Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Great Piece of Writing Advice

I found this piece of good writing advice from Brian K. Vaughn. You might remember him from Y: The Last Man and as a writer on Lost.

According to him (and I agree completely) the secret to being more successful as a writer is as simple as can be:

WRITE MORE, DO OTHER STUFF LESS.

That's it. Everything else is meaningless. You can take all the classes in the world and read every book on the craft out there, but at the end of the day, writing is sorta like dieting. There are plenty of stupid fads out there and charlatans promising quick fixes, but if you want to lose weight, you have to exercise more and eat less. Period. Every writer has 10,000 pages of shit in them, and the only way your writing is going to be any good at all is to work hard and hit 10,001.

He also said that writers block was just another word for video games.

I found this piece of advice a long time ago and I've had it tucked away. Since then I've all but given up video games and I can vouch for the efficacy of the advice. Though his metaphor about eating less and exercising more rings a little hollow after all of those years working on Killer at Large. Obesity is WAY more complicated than writing.

Monday, August 22, 2011

50+ Rules and Tips About Writing I've Collected Over the Years

I have twenty or thirty notebooks and journals filled up with snippets about writing, my plans for stories, bits of dialogue, interesting ideas, plotlines, scraps of short stories, and a dozen other things. I carry one with me at all times and it takes me a couple of months to fill one up.

One of the things I've kept in one of my notebooks was a collection of writing tips and rules that I've collected over the years in my travels. From teachers, from books, from wherever. Most of my career has been spent screenwriting, so a lot of these are most applicable to that, but I wanted to present them so they might be of use to you as well.

I've never stopped collecting these over the years and I never will.

To start the list are Kurt Vonnegut's eight rules of writing. They are the first in my notebook and, I think, the most useful. I'll add a star to those I think are applicable most to screenwriting. Some of these aren't applicable to everyone in every situation, but for the most part they're all helpful.

NOTE: I've been writing a series of posts elaborating on each of these points. Just click on the number to be magically transported to the post that elaborates on that particular bit of advice.

UPDATE (August 2013): I've added a few more I've collected and have done a bit of renumbering at the bottom.

1) Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2) Give the reader at least one character they can root for.

3) Every character should want something, even if it's just a glass of water.

4) Every sentence should do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.

5) Start as close to the end as possible.

6) Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them--in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7) Write to please just one person. If you open the window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8) Give your readers as much information as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such a complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

* 9) No one likes to read large blocks of text, keep action to one or two lines but no more than four.

* 10) Unless you're directing, keep inflections, camera direction, and editing suggestions out of the script.

* 11) Action should be clear and concise, like a children's book.

12) Be economical with your words. Omit all words that aren't 100% necessary to tell the story.

13) Statements like "begins to" and "starts to" are nonsense. Someone does something or they don't. It's just more words for people to read for no reason.

14) The more sparing you are with adjectives and adverbs, the more impact they will have when you do use them.

15) Monologues are for the theatre. Break up long stretches of dialogue with actions, reactions, sense of place, other senses, etc.

* 16) Be as conscious of how the page looks as you are of what it says. If a page looks easy to read with little text, readers are more likely to read it.

17) People talk in contractions and broken sentences. Virtually no one speaks perfect English. (See Twain's dialogue.)

18) Be true to your characters and your story. Let them write the text.

19) Care deeply about each word and line. Details down to every word mean something, own them and care about them.

20) Read other peoples books and screenplays that you admire and are better than your skill level. You don't necessarily need to switch to their style, but adapts their strengths into your style and learn from their mistakes.

* 21) Avoid metaphors and similes in the action. Readers generally skim and if they only skim the metaphor part of the sentence, they'll get images in their head that aren't actually in the movie.

22) If someone doesn't understand the images you're trying to show them, if someone doesn't "get it," it's your fault. As a writer, it's your job to make people "get it" and if they don't, you haven't done your job properly.

23) Avoid cliches. Avoid them in characters, action, dialogue, story, plot, and anything else that risks being cliched. If you must use a cliche, add uniqueness and freshness to it.

24) Don't write a story you only have half a heart for. It does a disservice to you and a disservice to the material.

25) It's a good writer who can write what he knows, it takes a great writer to write what he doesn't. Cut your teeth on what you do know and research the hell out of everything you don't and you'll do fine.

26Never show people your rough draft. Show people your fifth draft and tell them it's your rough draft.

27There is no such thing as a final draft.

