I hate flashbacks in fiction.
I’m not saying don’t ever use them. I’m not even saying I don’t ever use them. But where they exist, they should:
- Be really, really short.
- Be really, really interesting.
- Actually move the main plot forward.
The problem is, nearly all flashbacks fail on one or more of these. More likely, they:
- Are very intrusive and tend to throw me out of the story.
- Serve to insert some “clever” bit of worldbuilding or backstory that would serve the actual story better by being included in more “current” events.
- Take up far more narrative space than what they’re adding warrants.
- Interrupt the flow of the narrative. Shatter the tension so that I have a hard time caring when the story gets back to the present action.
- Come across as telling me why something is the way it is rather than showing me as part of the story.
If they’re done well, they can add to the story. My experience suggests they’re rarely done well so should mostly be left out.
Even more than I hate regular flashbacks, I detest when a story opens in the “present” for a short scene and then rolls back so that the rest of the story is all of the lead up and prior events to get you to the opening scene which is just before the end. That’s some obnoxious, over-used, comic-book and TV trope-y stuff right there. Don’t do it. If it’s not something I’m reading as part of my part-time gig as a slush reader, you’ve lost me. I kind of don’t care how good the rest of the story is, you’re treating it as a flashback. If the only thing giving your story a sense of excitement or immediacy is the scene you hook the reader with then that’s probably where the story should start and it will wind up being a lot shorter.
“But what about stories that are told in more than one time frame and switch back and forth through the narrative?”
What about them? Those aren’t flashbacks. That’s a story that’s having different parts of it told in different time frames. Not the same thing. BUT, if they don’t converge somehow at some point, they might actually be two different stories and they’re probably distracting (and detracting) from each other.
And a Forest Gump style framing device doesn’t often work, either. It just sets up the old story-within-a-story trope that was old and tired not long after Mary Shelley used it for Frankenstein. We don’t need a reason for the sharing of the events in the story. Just tell the story.
There’s nothing wrong with mucking about in the timestream. Play, move things around, jumble them up if it works, have fun. But whatever you do needs to make the overall narrative work better. Sometimes, the person doing the writing is too close to the words to see when that’s not happening. I think the trick is the same with any other chapter, scene, paragraph, sentence, word. If it doesn’t really need to be there, it should probably be cut.
And that’s hard. I know. Believe me, I know. I also know that cut doesn’t mean thrown away. That’s probably a topic for another day, though.
In the meantime, stay safe and be well, everyone.by
He said, she replied, Bob yelled, etc, etc, etc. To the point where if there are more than a couple in a short story, I start to cringe. Even worse if there are adverbs involved.
There’s lots of well-meaning writing advice out there (some of it by incredibly well known and successful writers) about how dialogue tags should be invisible so you should only use ‘said’ except in extreme circumstances, that they’re only there to tell the reader who’s talking, that they help the story along.
I take a different view.
They’re more invisible if they aren’t actually there. The reader should be able to tell who’s talking by the words you’ve put around the dialogue. Rather than do anything good for the story, they’re overwriting something that should be re-written to get rid of them.
In fact, I actually think dialogue tags represent missed opportunities to communicate something about the character, the setting, the mood, etc.
An example might be a good idea:
Dana pulled back the curtains. “It’s still raining,” she said.
Yawn. Let’s start by dropping the dialogue tag:
Dana pulled back the curtains. “It’s still raining.”
Okay, still boring, but at least I’m through the sentence two words faster and didn’t have to be told Dana was talking when I already knew that. What if I’d originally written:
Dana pulled back the curtains. “It’s still raining,” she said angrily.
Yuck. What does that even mean? Is it a shout? A growl? A scream? Does it fit with the rest of the scene? It’s unspecific and, well, boring.
Well, what if we drop the tag and move the adjective?
Dana pulled back the curtains angrily. “It’s still raining.”
Same question. Okay, she’s angry. But how do you pull back the curtains angrily? What does that mean?
Mouth pressed into a thin line, Dana jerked back the curtains. “It’s still raining.”
At fourteen words, this is the longest version yet, but it hints more about Dana’s emotional state than just saying she’s angry. Even if you don’t know why she’s upset yet, you can be pretty sure it isn’t good, and she’s taking it out on the curtains. Still, this version is only okay. Well, almost.
Mouth pressed in a thin line, Dana curled her fingers into the thick orange fabric of the bedroom curtains and jerked them open to look down into the muddy yard. “It’s still raining.” Had it ever stopped?
