Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A look back at 2013

Yes, it’s that time of year again, where I self-indulgently look back at the year that was 2013. The year ended with a whimper as I was sick for most of December with a variety of ailments that led me to believe I was someone’s science experiment.

In contrast, the year started off well as I attended the Borderlands Boot Camp in January. I learned a hell of a lot from F. Paul Wilson and Douglas Winters and met a great gang of writer folks. Unfortunately, I felt the experience overall was a bit of a downer and really tested by confidence as a writer, which is something that I constantly struggle with. The amount of time I spend second guessing myself and my talents is startling. But, I know I’m not the only one that feels that way.

I took me a considerable amount of time to recover and I think I’ve built myself up stronger than before. And this resurrection of sorts was great timing as I prepared a pitch for the San Diego Comic Con comic creator connection event in July. While I didn’t find a suitable artistic match to go forward with my comic book idea, it did teach me a lot about the art of the pitch.

And that experience paid off as I built up the courage to pitch to a Del-Rey editor at the San Diego Comic Con. A few months later, I received an email from the editor asking to see my novel. So that submission package has been my focus for the end of the 2013.

I worked on the plot for Spirit Quest and hammered out 50,000 words during November’s NaNoWriMo. It wasn’t the most beautiful prose, but it was a great exercise to work through the swirling story ideas I had.

And for the past month, I’ve been tightening up my synopsis for Spirit Quest and fleshing out characters. I’m really looking forward to 2014 and using it to make a leap in my writing career.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Next Steps After NaNoWriMo?

So, if you were fortunate enough to be among the few who "won" NaNoWriMo (41,940 of 300,000 participants), congratulations! Give yourself three big cheers.

But, if you're like me, you're wondering now what? This year's NaNoWriMo writing project was part of a 90,000 word novel I'm writing, so it might be a little different than you if you've actually written a novel from end-to-end over those 50,000 words.

The next larger step is to create our second draft and there are an infinite number of ways you can go about that. One suggestion is to let some time pass and allow yourself to put some perspective on your work. I tried to do that one year and I found that I had lost a lot of momentum and it took almost half a year for me to really get back into the project.

So, I'd recommend you continue working at it, building off the momentum and euphoria that you currently have. The approach I'm trying is to write a treatment of my story, a synposis, maybe 5-10 pages of everything that has happened in my story. In that compact form, I think I can work with the story structure and identify its weaknesses before jumping into any kind of editing or re-write.

Take time to make sure you have all the pieces in your story in the right place and that every chapter and scene builds towards the climax and drive the plot forward. It can be terribly difficult at times, especially if you're struggling with a scene or chapter that you like, but you also know just doesn't fit. Yank it and come up with a new scene or chapter. You'll be surprised that it'll probably be better than the one you first wrote and will also be a better chain link in the overall story.

Best of luck!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Hitting the Halfway Mark for NaNoWriMo 2013

Today is the halfway point in the arduous journey that is NaNoWriMo 2013. I've just typed by 26,962nd word, just shy of the 54% completion mark. It's incredible to look back at what I've written so far, just over a hundred double-spaced pages in fifteen days.

What have I learned so far?

Trust your instincts. Go off in different directions that you intended and see what happens. You might end up scrapping it, but don't dismiss the idea.

Don't be afraid to write the scene again from a different angle. Ideally keep going on forging ahead, but if you've left behind a scene that just doesn't feel right, spend some time rewriting it, try it from a different person or POV. Play around, explore it, you'll be pleasantly surprised at what you might discover.

Don't get discouraged. By now, a lot of my original ideas have been written on and it's that 2/3 part of the novel that's difficult to get down. It's hard work, but keep at it.Sometimes the flow will just take you, and other times, you'll be checking your word count every 50 words!

And here's a great little NaNoWriMo pep talk by Neil Gaiman, who knows a few things about writing novels... http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/neil-gaiman

Keep up the great writing!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

James Patterson's advice for NaNoWriMo

A bit more NaNoWriMo advice, but this time from best-selling author James Patterson. Love #2 and #3.

