Books

History Travel Memoirs

I’ve found myself reading an odd little subgenre of nonfiction book lately. I guess you could call it the travel history memoir. These books are about someone traveling along a route or through a region, with some sort of theme to the trip, and mixed in with the travelogue is info on the history of the places the writer visits and the writer’s experiences and personal feelings about it all. It’s not enough of a travel book that you could use it as a guide (though you might get ideas for places to visit). There’s a lot of history, but there’s more of a personal spin on it than in most history books.

The most famous example that I’ve read lately was A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson, which is about the Appalachian Trail, with the story of the writer’s attempt to hike the entire trail mixed in with the history of the trail and various points along the way and the writer’s feelings and experiences.

I also recently read one called The Alps: A Human History from Hannibal to Heidi and Beyond, by Stephen O’Shea, in which the writer traveled through the Alps from France to Slovenia, hitting Italy, Austria, Switzerland, and Germany along the way. He compared the cultures of various places in the Alps, visited some of the major scenic and tourist spots, discussed the people he met along the way, and shared the history of the places and routes.

A similar book was Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe, by Simon Winder, which explored the Habsburg/Austro-Hungarian Empire by visiting key locations in its history. This one had a bit less of the “memoir” angle, as I recall. It was more history/geography/travel, though with an annoying lack of photos. I kept having to Google places he mentioned so I could have a good mental image of what he was talking about.

I also read a book about Scandinavia called The Almost Nearly Perfect People, by Michael Booth. It was a history of modern Scandinavia, looking at how those countries tend to come out on top in happiness rankings and exploring what it’s really like there. The author lived in Denmark and visited Finland, Sweden, and Norway to explore the people, the culture, and how recent history (generally the 20th century) got them to where they are now.

I owned a copy of A Walk in the Woods, but I found the other ones in the history section of the library.

It seems there are lots of possibilities for books along these lines — travel the Oregon Trail, the route of the Lewis and Clark expedition or the Donner Party route. Re-create Marco Polo’s journeys. Or you could combine it with something that was popular a few years ago, the post-divorce memoir, and it could be dealing with the aftermath of a breakup by taking a bucket list trip with some kind of theme to it and then writing about not only your experiences, but the history of the places you’re visiting and how this trip helps you find yourself again. I’m not in a relationship, but now I almost want to get into one so I can end it and then react to it by landing at Normandy and following the route of the Allied forces across Europe in 1944-45, looking at sights the soldiers might have seen and how it’s changed since then while I use it all as a metaphor for dealing with my post-breakup anger.

Life

Hot and Miserable

My writing has slowed down a lot this month, and I think it may be because it’s summer and I’m reacting like a troll.

I mean troll as in the Terry Pratchett Discworld books, where trolls are rock-based life forms who are known for being incredibly stupid, but it turns out that when they get out of their mountain habitat and face warmer weather, they slow down, which means they appear stupid. If they’re in the right place, where it’s cold enough, they can be quite intelligent. Some of the trolls who leave the mountains wear cooling helmets with fans so they can function with higher intelligence.

That’s how I feel in hot weather. We had a terrible heat wave for the past few weeks, and I’ve been barely functional. I was stuck on the same scene for a week and just couldn’t figure out what to do with it. I don’t sleep well in hot weather. I don’t think well. I have no energy. I practically collapse midway through a gentle yoga routine.

A front came through on Sunday, so for the past couple of days it was about 10 degrees cooler, and I feel like a different person. I finally got a good night’s sleep. I got that scene written. I have energy. It’s going to go back above 100 after this weekend, so I guess I’ll slow down again.

I don’t want to go through last year’s experience of a deep freeze cold snap and power outage again, but while I was worried about pipes freezing and not being able to cook warm food, I was never really physically uncomfortable. I had warm clothes and blankets and was able to stay pretty cozy. If I lost power in the summer, there would be no way to be comfortable. It would be just about impossible to cool my house with air conditioning to the level where I’m comfortable in the winter, and I wouldn’t be able to afford the power bills if I did. Plus, air conditioning is different from cool weather, just as I would suffocate if I heated my house in winter to the level that’s semi-comfortable for me in the summer.