Thirty-seven words and a whole extra sentence. But now I know that Dana isn’t just angry, she’s unhappy. I know she lives in a home with a yard and that home probably has two stories. I know that home has orange curtains in one bedroom. I don’t actually know if it’s her house yet, but I suspect it either is, or it’s somewhere she spends a lot of time. I can infer that the yard isn’t as well kept as she might like.
This, without a dialogue tag in sight, is a much better construct than what we started with, at least to my reading. (Dana pulled back the curtains. “It’s still raining,” she said.) I can start to build the scene in my mind.
Show don’t tell. That’s another old adage. Dialogue tags only tell. Show me something instead. I won’t mind the extra words if they show me something about the world the story is taking place in. They’ll probably carry me on, further into the story.
Stay safe and be well, everyone.by
I thought it might be amusing to contrast 2020 with my best writing year ever, 2014.
In 2020, we had a variety of ups and downs as a society and I had a lot of them personally. While I was technically at home for a lot of the year, there were a variety of life changes in that time, and those were very much reflected in my writing output.
For the first quarter of the year, I was in a high stress, high pressure job that consumed 60-ish hours of my life per week, plus a half hour commute in each direction on five of those days. Along came COVID, and aside from all of the stuff I got done around the house, I devoted more time to writing (most of it to editing previously drafted work, really) which peaked in June and July when some actual drafting pushed me over into averaging 2,000 words per day or more for five or six weeks. Then came the news that my job (along with some others’) was going to be superfluous under a newly re-organized structure and I had to figure out what came next. Eventually, that became the idea of pursuing certain dreams, and putting myself into an academic frame of mind as well as working towards a TESL certification, both of which are ongoing, and both of which absorbed most of the time I’d been dedicating to writing, among a lot of other things. Writing production dropped off again.
2014 was a different sort of year. Early in the second quarter, I went from a job I was very comfortable in with a rotating schedule to one that was essentially 9-5 and in the same building. Stability, regular schedule, a 50-55 minute commute in each direction that was basically a straight line on the highway and let me dictate if I wanted to. In fairness, the commute didn’t change, so I was already utilizing that when I wanted to, but the business hours made other things possible, too. The kids were all in the 11-15 range when they needed me around but occupied themselves or spent time with friends rather than necessarily wanting to hang out with dad. Basic translation: in spite of being at a full-time job, I was able to dedicate a lot of time to writing.
Using word counts as metrics, and lumping plotting, drafting, and editing together for fiction (since I already do that for non-fiction anyway):
Year 2014 2020 Fiction 471390 195497 Non-Fiction 225733 122389 Total 697123 317886
Non-fiction includes everything that isn’t fiction – blog posts, journal entries, essays, and so on, and lifetime makes up around a third of what I’ve tracked. By raw word count, 2014 looks like a much more successful year.
But by project completion:
Year 2014 2020 Stories Drafted 6 14 Stories Edited 1 6 Novels Drafted 3 0 Novels Edited 0 7 Blog Posts 80 157 Journal Entry 66 10
With the exceptions of novel drafting and journal entries, 2020 is a clear win. I had set out at the beginning of the year a plan to spend a lot more time editing and drafting, and I may have overdosed a bit of journaling in 2019 with nearly 200 entries in the “book”, but 2020 shaped up pretty well.
Honestly, I’m equally happy with both years, just for different reasons.
2021 will shape up closer to 2020 than 2014, I think, though probably with a lower overall word count. I’m focusing on editing for a while yet and have the return to post-secondary education to contend with, but I expect to be happy with how the year shapes up with everything taken into account.
Stay safe and be well, everyone.by
Q4 being October, November, December, which account for a total of just over 50,000 words once I’ve totalled all the buckets. Light compared to the two quarters preceding it, but still well over the less than 22k achieved in Q1. While I’m not formally in school at this point, I have altered my life so that a major portion of each day is about Academics. I’m gradually working through an in-depth TESL course (Teaching English as a Second Language) and I’m relearning/reviewing senior high school math and science. In that second piece, it’s been a while, so it’s not as quick as it might have been, say, a couple of years after high school. But it’s going well. Functions is in the past now and I’m nearly done all of the possible content for senior Calculus. Physics is well underway, and I’m not enjoying chemistry. Since I have until May, I’ll be moving to university-level stuff at some point soon.
All of which is just background as to why my key writing numbers are so low for the last three months of the year. Throw in Yule (what we’re call the 12 days of Christmas) and all of the feasting and relaxation that was designed to entail in the first COVID holiday season, and it’s fairly obvious how I racked up only 8200 words in December.