  1. Outline. If you already have: gold star; proceed to the next piece of advice. If you didn’t, don’t worry, because it’s never too late to go back and make an outline. An outline isn’t something to be scared of, it’s just a chapter-by-chapter description of the scenes that, lined-up together, make your book. On the count of three, tell me the story that unfolds in your novel. All the way to the last chapter. Now write that down. There’s your outline. Easy, right?
  2. Lie to yourself. Honesty is a great quality, but we’re writing fiction here, so you’d better get used to a little light lying. Tell yourself you can do this. Tell yourself your book will be great. The world will love it and you’ll be the next J.K. Rowling, J.D. Salinger, Art Spiegelman, or whatever flavor of author you hope to become.
  3. Get into a writing routine. Think it’s hard to write every day during NaNo? Most professional writers keep this kind of pace all year round. Holidays, birthdays, vacations—you name it, we’re writing. The trick is making writing into a daily habit. Same time. Same place. Same hot beverage of choice. Every. Single. Day. Again. And. Again.
  4. Don’t do it alone. If you live with somebody, tell them to be unpleasant to you if they see you doing anything else during your writing time. Buy them a water gun. If you live alone, have friends call and check on you. And if you have no friends, you will have no trouble writing a book in 30 days. What else do you have to do? (I’m not knocking friendless people. We’ve all been there.)
  5. Don’t stress. I don’t mean to undermine the above, but remember this is one month, not your entire writing career. Try hard, learn from it, and if you don’t get to 50,000 words, figure out what you did wrong so you can get there next time.

Last Minute Tips for NaNoWriMo

Here's a handful of last minute tips for NaNoWriMo:

  • Don't forget to read my first article: jasonshayer.blogspot.ca/2013/10/nanowrimo-2013-advice.html
  • Believe in yourself. If you're like me, you'll be plagued by self-doubt throughout November. It's going to be a rough first draft.
  • Don't get caught in rewriting. If you think of a better way of writing a scene, just write that new scene. Don't go back and edit.
  • Don't stop reading. I know it'll be difficult to just have to the time to writer your 1667 words a day, but also make sure you take a few minutes to read each day as well.
  • It's a marathon, not a sprint. Stick to your word count. If you fall behind, you still have a lot of time to catch up!
  • Just write. Apply the seat of your pants to a chair and write.
  • Have fun!

The journey towards 50,000 words begins with but one word...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013 Advice

"Once more onto the breech!" Okay, so who's with me. 50,000 words in 30 days (or 720 hours, or 43, 200 minutes).

I've done it 5 times in the last 6 years and dragged my sorry carcass across the finish line all 5 times.

Here's some unsolicited advice:

  • Go in with a good idea of a synopsis/outline. When you carve out the daily time to write, make sure you know what you're writing about. And don't be afraid to go off on tangents and explore other ideas. But, it always helps to sit down and have a direction to write in.
  • Set a goal of pounding out 1800 words a day, a bit more than what is required (1667 words a day). Why?  It always feels better to be ahead.  Not to mention, there will be days when you won't get any writing done, so you need to build up enough of an advance to stop feeling guilty about not writing.  
  • Use a spreadsheet with 30 days worth of word counts to track my daily progress.
  • Carve out some time, whether it's late at night or early in the morning, or over lunch.
  • Get your family/significant others' buy in. Tell them what you're trying to do. I really does help to tell them your word count goal as they can encourage you. Or at least give them a timeframe for when you'll join them for dinner or come to bed!
  • Maintain some social presence. You can't bury yourself in your novel. Getting out occasionally will help and might even help if you chat a bit about your work in progress.

Let me know if you have any questions...

You can buddy me over on the NaNoWriMo author page at http://nanowrimo.org/participants/jshayer

Monday, September 23, 2013

Carving out time to write

I'm a father to two young kids, married, and have a full time job. If you recognize the situation, you probably have a good understanding of how difficult it is to carve out the necessary time to write. I've been able to use the odd lunch hour to get some quality time to write, but the evening after work and after getting the kids down prove to be rather unproductive. I do manage to get some writing in, but it's always seems to be distracted writing time.

I'm hoping to kick off some early morning writing sessions, perhaps getting up an hour earlier in the morning than the kids. Also, for the weekends, I want to establish some dedicate some writing time, that way once that time is used up, I turn my attention to all my other responsibilities. Doing it this way I hope to avoid the guilt of not writing on the weekends and getting flack for spending all my free time writing when I should be helping out around the house!

