Start with a Cover

One of the things that I like to do that probably seems strange to other writers is early on in the process of writing a story I like to make a cover.

The first reason is that I like all the arts, sketching characters or scenes from my stories is just as natural as writing about them in the first place.  It’s fun, it’s creative, it keeps all the juices flowing.  I’m a decent cartoonist-style artist and an amateur with graphics programs but it’s fun to see what I can come up with.

The second reason is something that other writers might consider, a cover is good motivation.  It’s a symbol of the end-goal of writing.  I’m not just playing around, writing something for a lark, this is going to be a book.  It makes me visualize the completed project which helps keep me motivated to finish it.  Out of all the stories that I’ve started or worked on over the last year, I’ve completed the first draft of 80% that I made a cover for (Sadie’s story is still in work).

Whether or not the covers actually get used for the books doesn’t matter, I’ve had fun and they’ve helped keep me going.  That’s something that other writers should maybe consider doing themselves.  Why leave it to the end when there are benefits to doing it in earlier?  Something to think about.

Here are a couple of the ones I’ve done over the last year, newest to oldest.

Geeks-greens-and-guns 3 s cover draft 2.2.1 s cover draft 2s front draft 2 larry's dead cover draft 1.1.1.2

Happy writing!

Does it feel right?

Done with Camp NaNo, a couple days early even!  Woo hoo!  Now that I’ve found myself with a bit more spare time I thought it might be a good time to write about an interesting little experience I had during this project.

The first week of April I was on a trip overseas.  I knew that it’d be hard to keep my word count up but I had almost two days of flying involved so I figured that’d give me a chance do some writing, even if I didn’t get much done the rest of the week.

On my return flight, the story was feeling a little slow so I write this really intense action sequence.  It was fast paced, lots of back and forth, it was awesome.  Probably the best action scene I’ve ever written.  I ripped out six or seven pages in no time.  Word count, smerd count, I’m the man.

But about an hour later, something was bugging me.  I wasn’t sure what it was, I just knew that there was something off about the scene.  I kept tweaking it, trying to make it feel better, but there was some underlying problem that unsettled me.

One of the things that I have learned as a writer is to pay attention to those gut feelings.  Often the subconscious will pick up on something before the conscious mind does.  So I paused the story while I tried to understand out what was going on.

It took me a while to figure it out but when I kind of stepped back and looked at it, it was obvious. I had wanted to write a certain type of scene so bad that I forced the characters into it.  My main character was way too savvy to get sucked into that situation, it should never have happened.

It didn’t fit, I’d forced it.  No amount of tweaking was going to change that.  So, with reluctance, I chopped the entire seven pages.  Seven pages!

This was so frustrating because that’s one of those holes that writers are often advised to avoid.  If you’re true to your characters than the plot flows along, if a character makes some decision that doesn’t make sense that’s probably a sign that the writer is forcing the characters to fit into a specific plot point.  I’d always thought that wasn’t a problem for me since I’m more of a pantser, but now I know better.

My word count suffered, it felt like all that work went down the drain, I had to rewrite pages and pages, but in the end the story was so much better for it.  I’m glad I listened to my gut, figured out what was wrong and fixed it.

(Side note: I saved the pages in another file and was later able to salvage some of it in a more appropriate place in the story.)

Bad words in fiction

On a recent bout with WriteClubFightClub a comment was left about how a good story doesn’t need profanity.  My story used two swear words, the s-word (once) and the f-word (twice), probably the reason why someone chose “neither” instead of voting for a story.

I was really tempted to write a response justifying my language but I decided that would be a bad idea.  Everyone has an opinion and that reader was simply mentioning theirs.  I don’t necessarily agree but that’s just my opinion.

I could probably find a list of the classic novels that include some form of profanity but honestly that wouldn’t change anyone’s mind or even necessarily make my point.  To me, swear words are just words, which means there’s a use for them just like any other word.  Also, just like any other word, they can be overused or misused.  I either use them or avoid them depending on the type of writing I’m doing and the potential audience.

In my story, Closing Time, the main character is a nurse who is at the end of a long, arduous, 16-hour day.  I wanted her to come across as worn, annoyed, exhausted, even petty at times.  She’d been in the trenches, probably been covered in blood and other bodily fluids all day, dealing with “emergencies” around every corner, at the end of her proverbial rope when she’s given just one more little job.  To me, the occasional swear word was appropriate for her.  I could have easily left those three swear words out but I thought they were more authentic than softer alternatives and I liked that edge they gave her voice.  They weren’t used that often either, there were three swear words in five pages of text, just enough to add a little spice without being overwhelming.

But, of course, that’s a matter of opinion and everyone is entitled to theirs.

So, speaking of opinions, I would love to get some more on swear words, or specifically on the word choice for Closing Time.  Were the “bad” words overused, misused, do they distract from the story?  Were they acceptable but it could have been better without them?  Good, bad, something in between?  I would really appreciate honest feedback.  Follow the links, let me know what you think, good or bad.

Well rounded characters

One of the things that I struggle with sometimes is creating characters with depth.  It’s really easy to fall into superficial stereotypes, descriptions and reactions.  One of the things that I try and do is figure out what kind of intelligence the character has.

The summer before I started High School, I got enrolled in a mentorship course.  I had zero interest in taking it but my mom told me that my best friend really wanted to but would only go if I went too.  So, after arguing for a while, unsuccessfully, I agreed to go but only to hang out with him.

My best friend at the time was Pablo.  His mother was one of those types that had his entire future planned up until University, which classes, sports, and extras he would take to set him up for success.  She had a ten-year plan for him, made sure he knew it, and always pushed him to achieve perfection in everything.

Almost as soon as I arrived at the class and sat down with Pablo, we realized that our mothers had set us up.  He hadn’t wanted to take the class either but his mom told him that I wanted to.  She’d convinced my mom that the class would look good on our college applications and they tricked us into going.  We spent the next six hours stewing.

The mentor ship class was some kind of new age thing based on pop psychology, it was really weird.  At one point they had us all laying on the floor, eyes closed, imagining that we were walking down a corridor filled with doors.  When you open the first door, what do you see?

While most of the class was fairly ridiculous to a couple of fourteen year-olds, the portion on different types of intelligences was interesting.  According to the teachers there were seven different personality/intelligence types and they were arranged by colors.  I think I was a green, if I remember correctly.  Each type learned in different ways, had different strengths and weaknesses.

Neither Pablo or I signed up for further classes and we both refused to enroll in the follow up program in High School.  When our mother’s came to pick us up, we had some harsh words for them.

As much as I didn’t like the class, the perspective I gained on intelligence/personality types has served me well over the years.  It made me think about how I might be better at sports than another kid but that he was probably better than me at something.  Or the kid who gets straight A’s on tests is probably not as good at something as a popular kid with bad grades.  Each different type has strengths and weaknesses.

That perspective also helps when I’m trying to write full characters.  Maybe I’m writing about a character with a weakness, I don’t want him to be flat so I balance that out by figuring out what he’s good at.  If the guy can’t count to twenty without using all his fingers and toes maybe that’s balanced out when he can paint like Picasso.   Or fix diesel engines like a pro.  Or he’s a shark at the poker tables.  Even if those things never make it into the story, it gives the character more depth in my own mind which helps put more depth on the page.