Ultimately, in December, I added about 1700 words to the short story in progress, did no editing and no plotting, and prepped most of the end-of-the-year blog posts. In December.
Falling back to that original January 5th post about 2020’s goals (which, when I open it, isn’t even remotely as comprehensive as I remember), I’ll measure Q3 and the year to date against those a bit, and note again where I’ve adjusted things to match priority changes.
Ultimately, that means that the majority of the goals are still in the same spot they were at the end of September. Which is fine.
It’s also fine that things changed so dramatically on the writing front. They changed pretty dramatically on every other front in my life, along with most people’s, so there’s no reason the writing shouldn’t have been massively altered, too. 2021 looks very different in goals than 2020 did originally, but I’m reasonably comfortable in my prognostication of the shape of 2021. It’s going to take a while to establish the new normal as the vaccine roll out happens over months, and I am making that transition to University. If I don’t know how much writing time I’ll have left over as a student, that’s okay. No battle plan survives contact, etc.
So, I’m not going back to the individual goals for this post. I’m happy with how the year worked out. I’m also happy with what I’ve got projected for the year. I will plan to do the quarterly review this year and the monthly reports. They’re good to remind me of where I am even if I’m the only one who reads them.
Stay safe and be well, everyone.by
The next paragraph is stolen from my October writing report. The rest of the post isn’t.
November = NaNo = NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month, where, contrary to the national piece, slightly insane writers worldwide decide to attempt to write a complete novel of at least 50,000 words in the month of November. I just missed in 2010, with the original first draft of Arena making 50k by the end of November but still needing another 8k words to finish the story, which I stretched out a bit. And I “won” NaNo in 2014 with the first draft of Scattered on the Wind coming in at a little over 62k on November 26th, but I dictated about half of that novel and it took me a while to clean it up, so the final product first draft I officially count at almost 65k and on December 17th of that year. It’s a temptation every year, but I haven’t given in to that temptation since 2014.
Screw it. I’m doing NaNo.
But there’s a catch.
Any work on the NaNoWriMo project has to come after all other obligations for the day have been met, including planned writing obligations. So if there’s a blog post slotted, and I’m supposed to edit 2 chapters of something, and I haven’t made any progress on one of this month’s short stories yet, those all have to come first. So do family obligations and appointments, necessary academics, paid work (if any), required housework and maintenance. Just because I don’t have a formal job at the moment doesn’t mean I get to chuck everything to put a couple of thousand extra words in.
Oh, and the story I’ve decided on has a bare bones outline that I think is probably going to translated to a first draft that’s closer to 60,000 words than 50,000.
Not exactly setting myself up for success, am I?
But life, uh, finds a way. Even if I don’t finish the story during November, I’ll have made a great start on it and the words will still count.
Right now, I’m 6,281 words in. And I haven’t touched it yet today. So, three days in and the track is good so far. No idea if I’ll be able to maintain it or not.
Stay safe and be well, everyone.by
As I kick the student thing into high gear, both in terms of the course content for TESOL and in prepping for becoming a full time student in May (not January 2021 as I’d expected until recently – acceptance is in hand although not completely registered yet), the writing is naturally a little more limited. Overall, October just barely crossed the 20k barrier.
Still, it’s less about the numbers and more about what I managed to accomplish which, while less than I originally wanted, was still enough to justify the time I put into things this month.
- Warforge editing: while the original target was to get through the final draft all three of the books in the Caledonia triad, I finished that final draft on the first book and the second is about a quarter complete.
- Short stories: five of them this month, ranging from a 100-word Drabble up to 2400 words, so none of them fantastically long, but putting me back in the short fiction from of mind.
- The longhand story: the longest of those was the one I wrote a hundred or two hundred words at a time in a notebook. I’m about 1100 words into another one right now and pantsing it so I have no idea how long it’s going to be. That’s part of the fun.
- A total of 10 blog posts published, giving me a weekly average of 2.3 for the month. Lighter than I originally wanted, but life gets in the way sometimes.
- 1 journal entry. It could have been more. There’s probably still some to come out of the event that spawned that one.
Due to other issues and family commitments, I didn’t publish much in October. Actually, I didn’t publish anything in October. That can’t, and hopefully won’t, continue. There’s so much I want to do.
I’m hoping to accomplish a little more in November, and there are a couple of things I really want to get out before Christmas. One of those things might even be Christmas-related.
I still haven’t missed a writing day since March 19th. Counting today, that’s 227 in a row, and I’m happy with that. Very happy.
Targets for November:
- Warforge: Caledonia books. Let’s finish the final drafts on these.