I'm trying to figure out the best way to get this done and I know it's different for everyone. I've been regularly hitting a 500 word a day target, so with the dedicated time, I'd like to push this a bit hard, perhaps up to 1,000 words. And of course, a simple word target isn't the only part of writing writers need to focus on. There's plotting and characters and research to focus on, as just the tip of the iceberg as there's much more like writing up a synopsis and log lines...

Does anyone have any other advice to share in terms of carving our time to write? How much time do you dedicate in a week to write?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Butcher's Scene and Sequel

The scene and sequel concept is nothing new in fiction and is a great way to ensure structure in your story and to keep it moving. Jim Butcher has refined the process and provided a working frame to set up the scene and sequel structure.

Distilled from these notes: http://www.rkathey.com/94/jim-butcher-on-writing

- follow a sub-pattern of stimulus-response: action-response
- where the action happens, where the conflict occurs, and where the consequences begin.

Point of View (PoV) – You tell the scene from the point of view of the person with the most to lose
Character’s Goal – What is the goal of the PoV character? The audience needs to know the goal. The goal is active, immediate, and important.
Conflict – What's stopping the character from reaching their goal? The antagonist should be the conflicting force as much as possible. You should be investing the antagonist's time.
Setback – There are four ways to end a scene: Will the protagonist succeed?
   Yes – BORING!
   Yes/But – Success but there are consequences.
    No – Fails and must get a new goal. Great for showing determination but often leads to hard plot stops.
   No and Furthermore – Not only does the character not succeed but there are new plot complications that arise as the result of the failure. Save this for critical points in the story.

- happen after scenes
- show the character’s reaction in the following order.
   + Emotion – “Oh my God I’ve been in a car crash!”. Emotion is what you feel first after a traumatic event.
   + Reason
      - Logic – “Am I bleeding?” where the character activates his/her brain to evaluate the immediate situation.
      - Review – “Am I late?” A review of the things that got them to the point of the trauma and the immediate effect of it.
      - Anticipation – “What’s going to happen next? Will the car explode?” Anticipation is the character trying to figure out what might happen next.
   + Choice – What the character decides to do after the event.

The above reactions lead to a new goal and next scene.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Ty Templeton's Plotting panel from Fan Expo 2013

Ty Templeton's "How to plot a story in under and hour"

My notes: 
- Every story ever told has an order:
     1) What is normal
     2) What has changed the normal
     3) What result from that change Plot

- A character discovers that they want something and put effort into bringing it about. A character has to matter to an audience

- Create the concept of a story around the basic description of the character, an ironic twist helps for example, an alcoholic firefighter or a cowardly firefighter, which instantly suggests a story

- Your character is the _blank_ _blank_ in _blank_. For example, Batman is the greatest detective in the world or Robin Hood is the greatest archer in England.

- "Be a sadist to your characters, we learn nothing about your characters if they're happy" - Vonnegut

- Your character earns their goal by deserving what they get by accumulating karma throughout the story

- Halfway through the story, the thing they desire becomes less important than something else

- Unexpected reward or loss, that thing they don't see coming - for example, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy sets out looking for the Ark, but find the love of Marion, the movie ends with the ark being stored away while Indy has Marion

- What is your character not expecting? loss or gain?

- A character's success or failure has to be because of what he/she is

- A character must succeed with a cost, a price; they may get what they set out to get in the begining, but they lose that new something, so there's a struggle, a choice

- Set pieces that stick to a reader's imagination, these set pieces matters where they are, the environment has to play an integral part to the story and character

- The environment also tells a story, it becomes the character, it tells you who the character is

- What's the story's theme? What's the lesson learned? Go back and inject that theme into the story.

Check out http://comicbookbootcamp.com for more information on Ty Templeton and his upcoming comic book bootcamp classes.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Distractions and focusing on your daily writing goal

Distractions. You know what I mean. Writing is difficult enough and you add in distractions, it all seems to slip away.

