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.