Book Review: 90-Days To Your Novel

    Can you be a novelist in just 90 days? Many well-known authors write their novels in just weeks according to 90 Days to Your Novel – A Day-to-Day Plan for Outlining & Writing Your Book by Sarah Donet.   Can it be you? It all depends on your commitment to your project. 90 Days to Your Novel will require you to push yourself to invest two to three hours per day for the twelve weeks. At the end of the twelve weeks you will have a first draft of your novel but be warned, this book does not guarantee a great end product, only that you will have your draft finished.   Can reading a self-help book really create a bestselling book? Not a chance. What this book will do is breakdown how to create your outline as well as give you different techniques for writing. Do you know the difference between the Note-Card Technique vs. the Signpost technique? If you are new to writing novels, probably not and in the end, it really isn’t that important to know the difference. The most important thing you will take from this book’s Part I is figuring out how you want to start your writing process. What you are comfortable doing. What it’s called really doesn’t matter.   Part II is the “90-Day Writing Challenge”. The book advises you to not start reading the rest of the book until you can commit to the scheduled two to three hours a day for writing. When starting this book, your first three weeks are mixed with assignments that don’t necessarily pertain to your novel on the surface but if you really think about what you are writing, eventually you could incorporate those events, people or places into a scene of your story. An example of this is assignment #1, which is to brainstorm as many memories as you can on people, places and things from earlier moments in your life.   It’s important to remember in your first three weeks you are in the brainstorming, chart making and outline designing time period. If this wasn’t your first novel, you could probably skip over the first three weeks but really if you have already gone through the novel-writing process, you don’t need this book. It isn’t until week four that you start getting into your novel so you will need to have the patience to stick to your schedule.   Do you really need an assignment based, step-by-step guide to write your novel? Maybe, maybe not. It’s all about your commitment to your project. Your success of writing your novel has nothing to do with the how-to book you read. It has...

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Show Don’t Tell!?!?

  Show don’t tell—at once the best and worst piece of advice a writer can hear. The first reaction is “But I’m telling a story!” The next thought in line is “this isn’t a screen play!” A writer must balance their story with visual descriptors to avoid setting their story in a void. If the setting is not intrinsic to the story, then the audience will have a more difficult time sinking into it, melding with it. For example, while taking a writing class in my undergraduate program, I found myself in a discussion with a fellow student, about his work—a highly emotional tale about homosexual lovers in Nazi Germany. But he didn’t know anything about Berlin in 1938. His knowledge of the setting he’d chosen for his opus was based on WWII movies. Most of the story happened in very neutral environments that only happened to have a Swastika or Nazi flag in them. Without the Third Reich, his story could have taken place in New Jersey 1978 or Dubai 2001. It could have happened in space, aboard the starship Velvet. He was failing in his primary task of showing us, the audience, the world his characters lived in. His story happened in a void and made it unsympathetic to everyone. Setting and place is just one aspect of “show don’t tell.” The other piece is engagement of the reader. Look at the following example: A: He drank the whiskey. It burned and he coughed. His eyes watered. He sighed. B: He jerked his head back and choked down the liquid gold. The smoky poison made his throat clench tight. His eyes, suddenly wet from the burning vapors, turned the piss colored lights of the dirty bar into watery snowflakes. As the chemical heat suffused his body, he let out a long breath. Both A and B accomplish the same thing: they tell us that the character had some whiskey. In both A and B we get a sense for the characters comfort level with whiskey. That’s where the similarities stop. B also tells us that the character is in a bar (not a void), more about what the character is experiencing and feeling. The character is more real because we can more easily imagine his discomfort. His eyes are burning; he’s fighting back a knee-jerk cough from a shot of hard liquor. We also get the impression that the character is under stress—but we don’t know how or from what. In fact, while B gives us huge amounts of information, it leaves us with many questions. Not to mention the fact that it tripled the word count. The question now becomes, “How about situations where there’s a...

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Gifts For Writers Part I

by Ditrie Sanchez   Have you ever found yourself struggling to remember which notepad, receipt or napkin you once scribbled a really cool idea on? Maybe, like me, you have a collection of notebooks of various sizes, shapes, bindings and colorings strewn all about the house. Or maybe you’ve noticed the ideas in one of your notebooks are too scattered and unorganized to make any sense of them. As a writer, you find that much of your world is constantly changing. One minute you’re researching World War II era American military clothing, the next you’re trying to pick the perfect color for your next unholy dragon. Organizing all of these fantastic but disparate ideas while not wreaking havoc on the naturally random creative flow is a skill every author needs to hone. Thankfully, now there is a tool to help.  The revolver journal, which is much less violent than it sounds, is basically a Transformer (lasers sold separately). Now, let’s say that you’re busy working on your military drama piece but out of the blue you think, egads! Coral blue is the perfect color for my giant metallic dragon of doom! With the revolver journal, all you have to do is fold it into your fantasy journal and copy it down. You don’t even need to leave the couch! Consider it the Rubik’s cube of journaling. It’s color coded, switchable and makes you look really cool at parties. Or nerdy. Same thing, really.   In the writing world, we are expected to write what we know. This means that if you’re writing about a subject and you don’t know anything about it, it’s time to do some research. Now, research can be done in quiet libraries whilst poring over various tomes of knowledge, or it can be conducted at home through the comfortable, if somewhat detached resources of the world wide web. However, the most effective research comes from hands-on experiences. Live interviews, taking tours of story locations, learning to use the tools of the trade that a character should know. Of course, this puts a certain group of writers at a researching disadvantage right off the bat. Science fiction and fantasy writers are no more able to visit their worlds or shoot their laser blasters than I’m able to sprout beans out of my nose (believe me, I’ve tried). However, I’ve discovered the one thing that can be a game changer for this poor, disadvantaged group of writers. And it comes in the form of a pen. A ray gun pen, to be more specific. (pyew, pyew, pyew!) Now science fiction and fantasy writers alike can revel in the chrome and lacquered goodness that befits any proper hero...