You set aside some time to write and you start and a few minutes into it, your mind starts to drift and eager to pick up on any distraction, like email, facebook, twitter, laundry, dishes, clipping your finger nails.

Reading Cory Doctorow's 2009 article, locusmag.com/Features/2009/01/cory-doctorow-writing-in-age-of.html, provided some great insight and ways to tackle that distraction.

Here are my notes:

Short, regular work schedule
- set an obtainable goal and meet it
- focus on nothing else for that 20 minutes
- you can always find a block of 20 minutes in a day
- but, do it every day
- try to think in advance about sensory detail to include in the next day's writing to start you going the next time you sit down to write

Leave yourself a rough edge
- stop writing after you hit your daily word-goal, even if you're in the middle of a sentence.

Kill your word-processor
- fancy wordprocessors can be a distraction on their own
- to take advantage of that 20 minutes, just use a text editor

Okay, I've stepped away from my writing long enough now that I should let this distraction go and get back to writing!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Writing update or I'm in too deep to lose faith in my work

It's been a crazy-buzy couple of months with work and vacation putting the squeeze on my writing time and commitments. Welcome to the real world. I'm trying to de-clutter my writing schedule, shedding any unnecessary items and trying to streamline my thought process towards writing my novel.

Unfortunately, I haven't heard back from Del Rey about my novel pitch. I'm not sure what's the appropriate response time after my SDCC pitch, but I'm not going to let it drag me down. Preparing the pitch for my novel, Spirit Quest, has reignited my passion for the project.

My goals are to proceed as if I had been asked to provide a submission from Del Rey. So I'm going ahead with the following pieces:

1) Synopsis
2) Act breakdown
3) Character sketches
4) Complete the First Draft (aiming for 90,000 words)

So, how do I get that all done? Parking my butt in a seat and writing. No need for a writing schedule or reading countless books on how to decide on an approach for each of these pieces. No distraction from my core work. Those first three items should ideally happen in parallel with the last (and most important one). Targeting a 1,000 words a day might be too ambitious as I still have to wrap up a few other writing commitments, but at least for the first couple of months, 500 words should be doable. At that pace, a 90,000 word first draft should take me 6 months. But, thinking about the submission, I'd like to get that down to about 3 months, considering the amount of a first draft I've already written.

One of the roadblocks in my way is that I'm a outliner and really feel like I need to know where I'm going every time I sit to write. I need a direction and need to see where I'm going. Otherwise, I feel like I'm spinning my wheels, writing stuff that won't matter. But, I think I need to change that approach and focus on the writing and see what develops. Nothing really ever gets thrown away in terms of writing, it's all part of the process whether it's exploring a potential sub-plot, or developing a character in a way you might never have thought.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Show Don't Tell - invaluable advice from Chuck Palahniuk

Grabbed from: www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/1jltqn/writers_of_reddit_what_are_exceptionally_simple/

You've probably heard the writing advice to "Show Don't Tell." But, that's always easier said that done in your writing. Writer Chuck Palahniuk has a handful of concrete ways to help you show instead of telling.

In six seconds, you’ll hate me. But in six months, you’ll be a better writer.
From this point forward—at least for the next half year—you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.
The list should also include: Loves and Hates. And it should include: Is and Has, but we’ll get to those later.
Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them. Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.
In short, no more short-cuts. Only specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.
One of the most-common mistakes that beginning writers make is leaving their characters alone. Writing, you may be alone. Reading, your audience may be alone. But your character should spend very, very little time alone. Because a solitary character starts thinking or worrying or wondering.
Better yet, get your character with another character, fast. Get them together and get the action started. Let their actions and words show their thoughts. You—stay out of their heads.
Instead of bland “is” and “has” statements, try burying your details of what a character has or is, in actions or gestures. At its most basic, this is showing your story instead of telling it.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Del Rey Books and Hydra story pitch sessions at SDCC 2013

Why didn't anybody tell me about this? Seriously.

I've been so busy with my head down getting ready for my Creator Connections pitch that I completely missed this.

However, have no fear. I have roughly 36 hours to prepare my story pitch. I took a first stab at my Shaman/Overnight Tow Operator story for the Creator Connections, so I at least have a base to work from. I think I'll work at it using the same setup, obviously replacing the comic book artist stuff and trying to fill in more novel details.

