Writing with experience

The title might be misleading. When I say, write with experience, I don’t mean keep on writing until you consider yourself a professional writer, be it from someone buying your work or getting published. What I mean is…. writing with personal experience.

For example, in one of my novels, I have a character who is absolutely terrified of horses. Because of that, he’s never learned how to ride. If he wanted to get to Point B from Point A, he walked or rode on carriages. But he never, ever rode.

There’s a scene where a lady love of his tries to teach him, instructing him on the proper way to ride, from holding himself steady to meet the horse as it went up and down, from the way to clench his legs to hold the sides of the horse, and so forth. I tried to imagine how he’d feel as a first time rider.

Then I had the opportunity myself. I finally had the chance to ride a horse a few years ago. I always wanted to, just never had the opportunity until it was given to me as a gift. I was thrilled.

The experience was more than I imagined. It was fun, it was a heady experience, I was far, far off the ground than I expected and… it hurt like heck. I actually had to have help to dismount, my thighs were burning! I was shaky, had difficulty staying upright, and my legs were just unable to walk properly.

I was like that for a few hours. But now I could honestly say how that character’s experience was going to be. I had a personal experience to draw on to describe just what it felt like. This is where I’d encourage people to try something, even once, just to get a gist of what it’s like. (Of course, when it comes to certain illegal things… use your common sense. If it’s illegal, don’t do it.)

In fact, due to my current pregnancy, I now have another thing to draw on for when my female characters become with child. I can describe certain symptoms, feelings, with accuracy. The same goes for a number of personal experiences.

I encourage writers to draw on their personal experience, whether it’s painful or joyful. We must never shy from sharing a painful experience because someone just might empathize with the scenario at hand. One must never underestimate the power of the written word; it can touch lives and change them for the better. Open doors to new understanding that a person never imagined.

(Yes, I can honestly say that I’ve tried firing a gun, a rifle, wielded a sword, rode a horse, tried smoking, tried drinking genuine honeyed mead, watched a joust, watched a duel, went camping, climbed a rock wall, went fishing…. I’m sure there’s more. But imagine the dual benefit! I get to enrich my life and write with personal accuracy!)

Try it. Write from your personal experience. It’d feel so much more real for your readers, and that should always be the aim of any writer: to make your stories seem real as life.

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Sex! (Mature warning!)

Now that I have your attention…. No, I’m kidding. I do want to talk about sex… in books. By now, I’m sure we’re alllll aware of the erotic Fifty Shades trilogy that made such headlines. The funny thing, it started out as a fanfic of the Twilight series, which barely had any description of sex, but did get quite graphic (as TVTropes described it, “nightmare fuel”) c-section that had to happen.

Sex in books can happen. Nowadays, even books meant for teen readers have some indication of it as well. (Or so those that I’ve come across in book stores.) Many of the books I’ve read do as well, some mentioned in passing, others described in colorful descriptions and others quite graphic about it.

All in all, sex happens. Sometimes rape (though thankfully the books I’ve read don’t go into detail about that!). Sometimes seduction. But it happens. It’s like real life… sex happens everywhere. It’s a natural biological process. Plus, y’know, it feels good (most of the time).

The question is, then, do you the writer need to have sex in your books? Is the brief make-out enough to make it known that your character experiences such feelings? Is the sex necessary for the storyline? And so on. Many questions need to be answered in order to do it justice, for I can almost guarantee you, your editor, agent, and readers will want to know.

Now in my readings, I’ve come across very nicely done writing of sex scenes. They weren’t too obvious, but you could pretty much gather that there was some, ah, penetration and it was all good. Others were downright descriptive to the actual pounding the female was getting. It was entirely up to the author to decide how detailed they wanted to get.

I, myself, lean towards vague ideas of sex in my writing. Most of the time, I feel anything more would be unnecessary. In my younger years, when I wrote fanfics, I once wrote a scene between two characters, male and female. The male had been trying to get the woman’s attention for some time, but she was resisting. The attraction scared her because it implied opening a door she wasn’t ready to. However, one night, she gave in and much embracing happened.

And all I wrote… was just the two of them stumbling across the floor to get to the bed, touching and kissing. I faded to black once that was over, leaving it to the reader to imagine what happened. I got some very nice comments, many saying that the scene alone was quite steamy… and all it had was kissing. Imagine if I went further!