It seems that either I need to find one of those cooling helmets or I need to get to the mountains to cool off. Alas, it’s at least a two-day drive to get to anywhere that might be cooler, and with current gas prices and airline meltdowns, I’m not likely to be going anywhere anytime soon. I’ll just be sitting surrounded by fans, with a damp towel around my neck, hoping that cools me off enough so I can think.

I know that the obvious solution, longer-term, would be to move to a place that suits me better instead of being miserable for half the year, but that’s easier said than done. If I can’t even travel for a vacation right now, travel to scope out a new place and find housing is also out of the question, and then there’s the cost of housing and moving, which is way out of my budget. I bought my current house long ago and wouldn’t be able to afford to buy it now, but even if I sold it I couldn’t afford much of anything at today’s prices. I am doing some preliminary research, though, and am looking at possibilities, even if it means having to get a real job.

In the meantime, I’m going to have to take advantage of the relative cool while we have it and get as much work done as possible while I have any brainpower. And then this weekend it gets miserably hot again.

movies

Prequels

I’ve been watching the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, and it’s made me think about some of the perils and benefits of “prequels,” stories that explore the backstory of something we’ve already seen, so that we already know the outcome for some of the major issues.

In this case, I thought the fact that we already know the fate of most of the main characters in the series, so we knew who would survive, made it bearable to watch. I don’t know if I could have handled the tension and suspense if I hadn’t known that most of the characters I cared most about would survive. Even knowing that, it got tense, and I had to repeat to myself “You already know when he/she dies, and this isn’t it.” I know that some viewers felt otherwise, like there was no point in watching it when you already know what will happen to the characters and what the outcome of everything will be.

I guess that comes down to whether you focus on the journey or the destination. Is the point of a story being surprised about the outcome or is it about the experience along the way and learning things about the world and the characters? I like surprises, but I think if enjoyment of a particular story hinges on being surprised by the outcome, there’s probably something lacking in that story. A really well-executed story should still be enjoyable even if you already know the outcome — even better, it should gain a layer when you already know all the revelations. I often refer to that as the “Shawshank Redemption Effect.” That movie becomes an entirely different story the second time you see it once you know what’s really going on. You get the same sort of thing with The Sixth Sense. It’s best to see it the first time without knowing the outcome, but once you know, it’s worth watching again because it becomes a different story. I suspect the “if I know how it ends, there’s no point” crowd don’t do a lot of rewatching or rereading, while rewatchers/rereaders are more focused on the journey than on the outcome.

I think a good prequel has this sort of effect on the later stories. In the Star Wars universe, Rogue One added a layer to the original movie that gave it a bit more meaning. The Obi-Wan Kenobi series adds a whole lot of emotion to that original movie when you factor in the histories it gives some of the characters — and it works even though George Lucas had none of it planned when he wrote that original movie. There’s a throwaway moment in the first movie that now will probably make me cry.

The prequel films were a bit less successful at that, in my opinion. They did flesh out some of the backstory and relationships, but about the only addition I get from having seen those when I watch the original trilogy is the weird sense that I’m seeing young Ewan McGregor looking out through Alec Guinness’s eyes. Lucas was trying to show how things came to be the way they were in the original trilogy, but I didn’t feel like there was much emotional depth, just a checklist of questions that needed to be answered. A prequel has to be about the journey, the experience, since the big-picture outcome is already known, but those prequels focused more on answering questions than on truly providing the journey and fleshing things out. I feel like I got more understanding about what made Darth Vader tick from his appearances in the Obi-Wan series than I did in watching his journey from childhood to adulthood in the prequel films.