For anyone else who might be interested in these pitch sessions, see here:

Here's the base information:

Del Rey Books and Hydra, the science fiction and fantasy imprints of the Random House Publishing Group, will be scheduling a limited number of original story pitch sessions and art portfolio reviews at Comic-Con International 2013 at the San Diego Convention Center.  Session time slots will be available Thursday, July 18 through Sunday, July 21 at the Random House booth #1514.

 To sign up for this rare opportunity, candidates must come to the Random House booth #1514 between 9:00-11:00am on the day of their desired session.  Advance sign-ups for the following day will not be allowed.  For example, if a candidate wants to sign up for a Saturday session, that candidate must come to the Random House booth on Saturday (and Saturday only) between 9:00-11:00am to secure a time slot.

 Please also note:
- Session time slots will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis
- Candidates will not be allowed to sign up (or line up) before 9:00am
- Candidates must have a Comic-Con badge in order to enter the convention center
- Badges will not be provided by the publisher
- Story pitches and portfolio reviews will be limited to 5-minute sessions
- All sessions will be timed
- Please keep your pitch short and to-the-point
- All story pitches should contain elements of science fiction or fantasy
- Candidates who arrive late to their scheduled session will not be allowed extra time
- Candidates who miss their scheduled session will not be allowed to sign up for a future session

Okay, enough talking. Back to preparing my pitch!

My SDCC Creator Connections pitch is done!

While I missed out on this event in 2011, I signed up as soon as it was announced and was accepted.

After working on it for about two weeks, the one-page pitch is done and down to just under 350 words. Neat, tight, and succinct, with lots of room and hooks for discussion.

It was a lot harder than I had expected. What did help was breaking down the one-page pitch into sections: logline, setup, marketing breakdown, what I'm looking for in an artist, and who I am.

The hardest part of the actual pitch session will be to let the artist talk and ask questions. I tend to prattle on, especially if I'm nervous. I'll have to put a couple of mental time bombs that will go off after two minutes of me talking!

Monday, June 24, 2013

SDCC 2013 - Comic Creator Connection

This summer will mark the third and last year of my professional status at the San Diego Comic Con. So, I'm looking to make the most of it as I haven't been through the renewal process and won't take it for granted that I'll get it again.

I heard about the Comic Creator Connection back in 2011 when I had previously attended, but the event was already full. I didn't go last year, but this year I'm already booked for the big show. When I saw the announcement again this year for the Comic Creator Connection, I didn't hesitate.


What's the Comic Creator Connection? 
"Are you a writer with a great idea for a comic book series, but you can't draw? Or maybe you're an artist looking to illustrate a story and you can’t write. Perhaps both of you are looking to jumpstart your careers in comics. At Comic-Con 2013, you just might find each other!
Comic-Con will once again host the Comic Creator Connection, an event that puts writers and artists together to see whether they can find their creative counterparts.
Writers and artists can sit down and meet each other in a neutral environment. In 5-minute sessions, you can talk one-on-one with individual prospective collaborators about their ideas and skills. At the end of each 5-minute period, you will get up and move on to the next person. If you're interested in furthering the conversation, you place your contact info (name and e-mail address) on a supplied card for that prospective partner."
So I have 23 days to get my one-page pitch package together! I have two competing projects, my Tow Truck/Shaman story and my Darkness story. It's been great inspiration so far! 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Myke Cole on the Craft of Writing and Short Stories


Don’t mis­un­der­stand me. I am NOT bashing short sto­ries. If you like to read short sto­ries, if you like to write short sto­ries, more power to you. I *do* enjoy the very occa­sional short piece. I also *do* write the very occa­sional short piece.
But if what you really want above all else is to be a nov­elist, then for the love of all that’s holy: FORGET short sto­ries. FORGET con­ven­tions. FORGET SFWA. FORGET money. FORGET con­nec­tions and an online pres­ence and proper man­u­script format and all the other bull­shit that gets thrown out there to avoid the bottom line, the ONE thing that you must hold sacred above all else:
There is no end run. Want to be a great nov­elist? Write a great novel. It’s as simple as that.
It's so true, especially for an aspiring writer as you can quickly loose yourself in all of the above and that only detracts from your effects to get a novel out. There are sooo many distraction that water down your work and you need to tune your focus to getting that novel written. As I ramp up to set up my latest schedule for my novel, I'm trying to break down everything else I'm doing and trying to find a way to keep it simple.