Did I feel I had to go into more detail? No. Because I felt what I wrote sufficed. But I do know that in some future books I might go into more detail, if only for the sake of the story. Never to work against it, but to give insight into the minds of the characters the readers will be reading about. I don’t want to get pornographic; that’s unnecessary. At least for me.

Bottom line? Write sex scenes if you want, but write them if they’re really necessary to the tale. Don’t use it as filler because you run out of ideas on how to move on. But it is entirely up to you, future writer. I’m simply sharing my thoughts and experiences.

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The Drawbacks of Fame

The only drawback I can see in wanting to become a well-known author? The fans. Yep. The readers. The judgmental ones in particular. I’ve been to many an author’s blog, Facebook page, and fan forums, and I’m simply appalled at what I find there sometimes.

One of the most (in)famous situations would have to be one involving George R. R. Martin and Neil Gaiman. Some time ago–immortalized, no doubt, by the internet–a fan wrote to Mr. Gaiman, complaining about how long it was taking Mr. Martin to finish the fourth of his (possibly) seven books, of the A Song of Ice and Fire series. At first Mr. Martin was rather regular in his output, then it dropped quite dramatically. To the fan, I’m assuming it didn’t help that Mr. Martin had begun maintaining a blog over at Livejournal, and it looked, to all appearances, that he was doing everything but writing.

Mr. Gaiman’s response was, to me, perfect. Bottom line, he told the fan this: “George R. R. Martin is not your bitch.” There are many good points in his blog post and I strongly suggest fans and writers alike read it.

Sadly, that is one of many fans’ reactions to Mr. Martin’s blog. See, the issue was, to all appearances, he was doing everything else. Talking about football, the occasional political post, talking about the variety of things he was involved in, from editing and writing anthologies, to the HBO series of his books. Everything… but writing. Once in a blue moon, we’d get a snippet of him saying he had to do this and that to the books, such as splitting A Feast For Crows into two because he simply was making it into an enormous book. At one point, he had to say “Yes, I am writing. No, I’m not going to mention it every day.” Still didn’t help.

Some of the opinions of the fans could be considered quite outrageous. They felt entitled to him finishing the next book because, to quote one, they “paid his paycheck”. Technically true… technically not. Either way, it didn’t matter. Until the next book was done, the author had to depend on either residuals from previous work or a job on top of being an author, which meant having to juggle time just to write.

Perhaps Mr. Martin had committed to the other projects before he started the blog and they were only now coming to light. Perhaps he didn’t think they’d come through and lo, they did, and now he was contractually obligated to meet those deadlines. Maybe the extra income would help. Maybe, as he did those other projects, it helped him work out some issues in his books. He does mention the occasional need to rewrite because suddenly it felt wrong. Not every author works on a set outline.

There are other authors who have suffered at the wrath of fans. Mercedes Lackey, for example, had to deal with freaking death threats because some fans went just a tad too far in their adoration of her books. She goes into detail over at her website, but basically some fans went nuts when they heard that she was suspending the Diana Tregarde Investigations series. More, the fans thought it was some kind of conspiracy, that the publishers were suspending the series because the Guardians were real and that it was bringing too much attention. There’s more, but I’m not going to list it here. Just read the post that the author wrote.

Anne Rice, especially in the recent months, as she discussed politics and religion over at her Facebook page, has also suffered the rude lashes of her fans’ tongues. When I discovered her page, I’d glimpse at it time to time. As time progressed, I found I liked some of the things she wanted fans to ponder, to contemplate, to discuss and enlighten their lives. I liked it… but some fans were downright cruel.

The sad thing was, Ms. Rice wasn’t trying to shove her opinion or beliefs down anyone’s throat. She just wanted civil discourse over what she’d shared. But those who disagreed have stated outright that perhaps she “ought to quit discussing anything but her books”. What shocked me was the implied opinions of those fans, to tell Anne what to do on her page, let alone ignore her gentle reminders that she just wanted civil discussion of what she had posted. Were we so lacking civility that we couldn’t discuss anything without resorting to insults or name calling?

Among these named authors, there was another who I came across and couldn’t help but be appalled by the behavior of their readers. Melanie Rawn (of Dragon Star, Exiles, etc) had begun a fascinating trilogy where women were the dominant rulers (made so by their ability and right to bear healthy children after the equivalent of a nuclear fall-out; and no, it’s not like the Drow matriarchy!). It had taken some time, but she managed to publish two of the three books.