I’ve written a few prequel things for my series and I have ideas for some more. It helps when I already have a pretty good sense of what was in the past before I write the “present,” so I don’t find myself frustrated by what I’ve already written when I go to address the past. I didn’t necessarily have the entire backstory of everything in Enchanted, Inc. made up before I wrote the first book, but I figured out a lot of it while I was writing that book. That’s made it a little easier to write shorter pieces taking place before the events of the first book.

I think after watching the Kenobi series I’m going to have to do an epic Star Wars rewatch to fit all the pieces together — probably not including the animated series because there’s just so much of that to deal with. I may wait until the fall so I can start watching a movie after dark and still finish before I’m falling asleep. Those movies really work best in the dark, and my living room stays light enough to be distracting until close to 9 p.m. these days. I either need to get blackout curtains or watch things that can be enjoyed in daylight.

Life

Life Hack

I’m not crazy about the term “life hacks,” but I’ve found something that’s really been working for me that I want to share. I love productivity tips and finding ways to optimize my life, so I’m always trying things and experimenting, reading how-to books, etc., but this one didn’t come from a book or advice column. I just sort of figured it out by applying something that worked in one area to another area. I call it “staging,” though it could also just be called “preparation.”

I’ve always tried to get things together the day before if I have to leave early in the morning on a trip. I have the suitcase packed except for things I need while getting ready, which I have set up on the bathroom counter. I lay out my clothes, shoes, and anything else I’ll need. That way, all I have to do in the morning is get out of bed, get dressed, pack those things I use while getting ready, and get out the door. It drastically lowers stress because I don’t have to make decisions or find things. Then it occurred to me to do that sort of thing whenever I have to go anywhere in the morning. Even just for something like going to church, I’ll plan my clothes, lay everything out, and make sure I’ve got all the things I’ll need. I’ll hang up things that have been folded so the wrinkles can fall out and know that everything I’m planning to wear is clean. That means a much easier morning.

Then there was breakfast. I would often plan to have something like muffins or waffles for breakfast, but in the morning that would seem like too much to deal with, all that measuring and mixing. One night after I mixed up a bread dough that has to rise overnight, I got the bright idea to measure the dry ingredients for the muffins I planned to make the next morning while I had the flour and measuring cups out. It was so easy the next morning to add the wet ingredients, so now I do this all the time. I measure the dry ingredients the night before and cover the bowl so I have a head start on breakfast. For biscuits, I’ll mix up the dry ingredients and cut in the shortening and put it in the fridge overnight. I don’t know if this has been such a good thing because it means I make muffins and waffles all the time now.

Recently, I made something in the slow cooker and thought about how much I liked doing the cooking early in the day so that all I had to do at dinner time was dish it out. I often get to dinner time and can’t decide what to make and can’t bear the thought of having to do any of the work to make dinner. There are way too many nights when I resort to mac and cheese from a box because doing stuff like chopping and measuring is too daunting at the end of the day. It finally occurred to me that I don’t have to do all the cooking work at dinner time. There’s a lot I can set up earlier in the day. If I’m cooking something that involves measuring a lot of spices, I’ll measure those out earlier in the day (often while I’m doing something like making tea). I’ll chop veggies, cut up and marinate chicken, or do whatever else I can do early in the day, so at dinner time I don’t have to decide what to make and can just throw stuff in a pan. I’ve seen articles online about doing all this prep work for many meals at once and freezing all the sauce, veggies, and chicken in a bag, but while it is good to season and marinate chicken ahead of time to absorb flavor, too long in a marinade affects the texture, so I’m not sure about the freezer thing. Plus, I don’t have a big freezer. Just chopping onions early in the day helps me a great deal.

I’ve managed to apply this to my work, as well. I’ve started drafting my blog posts the day before I’ll post them (or sometimes earlier) so I don’t have to think of what to say in the morning when it’s time to post. I plan the next scene I’m going to write either the night before or in the morning before I sit down at the computer. When I stop work at the end of the day, I close out my browser and pull up Scrivener on the screen before I put my laptop to sleep so that when I open the computer in the morning, the book is right there, the first thing I see. It makes it a lot easier to get to work. I’m trying to get better about scheduling Twitter posts ahead of time so that I occasionally manage to do book promotion and have an online presence even during times I’m not online.