In fact, I feel that I've even been trapped by trying to force out a synopsis for my story. My number one goal has to be to get 1,000 words on the page a day. Period. Then I can spend time doing everything else.

Okay, off to pound out those 1,000 words!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Yes, I suck at updating this blog

While I certainly didn't keep up with my blog writing goals, I did meet my February reading goals with Sandman Slim and Butcher's Blood Rites. 

Sandman Slim was a very modern take on the urban fantasy genre. The protagonist was more of an anti-hero than your traditional occult detective. The author chose to omit chapter breaks in the story which was detrimental in terms of trying to stop at the next chapter, but at the same time it was instrumental in keeping me reading. I don't think I'd attempt that, but for this book it worked. I liked the Sandman Slim's character, but felt the book lost its uniqueness when we discovered a greater paranormal organization being run by the government. It seemed a bit manufactured to generate conflict as Slim wasn't exactly a team player. While I enjoyed the book, I'm not rushing to pick up the next volume.

Dresden Files book #6, Blood Rites was a fun read and had some great character moments, although I felt it was really two stories pushed together into one. The middle story didn't really seem to have any connections with the main story. Perhaps that's because his usual formula of having two distinct stories that suddenly have connections might be getting a bit overused, or perhaps he wanted to try something different. However, the main story was solid, but the middle one seemed slapped in there and was a bit forced. Overall though the ramifications of the events in this book made me put aside my other books and read volume #7.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Getting some traction...

The process of rebooting my core story idea has yielded good fruit so far. I can't help but wondering how many other writers have gone through a similar process.

Rebuilding the story around my character rather than the plot has pretty much stripped my original story. Part of me feels like I've abandoned my original story, but the other part of me is reassuring me that this approach feels more natural.

A few nuggets of wisdom from a book titled The 90-Day Novel:

  • Stories are about transformations. The purpose of story is to reveal a transformation.
  • Problems are solved while dilemmas are resolved through a shift in perception.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Slamming my writing career into drive

I've been in a bit of a rut lately. The bootcamp had the opposite effect on my productivity than I expected. In fact it’s made me question everything. I've struggled with feelings that I'm ever going to be a writer, and by that I mean a professional writer. I know I'm a published writer, a blogger, a comic book historian. Keene's keynote speech on the realities of being a B-list writer was sobering. But, there's still hope in terms of ePublishing. But none of that is really going to be a concern if I don't have a product.

If I was a career in writing, that's how I'm going to have to look at it. My writing is a product and I need to get it into a marketable shape. It's a daunting amount of work to proceed, perhaps that's what I find intimidating and overwhelming. I think it's also a confidence thing. I feel like I'm no farther ahead of where I
was in 2007 after WHC here in Toronto. I know that's not true.

The other side of my struggles have to do with my Black Knight Towing/Thunderbird Towing/Marc Galloway. Maybe it's just story idea fatigue. Maybe trying to hold onto it for too long, trying to make something of it. Or maybe I'm just looking for a way out.

It's always easier to start something new than to actually finish it. Maybe that's the test I need to put the idea up against. Give it 90 days and see what kind of fruit I can produce.

Yes, I'm in a bit of a rut. The only way out is to write my way out. And I need a 90-day plan.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Butcher's Story Skeletons

From Jim Butcher's LiveJournal page:

"The story skeleton is a description of the main plot of your book, broken down into its simplest elements: *WHEN SOMETHING HAPPENS*, *YOUR PROTAGONIST* *PURSUES A GOAL*. But will he succeed when *ANTAGONIST PROVIDES OPPOSITION*?"

For example, the story skeleton for his first novel, Storm Front, was:

"When a series of grisly supernatural murders tears through Chicago, wizard Harry Dresden sets out to find the killer. But will he succeed when he finds himself pitted against a dark wizard, a Warden of the White Council, a vicious gang war, and the Chicago Police Department?"