- Finish the basic outline for the Draugr Rising sequel, Kami Falling. I’m down to the detail and scene level plotting at this point. Yeah, this was on the list for October. It’s possible it might spill over into December, too. We’ll see how it goes.
- Short Stories. I’d like to get the first drafts of three in, maybe including the handwritten one being completed.
- 3 blog posts per week. October was a miss here, but I have solid hopes for November. And a lot of topics.
- Publish 1-3 books or shorter works.
As always, there is a grand plan, and I’ve started building the 2021 detail level plan. I always get a lot of joy out of planning things. Once the 2021 detail is more or less set, I’ll move on to the semi-detail level of the three-year plan, revise the rough five-year plan, and expand the high-level ten-year plan out to ten years again. Much fun will be had.
And, of course, today is November first, so there’s always the temptation to say, screw it. I’m doing NaNo.
Stay safe and be well, everyone.
(Note: November = NaNo = NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month, where, contrary to the national piece, slightly insane writers worldwide decide to attempt to write a complete novel of at least 50,000 words in the month of November. I just missed in 2010, with the original first draft of Arena making 50k by the end of November but still needing another 8k words to finish the story, which I stretched out a bit. And I “won” NaNo in 2014 with the first draft of Scattered on the Wind coming in at a little over 62k on November 26th, but I dictated about half of that novel and it took me a while to clean it up, so the final product first draft I officially count at almost 65k and on December 17th of that year. It’s a temptation every year, but I haven’t given in to that temptation since 2014.)by
Today, as I type this blog post, I’m marking 200 days in a row with time spent on a writing activity – drafting, editing, plotting, or some combination of those – every single day.
In that time, counting this post, I’ve had a net gain of 256,993 words. That number will go up a little since I still have a little time booked for drafting today, though not much, but it’s a pretty good number any way I happen to slice it.
While 200 days in a row of just about anything is impressive, I wasn’t really paying attention so didn’t mark 100, and I won’t likely notice 300 as it goes by, but if I continue on this streak, I probably will note when I hit a year, since that will be a really big deal at least in my head. Depending on how you want to count things, that’s either March 19th (365 days in a row) or March 20th (the anniversary of the beginning of the streak). Either way, I’ll try to remember to mark the occasion as long as nothing happens to break the streak in the meantime.
For now, I’ve got a little more typing to do today.
Stay safe and be well, everyone.by
I haven’t been writing about writing much lately, have I?
Maybe we’ll fix that today since I want to share an experiment I’ve been trying.
I haven’t been getting a lot of writing in during the past couple of weeks as I try to line up the ducks for the next phase of my life. While the first row was lined up about a week ago, I’ve got the second row lined up now and I’m jumping into things starting tomorrow. (For reference, I’m now registered in that TEFL course I mentioned, having picked the one I want and built a schedule to get it done in the time frame I want. Everything is cleared and the course is live. If it weren’t for vet appointments, it would be the rest of my week.)
But the writing I have gotten in has been a sort of experiment on the fiction side. Every night, I’m trying to add 250 words to a story longhand. The next day, I’m transferring those words to a Word document and adding to them or modifying them as I see fit. In some cases, those modifications are fairly extensive, and once or twice there’s been a side trip to expand a very short scene. Today, I decided to get the long hand work in early. With a gap of a couple of hours, I did the typing as well, so I sort of finished the first and second draft of a story on the same day.
Going strictly by the long hand version, the story is 6010 words long, but the word document says 8158 words. That’s a bigger difference than I normally get between first and second draft. Between first and final, really, but I think it’s gotten a lot of the editing that would have happened both making changes and tidying things up. I’ll be interested to see how much of a difference in word count there is between this and the third draft. I’m not expecting much.
It’s a fanfiction story, by the way, the first of the TOS Batch 3 stories, starring a freshly-promoted Vincent DeSalle suddenly in command of a destroyer that should have been scrapped but was fixed up instead and is now off to patrol the Romulan border. Not a lot of action, but a good bit of character exploration, and I think I’m going to come back to this ship in the future. I already like most of the crew members I’ve introduced.
More immediately, I’m going to try this experiment again but working in a universe of my own this time to see how it works out, and I’ve already got the opening scene in my head. Well, the opening of the opening scene, anyway.
Stay safe and be well, everyone.by
So while I’m still not ready to announce the big change in life direction that I’m working towards, there are a couple of little things that are going to have visible adjustments. One of those is the basic blogging strategy I’ve been pursuing.