A lot of this involves figuring out the times of day that are your “I can’t deal with this” times and when you have the time and energy to do tedious things. I find that first thing in the morning is bad for me — any time before breakfast — as well as late afternoon, after 4 or so. After breakfast I can get some things done, and right after lunch is also a good time. I do a lot of my dinner prep when I’m cleaning up from lunch. Then mid-evening is good for preparing for morning—not late at night right before bedtime, but before I start getting ready for bed. I generally avoid having to make decisions before breakfast, in the late afternoon, and at bedtime.

movies

Meeting at the End

Talking about romance novels, romantic comedy movies and the dismay among my romance writer friends about the fact that people called Sleepless in Seattle a romance even though the couple didn’t actually meet until the very end of the movie reminded me that there was actually kind of a trend in the 90s and early 2000s of rom-coms in which the couple didn’t meet until the end.

There was Sleepless in Seattle, of course, in which she heard him on the radio and became fascinated and wrote to him, and he eventually became interested in the idea of her. In between, there were a number of little signs that they were meant for each other, so we knew they would get along when they met. We just never saw them actually interact.

There was a movie called The Night We Never Met, which was about a man and a woman sharing a New York apartment on different days. He had certain days of the week and she had the other days (I don’t remember the exact reason — maybe they were both in other relationships and had a place to escape to for alone time? It’s been a long time since I saw it), so they never actually met until the end, but they did things like leave notes or gifts for each other.

There was Til There Was You, which involved a man and a woman going through life having near misses in which they almost met but didn’t, though we saw they were meant for each other, until finally they met at the end.

Sliding Doors sort of does that in one of the timelines. We see them getting to know each other in one timeline, but in the other timeline there are a lot of near misses, where they’re in the same place at the same time (in a place where we saw them together in the other timeline) but don’t meet until the end.

In Serendipity, they meet at the beginning, but then part with no way to find each other again. The rest of the movie is about them trying to find each other, and they aren’t reunited until the ending.

In The Very Thought of You, there are multiple guys who’ve met this woman and all think they’re the one who hit it off with her, and we see the story from each of their perspectives, but I don’t think she and the hero actually run into each other again until near the end.

You might be able to count The Truth About Cats and Dogs, in which they talk on the phone but don’t meet in person until the end (she’s afraid of what he’ll think of her when he meets her, and there’s a case of mistaken identity, so she lets him think her more attractive friend is really her).

I have a sense that there was at least another one, but I can’t think of the title or who was in it to be able to look it up. I guess that’s not too many films, but it’s a weirdly specific structure to all come within about 10 years, and I don’t know that there were many like that before that decade. Or maybe I was just aware of them during that decade because I was hanging out with a lot of romance writers then and heard all the complaints about the rom-coms that weren’t actually romances because the heroes and heroines didn’t meet until the end.

Although you couldn’t sell that plot as a Romance to an American publisher, the “near miss” or “bad timing” plot is a whole subgenre of British romances/women’s fiction/chick lit. There are the ones where they do meet early in the book, but it’s always a case of bad timing whenever they run into each other, so they don’t actually get together until the end, after years of near misses and chance encounters. I think I’ve read a couple in which we get her story and his story in parallel, and we can see that they’d be great for each other, but they have to work out their stuff individually before they’re ready for each other, and then they meet at the happy ending. I’ve also read at least one home swap book, kind of like The Holiday, but instead of falling in love with someone they meet at the location they’re visiting, they fall in love with the person they swap with while texting about things they have to deal with in each other’s homes and from things they learn about each other.

