Category: Writing Tips


Intern Number One, signing on.

My daily purpose in the peculiar Novel Ninja family is a little hard to describe. Hannah and I are being trained side-by-side, but with very different specialties. Hannah, with her love of flow and passion for the written word, is spending her days gleefully working through documents sentence-by-sentence to polish the beauty in them; I, for the most part, am playing in my own little sandbox, learning how to stitch together inconsistencies and help chains of events feel realistic and alive. One of the tools Bowman and I use to keep ourselves entertained and our minds fluid is a little thing I call Culture Chess.

Culture Chess is an exercise that developed very early on in my career as a mook. It’s a way that Bowman-Sensei and I play with our shared love for big-picture thinking. It’s a mutual thought experiment; starting with nothing, or nearly nothing, we slowly build the workings of a story. Continue reading

I’ve been seeing a lot of new authors worrying about the prospect of going indie, or self-publishing. (A terminology note: “indie” used to mean “not part of the Big Five conglomerates.” Now it’s rapidly becoming identical to being a self-pubber.) I keep telling authors who go for SF&F that they should be prepared to self-publish; and part of that preparation is to understand the cost of everything that a publisher would provide.  Continue reading

No, that’s not all one topic (though it sounds like it would make an interesting discussion). I’m just giving you an update on some things over at my other site that you might be interested in.  Continue reading

Yes, that’s right. I’m going to give you the secret, handed down from the writing gods. It is the secret you have climbed this mountain to find, young supplicant, through the freezing glaciers, without climbing gear and bearing a rare flower in your teeth, just to prove your worthiness.

The secret is . . . that there is no secret. The secret is that you have to put in the effort. The secret is that you can have all the great ideas you want; but unless you practice your craft, unless you write and write and write, unless you try and fail and learn from the experience, unless you do what everyone learning any craft must do since the dawn of the ages, you will never write that novel.

Inspiration

But that’s not the title of this blog post. The reason why you’re reading this is because you’re asking “Okay, Mr. Bowman, how do I write a novel in three months? Just sit down and write? Oh, is that all?” Continue reading

Pen nameThis is a topic that I’ve often intended to write about, and the other night a member of one of my Facebook writing groups was asking a question about it. I was going to reply in more detail, but realized I was writing that blog post I always intended to publish. So here goes!

There are many reasons to choose to use a pseudonym, but they all basically boil down to three categories: to hide your identity to one degree or another; to maintain some degree of separation between two or more of your works; or to give a better name because your own might get in the way. Continue reading

high-pain-toleranceThere’s a common misconception about people with high pain tolerances. They tend to be big, beefy, and burly, usually men, and if female they’re all badasses. They shrug off bullets and sword-thrusts like they’re minor distractions; they grunt from the pain and rarely, if ever, scream.

Now, I frequently impress people around me with my high pain tolerance. Most of that is in awe; some few, such as my doctors and a close friend who helps me exercise, approach it with worry, because pain is an important thing. I have such a high pain tolerance that I often automatically ignore signals that I should really stop what I’m doing and rest. I threw out my back (a little over a year ago) and my knee (a couple months ago) precisely because I could just work through the pain . . . until I suddenly couldn’t.

How do I do that? Well, it’s not because I’m tougher than other people. I’m not beefy or burly, and I’m only big if I’m standing up and haven’t turned sideways. It’s never about your mass; it’s all about what you’re used to. Establishing that difference is the key to writing action heroes and other characters that deal with pain through the course of your story.  Continue reading

Customs of the WorldWhenever I talk characters and worldbuilding, at conventions or in classrooms, I always recommend several books. One of them actually isn’t a book at all, and it’s the only one that I mention in both contexts.

It’s a lecture series from The Teaching Company, titled Customs of the World: Using Cultural Intelligence to Adapt, Wherever You Are. This is intended to be a course on understanding world cultures, but it’s a vital resource for creating cultures in both fantasy and science fiction. It’s also a great secondary resource for creating different personalities between characters.

As of this post, it is currently on sale at The Teaching Company’s website, starting at $35 for an audio download. I cannot recommend it too highly. You should all go get it now. If, however, you’re reading this after the sale has ended, I’ll explain why it’s worth getting. Continue reading

Whose Approval Matters to You?

Last night, I was speaking with an unpublished author who confided a very common fear: that self-publishing isn’t really publishing, because as a newcomer she wants that stamp of approval that comes with a publisher’s imprint.

Now, this author isn’t one of mine, and in fact isn’t even in my category, much less the SF&F genre. She’s a nonfiction author who has written a self-help/motivational book that, frankly, sounds interesting. (And I rarely say that about motivational books, since I find them to be . . . well, less than motivational. Literally the last good one I read was about eight years ago, and it was very atypical.) But this author’s fear is not only understandable, it’s very common.

It’s also part of a misconception. See, as a reader, you naturally look up to authors and their publishers (or, even if you don’t because they suck, you feel that they suck all the more because you’re not able to treat them with reverence). These are professionals. Their opinion has weight, and you would love to be their equal, or at least the rookie on the team. Their recognition is what proves you’ve succeeded.

Not true. Very, oh so very, not trueContinue reading

ant-man-thor-poster-1In my review of Ant-Man, I mentioned how the movie couldn’t make up its mind as to whether it was a caper film or a superhero origin story. I laid out the reasons why those two types of stories are, if not incompatible, then at least problematic to mix together. I also mentioned I might do a post on how I might have adjusted the movie if, for some strange reason, they came asking for my advice.

So how would I have done the movie differently?

This is actually a more dangerous question than it might appear. I’m a prose editor. I’m a pretty good one. I’m also pretty good at analysis, developmental/structural rewriting, and closing plot holes. None of that means that I’m good at scriptwriting. Visual media is a very different ballgame. I know just enough about the differences to talk about them, and not enough to actually put them into practice. I’m a professional editor, but I’m an armchair amateur when it comes to script-doctoring. I know my limits and I’m not going to pretend that expertise in one form of fiction extends to another.

So, disclaimers aside, here’s my armchair amateur opinion about what I’d have done if I’d been asked to give a developmental edit (also called structural editing) on the film.

Spoiler Warning Continue reading

Ant-Man

Ant-Man_posterSadly, I haven’t had much time for blogging lately (at least about writing); but I can’t pass up a review of Ant-Man. Particularly since so many of you enjoy me writing about the Marvel franchise.

I went to see Ant-Man last night at the Alamo Drafthouse, because who can pass up the chance to watch superhero films while eating fried mozzarella and hot wings, washed down with an alcoholic root beer? All movie theaters should be restaurant theaters.

Anyway, it was a good experience. The service was prompt and good as always, and the movie was decent. Yes, decent; not incredible, not outstanding. Decent.

As I said before, I expected this movie to disappoint me by comparison to the others. On a scale of Marvel films, this is the third-worst, beating out Thor: The Dark World and Incredible Hulk, though Dark World had better visuals. That may sound disappointing, but remember what I said before: a bad Marvel movie is, so far, better than an average movie.

Spoiler Warning Continue reading

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