I've found this exercise useful when trying to sort out my plot ideas. Refining all the ideas swirling around in your head can be daunting, but using a model like this can help bring structure to it all. I feel that walking through this exercise helps not only focus your efforts, but rein in the scope of your story.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing

1. Never open a book with the weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.”
5. Keep your exclamation points under control!
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, patois,  sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Same for places and things.
10. Leave out the parts readers tend to skip.

His most important rule is one that sums up the 10: "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

* Excerpted from the New York Times article, “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle”

The Borderlands Boot Camp Experience

I spend this past weekend in Baltimore Maryland attending the 2013 Borderlands Writers Boot camp. I feel humbled and encouraged at the same time. There are times you’ll think that your writing is good. Most of the time you’re wrong. What’s important to realize is that every writer has been here. You will get better, but you have to choose to write better.

The Borderlands Boot camp provided me with the means to write better. In fact, the red marks on my manuscript are still bleeding. I felt like the weekend slipped by in a blur of insider information, quality feedback and critiquing, and introspection. Make no mistake, this was a writing boot camp.

- Everyone participating in the boot camp was friendly and approachable, especially the veterans who made efforts to make sure the newbies felt welcomed.
- The rooms were great and affordable.
- I walked away with a mountain-sized stack of feedback and a clear To Do List.
- Made some great new writing friends.

- The schedule didn’t leave a lot of time for us to fraternize with our fellow Boot campers. Several veterans came a day early and left a day later to get that time in with each other.
- The critiquing schedule didn’t work as several members were in multiple sessions together and didn’t meet with a subset of other boot campers.
- More up front disclosure would have been helpful. For example, providing a sample of what the instructors think is a good critique, or informing us of the specific areas the instructors were going to focus on during the breakout sessions (plot, character, and POV).

The 2013 Borderlands Boot Camp was an amazing experience that has allow me to see the prerequisite level of writing skill required to be a successful writer. Where do I go from here? I need to absorb the feedback and critiques, specifically from two perspectives: story/character and writing style. 

Here’s what I've gathered from the surface level comments and I’m sure I’ll be adding to these lists.

- firm up on my choice of point-of-view
- define my protagonist, tease out his personality

Writing style
- weed out the use of passive voice
- ruthlessly eliminate adverbs
- establish and maintain a clear point of view

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Off to Baltimore tomorrow for the Borderlands Boot Camp

Feeling sooo unprepared. Work has been insane this week. Fortunately, I've completed my critiques of the other participants and I'm about 10% into my own piece, so here's hoping tonight is productive after I pack and print off my ticket.

I get into Baltimore around 2pm and the boot camp starts at 6:30. I'm hoping to visit Edgar Allan Poe's grave before it gets too dark.

Anyways, I'm sure I'll have a lot to blog about in the aftermath... wish me luck!

Friday, January 18, 2013

One week before Borderlands... story hooks, character hooks, and Shadow Ops!

I've completed the first pass on all the 16 stories, and about halfway through my final pass of them. Another attendee mentioned that it's a good idea to critique your own work, so I'll be reviewing another one. Actually, it'll be an interesting exercise as I haven't looked at my own story since I submitted it in late summer.

So what have I learned about the critiquing I've done so far? The importance of a hook, and not just a plot hook, but a character hook.

I'm currently reading Myke Cole's Shadow Ops: Control Point and it's a great example of a character hook that grabs you in the first couple of pages. Basically, it's a character who's thrust into a position where he might something against his character. Great hook. However, in the next couple of chapters, Cole takes that character hook and evolves a story hook out of it. And not that it's overly predictable, but the best part is that you know that the hook has sunk into as the reader before you even read the words that elaborate on the conflict brought about because of that hook.

And that ties into the next thing I learned is how important opening are. I know that kind of goes without saying, but it's really where you set the tone for the story and make that implicit promise to the reader that this is what they're getting themselves into.

So, when I turn my critical eye to my own piece, I'll have those two things in mind.