I actually enjoy this kind of story. It’s a fun change of pace, and it’s kind of reassuring to see how things work out in the right way at the right time. Plus, you don’t have to sit through the characters bickering constantly before they fall in love. There’s no love/hate thing.

And now, of course, I’m trying to figure out how I could do this kind of story. With magic, of course.

Books

Romantic vs. Romance

I mentioned in doing my overview of my writing career a couple of weeks ago that romance was the wrong path for me to go down as a writer because although I liked love stories, I didn’t actually like romance novels. I’ve mentioned this difference in the past, but it was long enough ago that I should probably address it again. I’m going to refer to the Romance genre using the capital R to distinguish it from the idea of romance/relationships/love stories.

Like most genres, there are certain expectations for Romance. For instance, in a mystery, the sleuth is expected to solve the case. There are two key elements that define a book as a Romance:

1) The love story is the main plot. Most of the conflict and character development comes through the relationship. One quick way to tell whether a book is some other genre with a romantic subplot or a Romance is to see what happens if you remove the romance/relationship/love story. Do you still have a story at all? For instance, there is a romantic relationship between Marian and Indy in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and they even end up together, but you could easily change their relationship from a romance to a friendship, reluctant partnership or family relationship without changing anything else about the story, so it’s not a Romance.

2) The romantic couple must end up together. This is key, and I think it’s very misunderstood by Romance detractors. A Romance is about an emotional journey. It’s not about the suspense of whether the couple will end up together. Having that assurance that they will both be alive at the end and happy together is what gives readers a safe space to drop their emotional guard and go on that journey. It’s basically the emotional literary version of a roller coaster. Most people wouldn’t enjoy a roller coaster that was actually dangerous, where there was a chance you really could plunge to your death. A roller coaster is fun (for those who are into that sort of thing) because it’s thrilling enough to allow you to feel like there’s a chance you’re taking a risk even though you know you’re perfectly safe. A Romance novel allows you to feel like your heart could be broken while being secure in the knowledge that it will all work out in the end and your heart won’t actually be broken. Without that assurance, your guard would be up and you might not let yourself feel all the feels. I think this is one reason I struggled so much with Romance and don’t enjoy it that much as a reader. I’m not in it for the feels. I tend to read for curiosity about what will happen, and I keep forgetting to write emotion into my stories, which means I don’t do well with plots that are about emotion. I’m also not a fan of roller coasters.

A lot of things that are commonly thought to be romantic are not Romance because they don’t meet this requirement — things like Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Titanic, most of those “romance” books written by men that have sad or tragic endings, like The Bridges of Madison County.

Back when I first started attempting to write Romances, it was expected that the couple would be engaged at the end of the book. They had to make some kind of commitment for it to be considered a Happily Ever After (HEA). It’s a bit looser now, so the ending can be just that they’re together in a relationship — though often a book with that kind of ending where it’s way too early for an engagement will have an epilogue showing them in the future at their wedding or with their children, so you know they stuck it out. Or there are the series that follow a group of people, like a friend group, family, or small town, so that the couple from one book will be secondary characters in the next book and you’ll see them planning their wedding in the background while the main characters are having their own relationship.

Readers get very testy when this rule is broken, which is why authors of other kinds of books that get mislabeled as Romance get upset when their books are mislabeled. It’s not that they don’t want to be tarred with the brush of Romance but that they don’t want to deal with angry readers who are expecting something they’re not going to get. My Enchanted, Inc. series kept getting labeled and promoted as Paranormal Romance, and it wasn’t ever meant to be. It was fantasy with a romantic thread. I would get angry e-mails about any book that didn’t specifically end with them making a full commitment, and that promise was never even implied by me.