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Magic

No, not the magic of writing. Well, maybe a little of that. Mostly it’s the magic of your fantasy world. Come on – you know you’ve written that next Lord of the Rings fantasy epic. You’ve done away with Orcs (Orks) and Elves and come up with something completely new and fresh. You’ve got an epic hero, who while still being “the chosen one,” manages to break all the stereotypes of fantasy literature and maintain the mythic cycle. You’re sure that Joseph Campbell would be bouncing with delight at your clever five act novel. You know that Ed Greenwood has nothing on the intricate fantasy realm you’ve created.   But there’s a problem. Your magic isn’t internally consistent. You might not even know it’s a problem. You might think it’s just some awkward scenes. Maybe you let your D&D group read the piece and they’re scratching their heads about the difference between Sorcerers and Wizards. Or maybe it’s something deeper, more subtle yet intrinsic to the plot.   Magic is a very slippery slope for a writer. Once the die is cast (or spell, in this case) there is not going back. If you’ve introduced magic to your world, your novel cannot ignore it. No one would. A magic-rich setting changes all the dynamics as well. Suddenly there’s no need to plow the fields – magic can do it. Suddenly, everyone carries a magic sword; your flaming scimitar of ass-kicking isn’t so special anymore. In fact, if everyone is walking around with a magic sword, mighty swords like Excalibur and Stormbringer suddenly become less wondrous. Even the Sword of Omens (Thundercats ho!) becomes more of a trinket or gimmick if every character has a magic sword. By the way, who is making these magic swords? If every man in the Evil Count’s Army has one, there’s no time for the Wizards to be casting their magic spells to plow the fields. Which puts us right back to where we started from.   You begin to see the problems with magic as a storyteller.   Finally, there’s the worst mistake a writer can make with magic – the dreaded Deus Ex Machina! Yes, one must never rely on magic to wrap up your plot. We see it all too often. For example, when the Prophets from Star Trek Deep Space Nine intervene (for unknown, undisclosed and unrealistic reasons) by destroying a force of thousands of Jem Hadar starships – we can call this a writer’s cop out, or a Deus Ex Machina Moment. Don’t do that.   Be the master of the magic in your world, not vice versa. Here’s how:   Be internally consistent: establish and understand the limitations...

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The Zombie Thing

Since it’s the season for horror writing (though I think true Zombie aficionados are always alert and wary for the possibility of an undead uprising, regardless of the time of year) I thought it’d be a good time to talk about a tidal wave of a trend in fiction. I’m guessing if you’re any sort of Zombie fan, you’ve read The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z by Max Brooks. These two books, so well researched and cleverly assembled helped to make the concept of a species-ending epidemic or plague, very real, bringing them close to home at the same time, viewing such terrific events from a cool and clinical perspective. This perspective added a level of plausibility that the genre had lacked before. Max Brooks two books are clear, concise, informative and not the blood-spattered, hysterical screaming gore fests many of us have come to associate with the genre.   But if we jump back a little further, I want to say 2002, there’s a film written by Alex Garland and directed by Danny Boyle that I think not only revitalized the genre, but sent it spiraling off into new directions in both literature and cinema. 28 Days Later is the tale of a virus outbreak that spreads rapidly from person to person, causing not cannibalistic hunger as we’ve come to expect from zombies, but simple, unchecked rage. This infection forces a loss of reason and freewill upon its victims, essentially turning them into mindless killers (zombies.)So far, we’re not seeing major differences in the plot; same disease vector, same results, panicked civilization, trains are no longer on time, et cetera. Then it hits you right in the face: these zombies can run. Now only can they run, but they’re fast! This simple change in an otherwise clichéd monster’s behavior not only made them actually frightening again, but increased the plausibility of the whole event, not to mention revitalizing a dead (heh) sub-genre of horror. Zombies create the perfect union of post-apocalyptic settings.   Opportunities for characters are limitless. For example, how would survivors behave knowing there were no consequences for their actions? Without law and order, who decides right and wrong? Perhaps more to the point, who is stop those who choose to do wrong? This setting provides for limitless exploration of ethics and morality plays. As long as your internal cosmology is consistent, your plausibility remains high and the fictional elements are not even doubted.   AMC’s The Walking Dead is a good example of this. The situation is internally consistent – the laws of physics and the cause-effect pattern of the zombie infection is consistent. In situations where there is doubt, the writers take special care to place just enough exposition dialogue to allow the audience to...

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