28) Don't ask people to read your material for praise. Tell them to hate it and criticize it to no end. If they do that, you know exactly what to work on.

29) Don't get defensive or mad when someone criticizes your work. Criticism is done to help, not hurt or compete. And chances are the more mad they make you, the more right they are.

30) Don't go back and revise until you've finished. Otherwise you won't get past page 15.

31) The hardest part of writing is starting. Finishing is no trick as you've already committed to start.

32) Qui-Gon Jinn said of pod-racing, "Feel, don't think. Use your instincts." The same is true of first drafts.

33) 32 is only true if you have an outline and a roadmap. Otherwise it's just meandering drivel.

34) It's helpful to write scenes to music of a similar tone. It will give your scene a beat and pace you don't have to think about.

35) Qui-Gon Jinn said, "There's always a bigger fish." You will never be the best writer. There's always someone better. Learn from them.

36) George Lucas told Irvin Kershner, "Don't expect things to work." That hold true of writing and filmmaking in every aspect, starting with the first words you put down on the page.

37) Fairy tales and kids stories should have frightening things in them.

38) The ego is the enemy of the writer. Listen to what others have to say about your material, even if you don't agree with them. Don't assume you know better than they do.

39) Have fun.

40) Wait a while before you think you're finished with something. After a time away from the material you'll see problems you hadn't seen before.

* 41) Try to avoid, where possible, the thoughts and feelings of characters in the scene setups and action. It won't play visually.

42) Don't guess trends. Write what you want to read or see.

43) Paranoia about theft is wasted energy.

44) Know your mythology. Know your classic story structure. Know your Robert McKee, know your Joseph Campbell.

45) Irvin Kershner said, "A director is always guessing." So is a writer.

46) Read your dialogue out loud to yourself to make sure it's natural. That's what Tennessee Williams did and look at how that turned out.

47) If it helps, write parts for dead actors you admire, then rewrite them in your revision for living actors. It gives you two different perspectives on the character and adds an extra, easy layer of depth.

48) Story isn't alchemy and inspiration. It's a craft, like engineering or mechanics. There are parts to everything and nothing extra. Learn your trade with this in mind.

49) Learn to do everything you can in the world of writing on your own. If you don't believe in your work enough to bleed for it in every way possible, why should someone else?

50) Pay attention to the geography in your prose. People, places, things, everything. It's important.

51) Pay attention to whose perspective you're writing from and why

52) Get visceral in your descriptions, particularly as being experienced by your POV character.

53) Don't be afraid to tear the guts out of a story. I know you feel like you wrote what you wanted to the first time, but you're probably wrong.

54) Never stop learning.  Never stop studying.  Never stop reading great books and excellent films.

55) There are no rules to writing. Only principles, guidelines and suggestions. Take each of them with a grain of salt.

56) Reading tips about writing won't make you a better writer as much as more writing will, but that's not to say they aren't helpful.

(While you're thinking about it, feel free to check out my books Lost at the Con, Operation: Montauk, and Man Against the Future.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

UPDATED: My Dragon*Con 2011 Schedule

So, I moved too late to get a table for the show (I was numbered in the hundreds on the waiting list), but I did manage to find myself on a panel with my good friend Janine Spendlove (author of the ridiculously popular and very fun to read War of the Seasons books).

Mon 1:00pm Self Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing in YA- In this era of instant media, what are some advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing your YA novel, vs. the traditional path often taken?
Janine Spendlove, Bryan Young, Jonathan Maberry, Jackson Pearce
A707

It should be a very fun and interesting panel. And I think there are distinct advantages to each method of publication, so I'm not for one side or the other.

I'll be roaming the convention the whole time (tweet me if you want to meet up) and I'll have books on me in case you wanted to pick some up. (I'll be carrying Lost at the Con, Man Against the Future, and my convention only versions of The Colossus.)

If you see me, feel free to say hello.

UPDATE:

I'll be on at least one Star Wars related panel. I'm confirmed on The Clone Wars panel and possibly one more.

Clone Wars!
You've seen the show on Cartoon Network, now come and talk about it with some die-hard fans!
Sun 08:30 pm; A706;

Monday, August 15, 2011

Why Pottermore will be good for all of us


I got into the early beta for Pottermore this morning and I've spent a lot of time messing around with it.  It's immersive and fun and I've spent way too much time there.

You can read my full thoughts about the experience itself on Huffington Post or Big Shiny Robot!