Those two rules are pretty firm, but there are other expectations that come with Romance. A lot of them were actual guidelines for Harlequin category Romance that people tried to apply to other books, but some are unwritten rules/expectations that might get broken in rare circumstances, depending on the book but that are more likely going to be there. One is that the couple needs to meet fairly early in the story—otherwise it’s hard for the main story conflict to be about their relationship. I remember my romance writer friends getting outraged about the movie Sleepless in Seattle being called a Romance, since the couple doesn’t meet until the very end. Another thing editors look for is the couple having an instant, strong attraction that is contrasted with whatever conflict is keeping them apart. That was a note I frequently got from my editors. I tend to write the slow burn, where the attraction grows as they get to know each other, but my editors wanted the thunderbolt—they were in instant lust, but then they had something getting in the way that made it difficult for them to act on the lust. And they want a lot of conflict between the couple. I don’t know how many workshops I went to where someone said, “If he’s a firefighter, make her an arsonist,” to show just how opposed they should be. That never clicked for me. If I’m a firefighter, an arsonist is going to be a turnoff, no matter how hot (no pun intended) he is.

This was where I started to figure out that maybe Romance wasn’t where I belonged. I like the stories where the characters fall in love along the way while doing something else and am not interested in them being at odds with each other while still being attracted. If I’m at odds with someone or don’t like them, I’m not going to be attracted to them. I only start being attracted to someone once I start liking them, and I tend to write that way.

I think movies have a lot to do with the confusion among the general public about the difference between romantic and Romance. It’s not just that romantic dramas in which the couple doesn’t end up together get mislabeled as Romance, but most romantic comedies are iffy as to whether you could get them published as Romance novels. One of those unwritten expectations is that once the couple meets, there’s no one else. They don’t date other people. You don’t get real triangles in a Romance. But triangles are big in rom-coms. Romance writers often sniff in disdain about the rom-coms where the hero or heroine were actually involved with other people during the movie (another reason they insisted Sleepless in Seattle wasn’t a romance—the heroine was engaged to someone else during most of the movie).

When the “chick lit” genre came along, it was more like the romantic comedy films, though really, I think it was just the way the British write romance. That genre is generally considered dead now, but if you read British contemporary romances, they’re pretty much chick lit. In the US, we’d call these books “women’s fiction” because they’re more about the woman’s journey, with the love story as a subplot. They broke a lot of the Romance rules, especially that part about the heroine not being involved with anyone other than the hero. I remember the old-school Romance writers being rather outraged about chick lit for that reason.

I wrote an essay for a book about Pride and Prejudice about how P&P was more chick lit than romance. The romance is fairly central to the plot and the couple ends up together, but I think the main plot is more about Lizzie finding her place in the world and figuring things out. She’s presented with other potential options and rejects them. She spends more time dealing with her wacky family than she spends with Darcy. He does get his character growth from the relationship, which is a Romance thing, and I’m not sure you could remove the relationship without changing the story too much, so it’s a fine line and I think you could fall on either side of it. There have been retellings of this plot that were very much Romance, and there have been versions that weren’t, like Bridget Jones’s Diary.

So, this is why I don’t consider myself to write Romance, even though readers often see my work as very romantic, and why I prefer to get my romantic content outside the genre. There’s a difference between Romance and romantic, and my work is romantic without being Romance.

writing, video project

Videos Up Now

Since I added the clips to the videos that went with the last couple of posts after I posted, here are the videos, for those who were quick on the ball to read posts before I added the video links.

The welcome and intro:

Do you really have to “kill your darlings”?

writing, video project

Kill Your Darlings

One of the most often repeated — and most misunderstood — pieces of writing advice is “you have to kill your darlings.” In other words, don’t get too close to anything in your book, and if you love something too much, it may be something you’re writing just for you, so it has to go.

But this is terrible advice if you take it that way. If you have to get rid of anything you love, then you’d be left not liking your work, and it implies that you can’t trust your own judgment.

I think this is actually a misinterpretation of the advice. A better way to think about it would be that you have to be willing to kill your darlings. In other words, you have to get rid of anything that doesn’t serve your story, no matter how much you love it.

What are some darlings you may have to kill?

