenes knowing many of the characters already have that knowledge and it will underscore their actions. Lastly, there are themes/motifs which have come forward as the first draft unfolded which I now need to also thread throughout.

This is a good thing. I know many writers who end their first draft thinking it’s crap and embarrassed for all the time they wasted. Me, I feel like I have a really good foundation but know that without the bricks, cement, shingles, glass, paint, etc. it isn’t ready to open. Those things can be added. And I won’t have to start from scratch. I’ll probably add a scene or two in various places. I may cut one or cut it down or take sections of it for elsewhere. But I have stuff I can move around, which is much easier for me to deal with than the initial blank page.

I also have research to do. I have a book called “English Through The Ages” which I will use to revise my prose to reflect the time period in which the book is set. It’s set on a colonized planet where the people live in medieval type times, so I don’t have to be 100% accurate but realistic enough to their Earth ancestry as I can manage. I will be working in some other research I’ve done on magic, dwarves, and things like wagons and cities to make it more realistic and alive.  This is the fun stuff though. Much easier to deal with when the basic structure is already there, and, despite the ending issues, the structure is there. Somewhere in this process I’ll also be sorting out where the story goes from here in the next book so I can set that up well, too. I have a rough idea, but I need to rough that out more, too.

I expect the second draft won’t take as long as the first. Anywhere from 2 to 5 months I’d expect. So from now until April, this will be my world. I have other projects waiting in the wings though as well, so if I have off days, I can work on those. After all, with “Worker Prince” coming out mid-2011, I do have a sequel to write for that. In any case, I’m excited about this book because it’s not based on another story, as “Worker Prince” was. It’s totally from my own mind, so it’s my first fully original speculative fiction book. It’s also my first fantasy. So that’s good career progress as well. Now, I just need to get this thing in shape for the betas.

Second draft. Beta readers. Third draft. Then out to querying agents. That’ll be the process.  Maybe this will break me into the mass house world. Either way, it’s good to have something positive to focus on which helps my career progress forward.

For what it’s worth…

My love story with Story

Recently my buddy Ken Scholes blogged about the impact his favorite movies had on him and I realized I should probably do the same. Because movies and TV have hugely impacted not only how I tell stories but the kinds of stories I like and the fact I even have and want to tell stories.

You may or may not know I went to film school at Cal State Fullerton and graduated in 1992. I then spent four years working for a documentary film company and shopping spec scripts and screenplays. I did have one in development with producer Phil Nemy at Disney once, but nothing came of it for various reasons.

My whole love of scifi came from movies. I will never forget the time my cousin David said “We’re going to this movie, and you’ve just got to see it! I’ve already seen it like ten times.” Ten times seemed like an excessive amount of times to see a movie to me at age 8, but David was 9 and wiser, so I said “Sure. What’s it called?” “Star Wars!” “Star Wars?” Sounded kinda stupid to my 8 year old brain. But it blew my socks off. In fact, the battle on the rebel ship with black vested, blue shirted rebels fighting the evil white stormtroopers remains one of my all time favorite movie scenes. And of course, I loved the robots’ banter in the midst of it. The hero story of the awkward young kid who wanted more than life on a farm resonated with this kid from small town Kansas, and the adventure of life “out there” in the amazing world of the stars captured my imagination. Also, the battles, characters, aliens, etc. were so well done. It was real and popped off the screen for me.

After seeing “Star Wars,” which I have now seen way more than 10 times and David has seen several thousand times (I never caught up though I am surely close to 900 by now), I fell in love with the art of movies, story telling and science fiction. I began devouring scifi books as fast as I could read them. The first “Star Wars” tie-in, “Splinter Of A Mind’s Eye” by Alan Dean Foster made me an Alan Dean Foster fan and remains one of my favorite scifi novels.

But other movies influenced me too. “Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan” was powerful. In part, this was no doubt due to the fact it was so rewarding after the punishment of sitting through “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” What was Roddenberry thinking? If anyone was in love with his own creation, it was Roddenberry. That movie proves it. I heard him speak once and he was “Star Treks” biggest fan, not that it didn’t have great qualities. But I loved the mix of humor, action, and drama in Khan, and the way they built on the series and the previously established relationships between characters to take it to a new level. Great space action, too. Plus the cameo by Ike Eisenmann of “Witch Mountain” (movies I’d loved from Disney) as Scotty’s nephew was cool.

“Wizard of Oz” was powerful for us. We saw it on TV regularly, but also replayed in theatres and various sequels in animation and live action. It was powerful story telling and characterization, and I’d always been a music fan so I loved that aspect as well.

I have never been a football fan. So my life changed one Super Bowl Sunday when my dad let us watch “The Hobbit,” an animated movie, instead of the Cowboys v. whomever. I loved “The Hobbit,” animation, songs and all. What a great storytelling, and after that I devoured the book and then the “Lord of The Rings” trilogy.

I caught “Planet of The Apes” as a TV movie presentation and just loved it. It really fascinated me as an image of the future. The animation of apes was pretty cool too for the time.

I loved action movies, especially “Lethal Weapon 2” and “Die Hard” for their mix of comedy, action and character in telling fun, fast paced stories.

“Green Card” was brilliant because it was made by Peter Weir, whose “Witness” and “Dead Poets Society” had so powerfully touched me. I loved the cross cultural aspect of “Green Card,” and no surprise, the prominence of music also played into it.

“Notting Hill” moved me because it’s such great story telling and well acted. I loved the humorous touches and surprises which kept it from being cliche and the prominence of books, too.

“Gandhi” amazed me. It was long and slow, yes, but so powerful as a story and character study and well acted with powerful messages.

“Chariots of Fire” also was powerful even though I struggled to understand all the British accents and found the crossed storylines confusing at times. I just loved the passion of the characters for their sport and especially how Eric Liddell stayed passionate about God in the midst of it.

My movie list could probably go on forever, so these are the ones that pop out at the moment as having significance at their time for particular storytelling styles and ways of moving me. I’m sure I’ll think of more later.

For what it’s worth…