Saturday, December 17, 2011

The reason for cleaning: removing obstructions?

So I was cleaning for the holiday season and thinking about why people clean and how cleaning tasks are prioritized.

It came to me that very few people clean for the sake of cleaning. Most people clean because they are removing an obstacle.

  • Social obstacles: friends or family look down on the dirt
  • Everyday obstacles: can't cook/eat or comfortably move around
  • Personal obstacles: you are personally bothered by it

So why do some people delay cleaning (myself included)?

I think it is for a number of reasons, including:
  • failure to recognize obstacles. (I have a plan for that.)
  • excess to the point that obstacles are reduced until they are overwhelming (I don't need to wash dishes. I have clean dishes.)
This seems to point to minimalization to both stay tidy and to help you achieve your goals. Have what you need, and no more.

Now, how does this relate to writing?

The lack of time management can be seen as clutter of your time.

Are you spending your time dealing with obstacles that you can remove once and for all? Are you spending your time away from your day job focusing on the things that bring you joy?

If you regularly spend your free time doing things that don't bring you joy, you are failing to realize an obstacle. Family brings joy, so we keep that. Of the television you watch, how much brings you joy?

Do you have scattered attention, spread thin among too many projects? That is an obstacle to completing any one of them. Recognize, refocus, and remove.

The more obstacles we recognize and remove from our lives, the more time and energy we will have to write. More than that, we should be able to manage this without offending our family.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Examples of professional story design

During a recent bout of procrastination from finishing and editing my current novel, I found myself listening to music from old Sierra adventure games. (It appears Quest Studios is the place to go to get copies of the music from the Sierra games.) I played a number of the Sierra games back in the day, so -- in my procrastination-heady state -- I was interested in finding old scores. That led me, inextricably, to Al Lowe's Humor Site.

Al Lowe was responsible for the Leisure Suit Larry series of "adult" adventure games. He was at Sierra for quite a long period of time, and had his hand in all of the Leisure Suit Larry games (there were seven titles in the adventure game series).

This, by itself, wouldn't have been enough to cause me to post. The thing is, he has made available the game design documents for some of his games.

I was looking at the design documents for "Freddy Pharkas, Frontier Pharmacist" and the similarities between the design of this game and the design of a story really stood out. From the plot synopsis (four act) to the section of the document titled "Story Structure," to the character descriptions and the "Walkthrough" which reads like an abbreviated story in itself. (Shoot, even the scene-by-scene break-down is something that maps to what some folks do for novels.)

Having not seen real story design documents -- except for my own attempts -- it seemed quite interesting. Larry Brooks -- the Story Fix guy -- talks about seeing story structure in things other than just books. (He specifically talks about movies, but here the structure is literally wide open to look at.) It seems unlikely that I'll ever get a chance to see design documents for real professional quality books, but this... It was a high-quality game made by experienced professionals.

You also have to remember that even click-based adventure games are really far more story driven than many types of games. The older brother of this type of game being the text-based adventure games -- a subgenre currently known as "interactive fiction."

As I said, I found it interesting.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The right amount of research

I like to learn things. I am creative and curious.

This makes my draw toward writing straight-forward. World creation is some awesome stuff -- even when the world you're creating mostly overlaps with our own.

There are very important reasons to do research. I once started a Podiobook set in the far future which centered on the diamond industry -- specifically slaves forced to mine diamonds. The problem? It was supposed to be a campy light-hearted scifi tale. It succeeded overall in that regard, but I found the whole "diamond mine" premise ridiculous.

We can already manufacture diamonds a higher grade than those that can be mined. Bigger, more perfect diamonds are manufactured, not mined. This is with today's technology. Set it in the far future, and any diamond mine that doesn't lead to a lab where diamonds are churned out just comes across as false. I just couldn't sustain my disbelief.

I value some research as an aid to realism. However, neither I nor you are likely to ever become an expert at all of the technology we're likely to add to our novels. There's a place for research and realism, but there's also an expectation the reader will allow us to get away with some things. Suspension of belief is to be expected, though if you abuse it you lose your audience. It needs to be realistic, but after a certain point you reach a place of diminishing returns.

I've been doing research for the edit phase of "The Creeps". Frankly, I have been getting distracted by it.

I am not expecting my work to be awesome because of the scientific accuracy. It's a zombie novel for goodness sakes. All I need is enough accuracy that it doesn't distract from the characters and story. This is all anyone truly needs.

If NaNoWriMo teaches you anything, it is this: When in doubt make it up. Above all, keep your deadlines. It needs to ship before anyone can complain about it. The first few are usually crap, so move fast so you can start being awesome.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The difference between the 2010 and 2011 NaNoWriMos for me

This was my second NaNoWriMo, and my second success.