Then nothing. Nothing for a long time. Concerned, desperate to know how the third book would end, I googled up her fan page. Ms. Rawn permitted a group of her fans to run her official fan board, met with them on occasions, and would post at the forum. Every so often, she or the moderators would share news.

Part of the reason for the delay was that Ms. Rawn had broken her arm, and then lost her mother, then fell into a period of deep depression (having lost my own mother, I can only empathize at the darkness she felt). Unfortunately, her publisher demanded she finished a different book first before being allowed to do work on the third book (known as The Captal’s Tower).

Then she was obligated to do a sequel (I think). Then she announced after so long that she wanted fans to help her compile notes on what happened in the first two before she worked on the third. I was thrilled! Perhaps now we’d have the third book!

More silence. Many a fan were concerned. Some…. were cruel. They put down her books (in her own forum!) and assumed she wouldn’t read the forums to see what was said. Some were quite snide that she seemed “unable” to finish a trilogy since her first two sets of trilogies. I could go on but I see no point in repeating such unkind words.

Are there more out there? Probably. I know Jean Auel (of the Clan of the Cave Bear fame) had taken nearly a decade to finish a book in that series. I know fans can be quite impatient, thinking that just because they paid money that they ought to have everything served to them on a platter. But as a soon-to-be author myself (I hope!), these reactions can cause one to take considerable pause.

After all… do I really want to introduce myself to that kind of possible vitriol?  When Battlestar Galatica did a remake and introduced Starbuck as female, there was sheer outrage. The actress confessed she had to stop Googling herself just so she didn’t expose herself to such negativity.

If I did become an author and decided to maintain a blog (be it this one or an additional one), would I have to be careful what I shared? Would I have to hold back news about my personal life? What about political statements? Hell, what about thoughts on religion–or an ambitious project? Would my fans insist on having constant news update about my current work-in-progress just so their eagerness would be justified?

It’s plenty for an author to think of, especially in this day and age of overexposure–be it on Facebook, a WordPress blog or elsewhere.

In the end though, I have seen authors who seem to have a good relationship with their readers (Margaret Weis, Elaine Cunningham, and others). So maybe it’s just dealing with the bad as well as the good. I imagine many a celebrity, many a small nook in a cliche, have had to deal with. Whether it’s a singer releasing a new sound and dealing with both the backlash and the praise, an actor who in the eyes of some is awful and excellent in others…. The list goes on.

Words can hurt. Reading hateful words from a complete stranger who judges you on what you have shared (which may not necessarily be everything) can be damaging. I haven’t the faintest idea as to what to advise in a situation like that….

…but the first thing that comes to mind is to either click the close button on a browser or check that email and hit delete.

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Comics and webcomics

I thought I’d take on a side-topic that is related to writing, but rather share certain comics and webcomics that I like… because the writing is incredible and I think people could benefit from reading them. (That and a slightly selfish bragging about a friend trying it out too.)

I grew up reading comic books. It was my mother’s way of trying to encourage my brothers and I to read, to find a love of reading. It worked. My brothers started with Marvel and DC… X-Men, Batman, those sorts. I actually started with Archies and New Mutants, way back in the 80s. I slowly worked my way through Excalibur, X-Men, Catwoman, and so on.

My cousin introduced me to an independent comic book series called Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore.

But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself.

We all started out with the Archies’ series. (I always liked Betty… and oddly, Dilton. Oh and Jughead. I liked the nice, quiet guys…) Then my mother allowed us to read the first book to ever introduce me to elves, and unique writing: ElfQuest.

Every single character in ElfQuest is unique. They all have their own personalities, appearances, talents… As TVTropes once stated (though oddly it’s no longer there), they’re all special snowflakes. Instead of one or two characters being uniquely separated from the rest of the population, they all are!

I loved it. Thanks to Wendy and Richard Pini, I’ve found an endearing love for elves. Another author compared elves to two-legged cats. To me, that’s quite appropriate.

The story telling in ElfQuest has spurred me to a love of writing and stories. I looked for excellent stories, be it comics or webcomics or books. I wanted good stories… no, that’s wrong. I wanted excellent stories! Some writers in the comic book-dom were very incredible. (Mark Waid is one of them; awesome, awesome man.) Some were so two dimensional that I was disappointment. Just because it was a comic book didn’t mean it had to be so… bland.