A big one is description. Not that description is bad, but it does tend to make it to “darling” status because description feels like real writing. We hear in writing workshops about using all the senses, and it’s easy to wax poetic and create something that feels award-worthy. In the satirical novel Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, the author puts asterisks by the particularly good passages of description, spoofing this tendency. The problem is when that description doesn’t fit the viewpoint character or the situation. You may have written a beautiful description of the sunset that vividly brings the image to life, but if your viewpoint character is a jaded warrior who’s been fighting or walking all day and you’re not trying to show that he has the heart of a poet or artist, then he’s probably not going to think of the sunset in eloquent, poetic terms. Or if your character is on the run for her life, she’s not going to pause and admire the beautiful sunset. It may be lovely writing and you may be proud of it, but it has to go.

Then there’s “your research is showing.” You’ve spent hours researching exactly the undergarments your character might wear and how she would put them on, so of course you want to write a scene showing your character getting dressed so you can show all your research. But all the story really needs is to mention that she got dressed. Or, really, you can assume she got dressed if no one faints when she shows up for breakfast.

Another darling that may have to go is the germ of the idea. There’s something that sparked the idea for your story or that was in what you first imagined when you started thinking about the story, but as the story develops, you may no longer need that thing in your story. I ran into this with my book Rebel Mechanics. There was a scene I had in my head before I even got the idea for this book, and I realized that this book would be a good place to put that scene. My editor wanted me to cut a big part of this scene. After I stomped around the house, griping to myself about how I couldn’t cut it because that was the whole point of the scene and it was the thing that inspired the whole book, I realized that I didn’t actually need that part of the scene, and the story worked better without it. I was clinging to it as the spark for the story, but it was a darling that had to die. I often find that scenes I dream up before I start writing don’t end up fitting in the story that I write. I may try to cram them in, but they don’t serve the story. I tend to imagine scenes of the characters hanging out and talking, and then I try to put those scenes in the book, but it turns out they don’t need to be there, even if thinking about them was a good way for me to find those characters’ voices and get to know them.

Jokes are often darlings that need to go. Something you find amusing might not work for anyone else, or it might not be truly appropriate for the story. I often find that they don’t even work for me when I’m doing the second draft.

I seldom delete any of the darlings I kill. I have a “cuts” file for each book and copy them into that file. Sometimes I get to use them elsewhere. They may be right for a different character (like the description that doesn’t fit the viewpoint character) or a different book in the series. I sometimes put cut pieces on my website. That’s a great place for those sitting around and talking scenes.

Instead of looking for darlings that you should kill, instead look for things that don’t serve your story, and then overcome your resistance to letting them go.

Here’s the video version of this post:

video project

The Video Project

I’ve been talking for a while about doing some writing videos, and now I’ve actually started shooting them, so I guess it’s happening. This post is the text article version of the intro video I plan to post on Friday.

I’m going to start doing a series of videos on writing, with practical advice based on my years of experience as a novelist. I’ve written a lot about writing craft in my blog, but I thought it might be fun to do some videos, as well. My degree is in broadcast news, so I may as well put it to use.

Why should you listen to me? I sold my first novel nearly thirty years ago. I’ve had nearly thirty books published, plus some short fiction, and I’ve written a few more books that may or may not remain hidden on my hard drive. I’ve made a living almost entirely from writing fiction since 2004. I’m a hybrid author. I’ve had books published by some of the major publishers and I’ve independently published books. I’ve had books picked up by foreign publishers and published in translation abroad. I’ve won some awards and even had a book optioned for film by a major studio (though the movie never got made). I’ve pretty much done just about everything in a publishing career other than be a big bestseller — and that means that I’ve had a career you could actually aspire to. My career hasn’t depended on any big stroke of luck like a celebrity book club pick, a movie or TV series that actually got made, or even just being chosen by the publisher to be a lead title and get the big print run and big promotional push.

