Writing Update – April 2022

I haven’t quite finished another book in time to get a review up today, so I’m going to give an update on the status of my writing instead.

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For last week, I made steady progress on my current novel, East of the Sun, finishing about 2500 words. This is a hard science fiction novel set on a space station orbiting Enceladus. Here is the current blurb I’m using for the book and you can see some artwork I created that I felt captured the feel of a possible cover.

After her laboratory is destroyed and her career is threatened, a damaged scientist must investigate a new life form that has infiltrated Etna Station; but when crew members begin vanishing and life support fails, she must put her past aside and embrace a new existence if there is hope for any of them to survive.

I’m experimenting with using the Save the Cat! technique for novel writing that I found in the book Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody. I have a lot of the plot outlined but I have to fill in many of the details as I go.

When writers talk about their technique for writing, we usually break it into two subcategories: plotters and pantsers. Plotters are writers who map out most of the book ahead of time and then write off of extensive outlines. Pantsers are writers who fly the the seat of their pants. These writers come up with a story idea and/or character and then just write to see where it takes them.

I am some awkward hybrid of both types of writers. This makes learning the process of how to create a coherent plot an exercise in frustration and a lot of rewriting.

I have a couple of short stories making the rounds at markets. I need to find some time to rewrite or revise some of my other short fiction because I don’t have enough ready to submit to magazines. Before I do that, I want to gain more momentum on East of the Sun though.

For the writers out there, are you a plotter or a plantser? Let me know in the comments above.

Do You Write What You Know?

This week, I decided to take a break from the posts about fencing. Don’t worry, I’ll get back to that soon – I’m obsessed with swords and there are many fencing topics that I can still write about.

Maybe you’ve heard the oft-muttered writing advice to “WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW” or perhaps you haven’t. But either way, I’ve read several debates on this idea. The gist of it is this: if you fill your writing with settings, subjects, scenarios, or technology that you personally have experienced, then that will give your work greater authenticity. For example, if I’m a  professional chocolate weevil exterminator and I write about a character that is an exterminator, I’ll bring my personal knowledge of that trade to the story. There are details about my life that will infuse the plot and character with some sort of intangible credibility.

The opposite to this would be to “WRITE WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW” which for any author of fantasy or science fiction becomes a necessity at some level. I mean, how many of us have been to another planet? How many of us have worked magic or slain a troll? At some point in our craft, we have to extrapolate and do the best we can with this sort of thing. There is a subset of this that encompasses those subjects or places with which you personally are not familiar, but perhaps thousands or millions of other people are. To me, this is the most difficult type of story to write. This is where the research becomes key. Sure, you can write what you don’t know, but if you do a terrible job of it, someone will pick up on that and that can take them out of of the story. It can ruin their reading experience and cause the story to fail at all other levels.

So writers, do YOU write what you know? It turns out that I usually don’t. Professionally, this is what I know:

Chocolate dog vomit. With wrappers.

That’s vomit.

Dog vomit.

Chocolate dog vomit.

In my day job, I make dogs vomit. I work (nights actually) as an emergency veterinarian. If dogs didn’t eat things that they shouldn’t be eating, I wouldn’t have nearly as much to do. I have to induce vomiting quite often on poor pups that ate a sock, a bottle of medication, or…chocolate.

I don’t often write about dogs, cats, or veterinarians, however. This occurred to me as I started to write a story last week that DID involve dogs, cats, and a veterinary office. Of course it also has a zombie and one of these guys in it:

This little alligator was left in a box on the doorstep of the hospital.

I don’t see alligators very often at my job. I went to school in Florida, where I saw them sunning themselves besides drainage ponds while I walked to class. But here in New Jersey?

I have noticed that there seems to be more hard science fiction written about extrapolated physics, astrophysics, and technology than there is advanced biology, genetics, or medicine. Some writers blend the hard sciences and the life sciences in their fiction, but usually one field has a greater influence in the story than the other. Is this a side effect of authors writing what they know?

What do you think? Do you write what you know? Have you tried to write what you don’t know? Have you ever found an alligator in a box on your doorstep?

Oh and hey, I’ll be at ChiCon this weekend (at least the first half of it). If you see me wandering the con, come say hello.

Building a Plot

There are several different ways that an author can build a novel out of a loose collection of ideas, characters, and plot elements. After reading about the experiences of other writers, this seems to break down into two basic categories: Outliners and Pantsers.

An Outliner has to figure out the scenes or chapters that the story will follow in some minimum level of detail. The ending is known before the writing has begun. A Pantser takes the opposite approach, settling only a few aspects of the novel-in-her-head before sitting down to write by-the-seat-of-her-pants. The ending may be a complete mystery to the author, or while the conclusion may already have been visualized, the author does not know the path that the characters will take to get there.

In my own story-telling projects, I’ve always thought that I identified better as an Outliner. I need to know how it all fits together before I can begin. Who are my characters and why are they going to act the way they do? What difficulties will they face that will force them to grow or change? While there certainly may be times that a Pantser technique could work for me, given what I’ve discovered through several unfinished writing projects is that it more often will not.

As I sat down in mid-February to begin putting the details down for my current novel project, I’ve found that the process of outline creation is no easy feat. I have a character and a disturbing event. I have a setting with the different cultures, sub-cultures, and factions. The magic is roughed out and the monsters are coming to life in my head. Two main antagonists are ready to release their minions. Yet, that outline is a vague list of events and possibilities, haziest in the middle.

How does an author figure out that middle (muddle)? I’m not sure yet, but I’ve decided that I’m an alternating Outliner-Pantser-Outliner. Here’s how I hope it will go:

1) Outline until I can’t stand it anymore.

2) Write until I run out of outline.

3) Stand back and look at what I’ve done (eeek!).

4) Outline the next section.

5) Repeat from step #2.

I suspect that it will turn out messier than this. So, for other authors out there, how do you plan your plot and scenes? Leave some comments – it’s fun!

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I would like to thank the Woodbridge Science Fiction and Fantasy Meetup group for pointing me toward WordPress and spurring me to create this web site.

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