I wanted realism. I wanted character growth. So I looked for it. Strangers in Paradise was one of the best stories I’ve ever read. Over time, I’ve found others, collected them. Saved them.

There is the now defunct CrossGen books, such as Meridian, Sojourn, Ruse, and so forth. (Mark Waid, in fact, wrote Ruse. Or parts of it.) Meridian was fantastic as it tried to cater to girls, to encourage a strong female role model. That CrossGen failed saddened me.

At one point, Mark Waid formed a new independent comic book company called “Boom!”. They too had some interesting books, particularly Irredeemable. I fell in love with it, as it was a new twist on the old standard “boy scout superhero”. (Think Superman, with a twist.)

But with webcomics… there is good and there is bad. Some of the artwork can be gorgeous. Some can be… not my taste. (I’m so fussy, it’s hilarious.) Some started and never finished. But some that I’ve seen are nicely done… and I’d love to share them.

ElfQuest: Wendy has decided to ‘finish’ ElfQuest by posting a page per week online! So that’s a new webcomic series for me. (Lost? Read here first!)

Punch an’ Pie: A story of two women, once together, now apart, exploring their lives and learning from it. I love it. The artwork isn’t really for me, but decent enough to read. (It is in fact a sequel to Queen of Wands.)

The Dreamer: I love, love, love this series. The artwork is beautiful, the history is fascinating, and the storyline has left me wondering if it is true or the girl’s extreme imagination! We’ll find out… I hope!

Teahouse: NOT for young audiences… not really. It’s very Yaoi (think gay) and while not graphic, it may not be to everyone’s taste. But I love it. (Thanks Rene!)

Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic: Hilarious, light-hearted view on the ‘monsters’ and bad guys of D&D. The artwork is very animated-ish and though the unfinished work can be difficult for some, it’s been great. I love it.

Order of the Stick: One of the best, long running series ever. Read it!

Dante’s Fire: My dear friend has just started this. Just two pages in, she’s learning as she goes. It’s not for prudes or the faint-hearted. There will be gratuitious nudity shots and various sex scenes… so be warned. Adults only.

All stories have their own mediums… some prefer comics, some prefer straight text…. I love both. Just as long as the story is wonderful… and the artwork tolerable (oh such an elitist I am!)… I’ll read it. I’ll devour it. I spent one whole day reading Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic… but it was full of humor that I couldn’t stop.

ElfQuest? Be prepared to read 30 years worth of work… all lovingly done, all faithfully followed. (And for free online!)

The point, I suppose, is this: Stories come in many forms. Movies… live-action television… cartoons, comics, online comics, books…. but they’re all incredible. Don’t limit yourself.

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Suggestions on dialogue

One of my writing books had a few interesting tips that I wanted to share.

One of the tips was this: be careful on using descriptive words. Like this:

***

“The bastard,” she hissed.

“That he is,” her friend Sarah agreed.

“I should hang him up by the fingers!” she exclaimed.

“I’ll help,” Sarah offered.

“Help me hide the body?” she asked.

“I’ll have the shovel,” Sarah murmured.

“Thanks,” she said.

***

Way, way too many descriptive words. It can be disorienting. It’s like trying to tell the reader the emotions going on instead of showing them with, say, the speaker raging around the room, the angry set of her jaw, and Sarah trying to appear sympathetic. These are, of course, just ideas, suggestions. But it could help.

The other suggestion, of course, is to read the dialogue when you write it. If it feels awkward to you to even try to read it, it may just be as awkward for the reader, or more so.

Here’s an interesting history: before Gone with the Wind, there weren’t any deliberate usage of accents or speaking styles. But the author changed things by putting an intentional use of Southern accents… as well as actually using a ‘curse’ word. (The word was “damn”.)

Though most of the time I do see ‘proper’ grammar and speaking styles in books, I do come across those bold enough to make it interesting. As far as I can tell, there’s no proper way now for publishing. In fact, I myself will be experimenting with the usage of accents and different styles, if only to give each a unique voice.

But does that mean other authors should do that? Not necessarily. Do what makes you comfortable, but also keep in mind: in writing, we should always try to broaden our horizons and test our abilities.

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Wise words of advice

Whenever I can, I do try to follow some of my favorite authors’ blogs, Facebook pages, whatever I can find. Not that I’m stalking or anything, but rather, wanting to see what is current, what advice they might have for the new ones trying to break into the market, and what new books they might be writing!

