Tuesday, November 30, 2010

To Outline or Not to Outline

When I began my first novel, I was reading Robert Jordan's uber-epic Wheel of Time series. This did  the tremendous misfortune of letting me believe that I could let my muse prattle on unrestrained. The book went way long, and I'm loathe to cut it down to size. I'm proud of it, but current publishing trends don't let first-time authors write such epics (226k words).

I had just read Stephen King's book On Writing when I began my second novel, and though I highly recommend the book, it did me this disservice of thinking that I could be a straight-up discovery writer. That's not King's fault. It's mine. He even warns would-be writers to find their own ways. I failed to do so, and I failed to take into account the expectations of both my genre and, again, the publishing world. To bring my novel down to a more palatable 144K, I had to strip out nearly 40k words. The Valkyrie (my working title) is stronger for it, but it was a painful process.

It looks like I straddle the fence when it comes to defining myself as either an outliner or a discovery writer. I'm a bit of both. For my next novel, I'll be trying out the Snowflake method. It sounds very intriguing. Thanks to my buddy Rusty for forwarding the link.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Epsilon Seven - an Ode

I've read more than my share of Dan Brown, James Rollins, and Steve Berry novels. They like to mix historical references, paranormal events, and religious exposes (of dubious veracity) into their action/adventure/military/academic novels. It's all in good fun.

Here is my short story, Epsilon Seven. It is part homage and part spoof of these writers. And it has no commercial value.


EPSILON SEVEN - by Justin Lindsay

Washington D.C.
Epsilon Seven HQ
May 5th
2:43 pm
COMMANDER CHARLES MAGNUS’S eyes watered from having stared too long at the symbol spread out on the table before him. The symbol was nothing more than a half circle drawn atop a horizontal line, a simple charcoal rubbing on thin vellum. Simple, but costly. Acquiring the rubbing had cost him two of his best field operatives.
            As head of the Epsilon Seven task force, he commanded a team of twelve soldiers gone professional, men and women who had been hand-picked from the world’s various Special Forces units for their keen intellect and non-linear thinking. Each had been fast-tracked through a variety of professional licensing and certifications, resulting in soldier-lawyers, soldier-accountants, soldier-psychotherapists, and soldier-masseuses, to name but a few of the professions. The result: a team of experts prepared to step into any professional setting as spies, legitimate help, or assassins.
No, no longer twelve strong. Ten now. Oh, what he would do to have Johnny and Beth with him right now. But they were gone. Gone as so many of his companions…
            “Commander Magnus?”
            Charles looked up to see his team arrayed around the table, looking to him for guidance in this crisis. Only three of them could be here on such short notice. He steeled himself, knowing that he had to hold it together. If only he could figure this damned symbol out. Looking up to Laura, who had spoken, he nodded.
            “What do we know about this guy?” she asked.
            Charles looked back down at the symbol. “Not much, beyond the fact that he’s the best in his field, and that he’s reputed to be a real pain in the –”
            Just then the intercom beeped and the voice of the receptionist said, “Sir, your visitor is here.”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What is a Climax?

I ripped this one straight from Jim Butcher's blog about writing. If you haven't read Butcher and you like urban fantasy (or even if you don't know the genre), I highly recommend him.



A story climax is, in structure terms the ANSWER to the STORY QUESTION that we talked about earlier.

There, see how tidy that is? Simple! Again, not EASY, but simple!

For example, the overall Story Question of Lord of the Rings:

When Frodo Baggins inherits the Ring of Power from his Uncle Bilbo, HE SETS OUT TO DESTROY IT before its evil can wreak havoc upon Middle Earth. BUT WILL HE SUCCEED when the Dark Lord Sauron and every scary evil thing on the planet set forth to take the ring and use it to turn the entire world into the bad parts of New Jersey?

And the story climax of the Lord of the Rings:


See? ANYBODY could have written Lord of the Rings!

Well. Okay. Maybe it's not THAT easy. But it is SIMPLE to write a good story climax when you bear in mind that ultimately, the story climax is, on its most basic level, the answer to a question. Will the Rebels overthrow the Empire? Will the hero win the heart of the girl he loves? THAT is where you begin. It is therefore kind of important that, before you begin writing said story climax, that you know the answer to that question.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Of Cannibalism and Writing

I'm the only male that I know of who is reading Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. These books are enormous tomes, though I've listened to all of them as audio books. Gabaldon is an amazingly gifted writer, and she breathes life into her world like few others I've read. Of course, that's easier to do when your novels are so epically scaled...

The characters are layered and complicated, and the storyline is compelling. I wish there weren't as much of the romance. Not the love story, mind you. But the, uh, adult content.

And then there's Davina Porter, the reader. She is truly a joy to listen to. Her accents and acting are stunning. My only complaint is that she doesn't do American accents that well. I'll forgive her that, in light of her Scottish burr.

One quote I enjoyed from Voyager (paraphrased): "Writing novels is a cannibal's art, in which one often mixes small portions of one's friends and one's enemies together, seasons them with imagination, and allows the whole to stew together into a savory concoction."

Too true.

I've recently discovered that she'll be attending the 2011 Historical Novel Society. Giddy up!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Full Night Ahead

I wrote this short story for a writing group, with the limit that it couldn't be over 3,000 words. Enjoy.


            Sarah awoke with a start. She took a deep breath and looked around the darkened bedroom to reorient herself. She looked to the book shelves, the bathroom, the open window, and heard the drone of the house fan. She let the breath out and rubbed at her eyes.
            Ben stirred beside her. “You okay?” His voice was heavy with sleep as he turned to face her.
            She nodded and let her hands fall into her lap as her heartbeat slowed.
            “Who did you kill this time?” Ben asked as he began to rub her lower back.
            Sarah groaned in relief. She leaned forward to give him better access. “Two home invaders. I killed one with a bat and a knife. The other one with just the knife. Then I shot them both in the head.”
            Ben chuckled. “Was I useless in this dream, too?”
            “You weren’t there.”
            “I’m glad your subconscious thinks so well of me.” He yawned. “Did you save any kids?”
            “There were two kids this time.”
            Ben yawned and moved his hand to rub her belly. “Well, I’m sure little tadpole and its future sibling are grateful.”
            “It wasn’t our house. I don’t know whose house it was.”
            “It’s just the hormones.” He patted her pillow in invitation. “Come back to bed.”
            “It was vivid, Ben. I can’t just go back to sleep.” She placed both hands on her belly. This was the second killing dream this week. Vivid dreams weren’t infrequent for pregnant women, but this made for ten killings in less than a month. Maybe it’s different for a woman who’s supposed to be infertile.
            Ben drew her down to her pillow. Reluctantly, she let herself be eased into his arms. He kissed the crown of her head. “It’s just the hormones, Babe.”
            She nestled against his chest. “But I’m in my second trimester. My hormones should be settling down.”
            Ben kissed her again. “Will you call the doctor tomorrow?”
            “We have our 20 week ultrasound in two days. I’ll ask about it then.” She felt a flutter in her womb. The baby had woken up. Only at night. Only after the dreams. Sarah knew she wouldn’t sleep with the baby awake. Maybe that was for the best. I don’t want to dream anymore.