Up to now, this year I’ve been trying to slowly ramp up with the long-term goal being to be adding something to the blog every day. I’m not sure that’s practical with the changes coming, and I was thinking that before those changes were even possible, before the company I worked for made the decision that my job wouldn’t be necessary going forward.
I’ve been thinking about adjusting certain things about my writing goals for a while now. I’ve talked before about how there’s an overall plan broken down into a variety of phases, I’ve been looking at adjusting some of those. Blogging keeps coming to the top of that list with the primary question being, is it taking time away from other things I could be accomplishing?
A blog post takes a little time, and while it doesn’t go through the same four drafts that my fiction does, it does have two: drafting and editing/tweaking. A little bit of time to pick categories and tags, a little more to find an image to go with it if it needs one, the actual posting and posting to Facebook, and oh, does it need to be tweeted? It does add up, probably coming in at a half hour for every 500 words worth of post, which is about my average post in the last couple of months (of course I keep track). Then there are the various static page updates that need to be done on a regular basis.
The question then becomes, am I spending too much time on blog-related activities? The answer I’ve come up with is a qualified yes. I like being open about some of what I’m up to, and it’s a nice outlet, but is the blog really the right expenditure of energy to further my writing? If so, is it at the level I’ve been working towards? I think here needs to be a different balance.
I’m also going to try not stressing too hard about how many posts I’m getting up each week, although I’ve got a basic plan. Having a plan means I also need to learn to not worry if I happen to miss a day, but the basic idea is regular posts on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I’ve still got a few Star Trek Sundays planned, so they’ll go ahead, and there will certainly be other special events here and there, but I’m hoping a regular schedule will likely help keep me focused more and may also make sure that there aren’t any large gaps here and there, which have sometimes still happened since COVID.
This is Monday’s post for this week. I’ll have something fun for Wednesday, and there may be a little something for the official Star Trek Day tomorrow, too.
In the meantime, stay safe and be well, everyone.by
This one is going to be much shorter. I suddenly have a lot of things I’m trying to work out, which is probably obvious from posts over the past two weeks. This won’t be much more than a bare-bones list of things I actually finished in August, and I’ll note that I made a little progress on the first drafts of a couple of things and have started on a conversion of Draugr Rising into a screen play for an experiment I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to manage. Otherwise, the focus has mostly been on editing, but there’s been a lot of blogging, especially in the latter half of the month.
- Shrine, Forest, Palace, Battlefield 2nd Draft completed. Yup, all four. After changing gears for a while, the next big thing is to get them all through 3rd draft so that all of the Troll World books are in the same place.
- Pride of Andor Second Draft. A short novel taking place in the Star Trek prime universe, TOS era but still during the five-year mission.
- A total of 17 blog posts published, with 3 more written for another project, giving me a weekly average of 4.5 for August.
- Some journaling for the first time in a while, with 4 of those this month.
After not doing a very good job on the publishing side last month, I managed a few things in August.
- Ancient Runes – technically a couple of thousand years in the future, but half of that time was spent getting humans to the planet the story takes place on. Science Fiction borrowing some inspiration from Norse mythology. Set to drop in early September, but I’m still not happy with the cover so it may migrate to later in the month.
- Star Trek Solo Missions – the collection of what I’m considering the first batch of TOS fanfic stories. Second batch is written but I’ve only just started editing.
- “Searching for the Sea Monster” – a story that appeared in Dead Bait waaaay back in late 2009. I’ve had the rights back for ten years but haven’t even tried to place it somewhere else. So, an ebook seems reasonable.
- A Matter of Honour – Star Trek TOS fanfic scheduled to drop on September 6th, it’s done and ready to go.
Publishing schedule for September currently includes two novelettes as well, but I may accelerate the next novel if I wind up having time. That’s in some doubt. Things are happening in a different part of my life and there may be a lot less time than I originally planned for September.
Overall, a good month. Total word count of 40.6k, making it the third best month out of eight so far this year. September will either be comparable or less than half of that, depending on how something works out. It may sound strange, but I’m actually very much hoping for the less than half version because that means something really, really important to me and the rest of my life has become possible to launch right now.
As of right now, in September I hope to:
- Complete the final drafts for the first Warforge triad.
- Finish the Draugr Rising script conversion.
- Do the basic outline for its sequel, Kami falling.
- Complete the making notes phase for the second batch of TOS short fiction.
- Write 21 Blog posts.
As always, I have plans beyond September, but I’ll reforecast every month based on reality at the time, and may even have adjusted September by the time this drops.
Stay safe and be well, everyone.by