There were a lot of differences between the two years for me.

Last year I had one child. This year we have two.

Last year my wife watched the kid while I worked. This year there was none of that, I wrote on the bus and after the kids were in bed.

Last year it was a Fantasy YA with a lot of magic and fae creatures. This year was SciFi/Horror with zombies and a lot of death.

Last year I had a plot and a plan when I began. This year I was totally "pantsing" it, and only realized I could add a plot -- by way of a McGuffin -- after I had written 50k words.

Last year I didn't listen to my intuition when it told me the antagonist should be young -- I acknowledged it after the 50k was written and I am now facing a larger rewrite. This year I can slip the plot in to what I have fairly easily.

Last year I would write a scene and be stuck -- sometimes for the rest of the day. This year things just kept flowing -- I sometimes needed to force myself to stop when it was just getting too late.

Here's the big ones:

Last year it felt like I was a computer guy experimenting with writing a novel. This year I felt like an amateur novelist growing in my craft that just also happens to have techy experience.

Last year, after NaNoWriMo I worked on some other tech-related projects. I never got around to editing the novel -- even though I loved the world, characters and story. This year I have acknowledged I don't have any out-standing techy projects anymore. I am going to finish the 2011 novel, and I am looking forward to editing the 2010 novel.

I used to be concerned I wasn't doing enough to "sharpen the saw" in my spare time. Now writing and editing are seen as "sharpening the saw" -- just the "author" saw and not the "computer guy" saw.

Friday, November 25, 2011


Hello. My name is Steven. My name is common enough that I spent some time searching for a usable pseudonym. (Really, I've been to parties -- not family parties mind you -- where I wasn't the only Steven Black on the guest list.)

I am an amateur writer. I like to write. I have a day job. I would like writing to be my day job, but I am willing to wait until I can write my stories for my day job before I leave my current job.

I've settled on using the name "S. W. Black" for my writing. I don't know that I'm happy with it. I don't know that I'll actually end up using that name for all my writing. It is what I'm using for now, though. We'll see whether I use it when it gets time to actually publish something. Considering my past two NaNoWriMo novels have been a YA Fantasy (with fairies and magic) and a SciFi/Horror (with zombies) it may make sense to draw some separation between some of my work.

I am a polytheist and this will come through in my writing. Not preachy, mind you, (I don't pretend to have any particular answers), but my characters are non-homogenous. They're not all straight, they're not all the same ethnic background, they're not all the same religion, etc. The goal is to be varied and realistic. Whether I succeed or not on that account makes the difference between whether I write crap with mostly (or totally) stale lifeless characters or whether every character comes to life for the reader. I won't know my success on that account until I get something edited to a point I can start looking to get it published.

I try to be realistic. Once I think I have something edited to the point I can start shopping it around (since both novels I've written so far have been for NaNoWriMo they need serious editing) I expect to get a lot of rejection slips. I'm hoping I can get 100 or more a year for the first book, then move on to shopping around the second book.

Specifically, the order is:
  1. Edit a book to a point I feel comfortable shopping it around. This means one required rewrite, followed by a brief friends/family read and some additional edits. Included in this, any NaNoWriMo novel meant for an adult market needs a wordcount bumped up to at least 75K (from the NaNoWriMo "winning" count of 50K).
  2. Start shopping the novel around. Shop one novel a year. Try to get 100 rejections or more in a year. Once I get to this stage, perhaps I can find someone else who is about to start shopping their novel around, then we can see who can get the most rejections in a year.
  3. File and ignore most of the rejections. When someone mentions specific advice that makes sense take that advice -- but in the next novel. Unless someone wants to buy the novel currently being shopped around it gets no additional edits. Previous novels never get additional work -- unless someone wants to buy them.
  4. While shopping the last novel, work on a new novel. Get it rewriten and edited. That will become the novel being shopped around the following year.
  5. There are no sequels until the first in the series is bought. Until someone bites on the first of a series, any work on a sequel is a waste of time.
  6. At any time if I need I break I can write a short story. The caveat is that the short story needs to tie in to either the novel currently being shopped around or the current work-in-progress. The short story becomes a method to bring people in to an existing world of mine. The short story becomes a marketing tool and has value even when given away for free.
  7. Don't spend too long shopping short stories around. If they don't have buyers give them away, either as text or read-aloud.
  8. Keep it up. Write every day and work on increasing the rejection count.
  9. I should expect it to take at least five years of solid writing before any of my novels are actually sellable. It might be less. It might be more. Maybe the fifth novel I write won't suck. Maybe I'll actually be a real paid novelist before I get my 475th rejection letter. We shall see.
 That is my plan. It incorporates advice I've heard from a number of places over the years. I think it is realistic.