I love reading books on writing craft, going to workshops and conferences. I’ll try just about everything to see how it works. Some things never make sense to me, some things click, and some things I have to figure out. I’ll share what I’ve learned and how I use it in my writing.

Here’s how this channel is going to work.
First, I’m an author, not a YouTuber. My priority will always be my writing, so I’m not going to devote a lot of effort to making things super splashy. I’m not going to buy a lot of equipment or spend a lot of time on special effects, graphics, or anything like that. I’m aiming at posting a new video every month, but it will depend on my writing schedule. I’m not aiming to get sponsorships, and I doubt I’ll get enough subscribers to earn ad revenue. I just want to help writers—and thinking these things through to make the videos helps me understand these concepts better for my own work. If someone wants to read my books because they like my videos, then that would be great, too.

Second, I know that different people have different ways of absorbing information. I’ll confess that I’m definitely a “this video or podcast could have been an article” person. Because of that, I’ll be posting articles with the same info that’s in these videos in my blog, and I’ll link to that with each video. They won’t be exact transcripts because written language is different from spoken language, but they will contain the same information.

I will probably be using the original Star Wars — the movie they’re now calling A New Hope — as an example a lot, so if you haven’t seen it, you might want to do so. This is an easy example to use for explaining things like story structure because it adheres so closely to a universal structure and it has a fairly basic plot. Plus, just about everyone is familiar with it, so I don’t have to set things up to use it as an example.

I have the first few videos already planned, but if there’s a topic you’d like me to cover or if you have a question, please let me know in the comments (in the blog or with the video). I may also do some reader-focused videos that are about my books, so if you have questions relating to that, you can also ask them.

And here’s the video version:

writing

Cutting Away

I’m continuing to fix the beginning of this book. I’ve now cut about 30,000 words and seven chapters (in some cases, I merged two chapters after cutting a lot from each). Not only did I have the problem I mentioned before of adding unnecessary conflict to things that weren’t important to the plot, but I’ve found that I’ve been writing scenes that don’t make a lot of sense when I really look at them.

There was one nearly 4,000-word scene that I liked but that I had to admit wasn’t that important to the story. It was just two of the characters hanging out and drinking tea and becoming friends. As much as I liked it, I didn’t need 4,000 words of that, especially not at that point in the story. We can see their friendship develop later on. There was just one thing in that scene that was critical to the plot, something those characters reveal to each other, and I decided to add it to the next scene.

Then looking at that scene, I realized that these characters wouldn’t actually reveal that information to each other so soon. They have to build a bit more trust. And then it occurred to me that them not sharing that information will mean that they’re working at cross-purposes for a while, doing things that they each think will help the other, but because they haven’t opened up to each other yet, they don’t know that they’re actually getting in each other’s way. That gives me some conflict, plus there’s opportunity for some fun moments, which then will naturally lead to them opening up to each other, since the choice will be to let the other person continue making things worse while thinking they’re helping or to stay quiet and keep their secrets, and it will finally get bad enough that telling outweighs keeping the secret.

It’s funny how things that seem so obvious in retrospect aren’t so obvious in the first draft.

I’m currently wrestling with another scene, where it’s a group of people having a conversation, and I’m trying to figure out what the critical events in the scene really are. I want to keep the scene, but I need to be honest with myself about whether I really need it, if I’m just repeating old information (it’s new to the characters, but the reader already knows), and if there’s some better way to make this point. I seem to be writing a lot of “the characters sit by a fire, drinking wine/tea and talking about things” scenes — I guess I’m taking the “cozy fantasy” thing to heart. It’s a big part of the vibe of the book, but I need to be sparing about that kind of scene and only use it when I really have to.

And as I wrote this, I figured out that there are two scenes I could combine in a way that would be even more interesting, so I have just one “sitting by the fire, drinking wine and chatting” scene, and there’s some action that happens during it. It would be lovely if I could figure this stuff out before the first draft. I even outlined this book pretty heavily, but I still don’t seem to see it until I’ve gone over it a few times.