To date, I’ve managed to find: Melanie Rawn, Tara K. Harper, George R. R. Martin, C. S. Friedman, Margret Weis, Anne Rice, Neil Gaiman, Jim Butcher, Elaine Cunningham and Mercedes Lackey.

Now, Martin has a Livejournal blog that I think he links to his official website. I know some fans have expressed distress that how he seems to writing about everything else but what we hope he would be working on. (Quite a few seem to take a dislike to him posting about football, his other projects, and all the cons he’s been going to. Me? I don’t care. He’s entitled to a life!)

Tara K. Harper had a blog and does still have her website, but there has been a distinct lack of posting for several years. As a fan eager to see the rest of her books, I’m concerned and hope she is well. The author has mentioned some health problems, so of course I hope she’s all right.

Melanie Rawn does occasionally post on her forum, maintained by a few dedicated fans. Apparently those eagerly awaiting the third book in the Exiles trilogy will be forever holding their breath. This saddens me, as apparently her publisher believes it will not sell as well as other books. (Perhaps an e-book instead, Ms. Rawn? One could hope!)

Margret Weis would mention the occasional game or book, plus her personal life. I haven’t really paid attention to her much, but I know she’s quite prolific.

Anne Rice seems to practically encourage controversy on her Facebook page! She likes to encourage intelligent discussions, between religion and politics and daily lives. It’s interesting, but not for the faint of heart. Some of the comments have left me very distressed, as some think that authors ought to only write and shut up about their political leanings and opinions on daily life. (What, we can’t have a life? Geez.)

Neil Gaiman is awesome. That’s all I’ll say. (His post on how fans complain about how long it takes George R. R. Martin to write a book is one of my personal favorites. No, authors do not work for their audience…. they work for themselves, in my personal opinion.)

Jim Butcher manages incredible feedback with his fans via his forum and website. Sometimes he’ll be generous enough to give us sneak peeks into his upcoming book. He even (and this touched me deeply) dedicated a book to a fan who passed away.

I only just found Mercedes Lackey’s Facebook page. I know she does maintain a website as well.

Elaine Cunningham mentions e-books quite a bit. But she also mentions music a great deal, which is clearly a favorite of hers as well.

C. S. Friedman is a personal favorite. She does answer questions fans ask her, even if it was about writing, her books. In fact, she just finished rebuilding a new website and has very interesting blog posts I’d like to share.

The Reality of Writing–where she goes into detail about what she goes through when she writes and her process.

To Beta or not to Beta–where she explains how writers depend on friends, families, and “strangers” for feedback, criticism and help in catching mistakes! (Jim Butcher amusingly calls his beta readers the Beta Asylum.)

The DM Rule–where she explains how to figure out the loopholes and issues with your world. Excellent advice, and certainly keeps me on my toes!

Trade Secrets 101: How to get your novel published–where she details six excellent points and suggestions.

As I look for other blogs and points, I’ll certainly share them. But I love hearing my favorite authors’ points and their thought processes. (Hell, I like seeing pictures of Anne Rice’s cat, Prince Oberon. In fact, cats seem to be heavily themed among them!)

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Why do you want to write?

I came across an article about writing not too long ago that had me neatly stumped. ‘Why do you want to write?’ it said. It had to be a very good reason why we had to devote hours of our days to writing. It couldn’t just be because we thought that our stories were worthy of writing; too many people thought that and many didn’t get published. So again: why do you want to write?

I thought about it, ruminating over it the last few days. It occurred to me that the reason why was a bit deeper than just “because I thought my stories were worthy of reading”. It was because I could not not write! It burned within me, the urge to write. It could be anything, not just my current fantasy tales. I had to write. To do otherwise would to be… not me.

Often times all I had to do was read something, watch something, or just about imagine something and I had a story blooming within me. If it were possible to write stories and not worry about money, I so absolutely would! I don’t care about the money–in fact, I know it’s far difficult to make a sufficient amount to live on. I don’t care. I just want my stories written, and if people like them, so much the better.

Do I think I have a story that is worthy to be told? Most likely. Do I think I’ll be breaking any creative barriers or originality? I’ll confess, I’m sure there’s a similar tale out there already! That’s okay. This is my version.

I have plenty of stories to write and share. If someone likes them, so much the better.

I just know… I have to write. To do otherwise would to go against my very being.

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