But there's something else about it that excites me as an author:  I'm not even the biggest Harry Potter fan, but sitting there trolling through all the behind the scenes content of the books, I was dying to get the digital versions to make it easier to follow along with the experience.

That's their next big step, launching the eBooks.  I've already bought copies of all the books, but something about the experience of Pottermore made me desire the digital versions.

Imagine that happening to the millions expected to be using this free service and want to buy an eReader to buy the digital versions of the books proper?  These readers aren't going to be buying just seven books.  They're going to be starving for all kinds of content.  And we're going to be the ones filling in the gaps to give it to them.

J.K. Rowling, whether she knows it or not, is helping us widen our audience exponentially, and that's good news for everyone.

And if you're interested in dueling me in Pottermore, feel free to add me.  My Pottermore username is Lightnight 111.  I won't be on much now that I've already been through the first book since I have so much writing to do, but when they add subsequent books I can see myself easily wasting days on it.

The Whiskey Doctor and other stories about the new Great Depression


I have a brand new three-pack of short stories available for .99 cents on the Kindle and Nook today. This one is called "The Whiskey Doctor and other stories about the new Great Depression".

It contains three stories:

The Way It Is
The Whiskey Doctor
By the Bootstraps

Included below is from the introduction to the collection:

Some of my favorite art and stories grew out of the plight of the “working class” and those affected by the Great Depression. From Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath to every Three Stooges short and Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and a hundred other examples, in that era there was an overwhelming amount of art in the popular culture that brought attention to the horrible things going on in the country because of its economic realities.

We’re living in a very similar period, but I haven’t seen the art reflecting the times. Every show seems to be about highlighting what it’s like to be rich, and our shows, movies, and magazines adore those who have everything but work for nothing. I’m not arrogant enough to think I’m the only one writing about these sorts of things, but I wanted to do it so that we don’t lose empathy for those struggling in our country.

I’ve been accused of being “hyper-empathetic” and perhaps that’s true. Maybe I’m just overly idealistic. In either case, all I want to do is remind readers that maybe they don’t have it so bad and illustrate to them how bad things are out there.

Whatever your feelings, at the end of the day, I hope you enjoy these stories and possibly learn something.

You can grab all three stories for the Kindle and the Nook for just .99 cents.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

An Orgy of Laughter: Three books from the fringe of society



If you've been interested in picking up a digital version of Lost at the Con but haven't yet, you might be interested in a new three pack of humour books.

I've teamed up with Warlizard and Jen Ashton to put all three of our books together in one collection.

It's called "An Orgy of Laughter: Three Books from the fringe of society" and you can pick up all three books together for $9.99. Separately it would be a lot more than that. The link to get it on the Nook will be up shortly.

I'm going to assume if you're here that you know what Lost at the Con is about. (If you'd rather just pick up my book, you can do so at this link.)

As for the other two books in the collection:

THE WARLIZARD CHRONICLES by Warlizard

My new fiancée Betty and I were sitting on the couch, watching the Westminster Kennel Club dog show when she looked over at me and casually said, "My first orgasm came from a dog."

As I sat there stunned, trying to control my reactions and collect myself, I had two immediate thoughts:

1. Now I know why my dog likes her better.
2. I wish this were the worst thing she'd ever told me.

And so begins the descent into the crazy improbable world of Warlizard, an average guy with an exceptional life. With no excuses and no apologies, Warlizard lives his life by one simple rule - "If opportunity knocks, answer the door." Gulf War Veteran, womanizer and serial troublemaker, sometimes he wins, sometimes he loses, but his stories are outlandish, extreme, fast-paced and funny as hell.

TURDS IN THE PUNCH BOWL by Jen Ashton

Turds in the Punch Bowl is not your ordinary tale of friendship. Though unconventional in its material, this story is both hilarious and sweet. Meet Joe, the author’s quirky best friend, sidekick and, quite literally, partner in crime. A stunning mix between Seth Rogan, Alfred E. Neuman and Cosmo Kramer, Joe takes the author on a series of wild adventures spanning the last decade, from losing his dignity to finding his dad in a swinger’s club. Chock-full of irreverent wit and banter, this book is a laugh-out-loud narrative filled with unexpected moments of honest endearment within a friendship that anyone would count themselves blessed to have, but most aren't lucky enough to find.

Both books are very funny and I hope you'd be interested in checking out all three.