I'm also starting to get nervously excited about it. Next weekend will be my first writing weekend away. I think it'll be a big turning point as I'll be exposed to other writers trying to make a go at it. And of course, having the ears of some professional writers. There are a few writers who have attended the boot camp before, so I think that tells me of the measure of this weekend.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Two weeks before I leave for the Borderlands Bootcamp

Two weeks from today, I'll be on my way to Towson Maryland to attend the Borderlands Bootcamp. I'm a bit anxiously, especially as the date seems to be creeping up on me. I'm almost done my first pass at all 17 of the other attendees' stories. Ideally, I'd like to do two passes. Although, I've marked up some of them quite well. :)

In the wee hours of the morning, I finished G.R.R. Martin's Fevre Dream and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I devoured his fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, and was happy to try another one of his books, even though it was a vampire tale. However, this story was first printed in 1983, way ahead of the vampire craze. In fact, I'd have to say he was a pioneer in the vampire genre with his unique take on the bloodsuckers. In Fevre Dream he captured the atmosphere of the deep south and the power of the Mississippi and the steam boats that rode its fickle surface.

As for my writing, I'm hoping to spend some time this weekend and really get refocused on my Black Knight project. I've been studying various urban fantasy stories and trying to breakdown their plot points. Especially series novels, like Kevin Hearne's the Iron Druid Chronicles or Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files. I'd like to see my protagonist, Trevor Galloway, in a series of novels that chronicle his adventures as an urban shaman.

Friday, January 4, 2013

My 2013 Writing Goals

After surveying the year that was 2012, I’d like to kick off 2013 with some writing goals and publicly post them as a means to shame me if I don’t follow through on them! Instead of resolutions, I thought that for 2013, I’d try a different angle and construct a To Do list based on my resolutions.

  1. Read more. Sadly, 2012 was a pathetic year for reading. Everything else took precedent over reading. And when I did read, there was a noticeable effect on my writing and generation of ideas.
    [   ] Read 2 books a month
    [   ] Read 1 short story a week
  2. Finish what I’ve started. I have two novel projects on the go. I need to focus on these and finish them. THIS YEAR. I’ve submitted End Times to the Borderlands Writing Boot Camp, so I’m sure after I emotionally recover from the critiquing, I’ll come out fired up.
    [   ] Revise plot/synopsis for End Times
    [   ] Complete First Draft of End Times
    [   ] Revise plot/synopsis for Elegant Darkness
    [   ] Complete First Draft of Elegant Darkness
  3. Continue to pursue grants this year.
    [   ] Ontario Arts Council (February and October 2013)
    [   ] Toronto Arts Council (June 17/2013; check in April for app.)
    [   ] Canada Arts Council (October 1/2013)
  4. Blog. I’ve got three blogs I’d like to keep active on:
    [   ] Jason Shayer – writing blog (twice a week)
    [   ] Marvel 1980s comic book blog (four times a month)
    [   ] Biff Bam Pop – Tales from the Longbox (twice a month)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Looking back at 2012

Before jumping into my 2013 writing goals, I’d like to self-indulge a bit, and look back at my writing accomplishments of 2012.

2012 was a bit of a crazy year that saw us undergo an almost 4 month renovation of our home. There was a lot of work involved before, during, and after the reno that sucked all my free time. However, despite all of that, I kept my Marvel 1980s blog updated and regularly contribute to Biff Bam Pop and two articles to Back Issue magazine. My short story, “Dirt Man”, was published in the Biff Bam Pop anthology, Strange Worlds.

I also made a lot of headway into my first Trevor Galloway novel. So much so that I used it both for submissions for various writers grants and for the Borderlands Boot camp. Unfortunately, I was turned down for those grants, but I was accepted into the Boot camp which is happening at the end of the month in Baltimore.

In early November, I attended the World Fantasy Convention held here in Toronto (Markham, actually) and met with a lot of other writers and was reminded of the amount of work demanded of even a part-time writer.

Also in November, I pounded out 50,000 words for NaNoWrimo detailing the YA exploits of a young woman with mysterious powers over shadows and darkness. In December, I felt a bit burned out after NaNoWrimo and it took me a while before getting into the right mind frame to tackle the Top Cow Talent Hunt. It was a deadline deal as I sent off the script and synopsis on December 31st and should hopefully find out the results by the end of the month!

So, looking back, it was a solid year that I’m hoping to build upon during 2013.