Tag Archive: Wordsmithing

Stories with Messages

Currently, the SF&F blogs are embroiled in a mild (well, for some of them, very much not mild) tizzy over whether or not stories should be written with a particular cause in mind. I’m not going to mention what the specific argument is, because 1) if you don’t already know, you probably don’t want to be involved in the first place; and 2) it really doesn’t matter, because I want to talk about cause-fiction in general.  Continue reading

Submission Stress

One of my authors just submitted a book. Well, I say she’s one of mine, but so far we haven’t engaged in actual financial business. She’s an old friend that I give advice to and help craft things. I haven’t had time to go over her book, but I’ve seen her writing and I hand-picked her for an upcoming series I’m managing next year (so she will be one of my authors, officially, in about six months). I’ve also helped her craft her cover letter, pitch, and so on.

She just bit the bullet on a submission she’s been putting off for literally years now. Now she has to wait for up to a year to get a response. It can be an intimidating thing. In fact, it can be a stressful thing — for good reason, though not a “good enough” reason. Continue reading

When to Use Dialog Tags?

Dialog tags are sometimes tricky to use. When to use them? Why? Where? How much?

I’m not going to assume you don’t know what dialog tags are. I’m not even going to go into grammar and whether you should ever use “said” versus something else. I’m just going to give you four rules of thumb that I give my authors.  Continue reading

Highs and Lows

You may have heard of the phrases “high fantasy” and “low fantasy.” Or perhaps you haven’t; while they’re used very commonly in an academic sense, they aren’t as common outside those circles. As is so often the case, this leads to some confusion in the definitions. And so I decided to give you a quick overview of the topic. That’s what this blog is for, after all! Continue reading

I’ve had this blog for more than seven months. I’ve averaged about three or four posts per month. That’s bad enough, but in all that time, I’ve kept putting off telling you about Writing Excuses.

Writing Excuses is an award-winning weekly podcast (two time Parsec, two time Hugo nominee, also nominated for a Podcast Award) that covers creative writing. It’s a bit over five years old now, and its archives are nearly 100 hours deep. If you listened to an episode every day starting now, you’d finish in just under one year (counting the new episodes that will be released weekly over that time).

Does that sound daunting? Don’t worry. Each episode is only fifteen minutes (well, okay, sometimes they run over) long — because, as they say, “you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.”

The “in a hurry” part is correct. It’s hard to make time when focusing on writing, because you really have to treat it as a full-time job. Most of us already have full-time jobs, or in many cases two or more part-time jobs. Some of you are in college, which is more than a full-time job. (Hint to you college students: if you’re not devoting about sixty hours a week to school, you’re either not a full-time student or you’re in some really easy classes.) The podcast format makes it very easy to listen to a full episode, maybe two, during your commute, while you’re on your lunch break, or while you’re cooking or doing your dishes or vacuuming the house. (Though you might need earbuds for that last one.)

The “not that smart” part is . . . debatable. These guys are good. The podcast hosts are New York Times bestselling fantasy novelist Brandon Sanderson (yes, that guy who finished The Wheel of Time and wrote the Mistborn series), supernatural horror novelist Dan Wells (author of the seriously wonderful John Cleaver novels, starting with I Am Not a Serial Killer, which deserves a review from me sometime), professional puppeteer and historical fantasy/alternate history novelist Mary Robinette Kowal (author of The Glamourist Histories; she joins the podcast full-time in Season Six), and science fiction cartoonist and humorist Howard Tayler (who writes and draws the award-winning and record-breaking Schlock Mercenary).

I’ve met all four in one way or another (the first two in real life, the other two via webcams, Facebook, and email). They know their stuff and they’re great to talk to. I’m not saying I agree with everything they say, mind you; just 99%.

Well, okay. 98%. That’s my final offer.

Give them a listen. Even if you don’t write fantasy, horror, or science fiction, you’ll find plenty to learn from them.

One more thing!

Always listen to Uncle!

Who says you can’t learn anything from a Saturday morning cartoon? Uncle’s timeless advice always pops up when I get excited about research. (Mind you, it’s usually accompanied by the mental image of an old man whacking me on the side of my head with two outstretched fingers.)

And yes, research can be exciting. If you’re not eager to learn new things and insert them into your craft, you’re probably in the wrong business. Not all research is fun, of course — but from the number of authors and editors I see who share things they find on social sites, it’s fairly obvious that I’m not the only one who likes finding new things.

And I not only enjoy it, but I’m actually good at it, which is why it’s one of my offered services to authors and publishers . . . and one that a lot of people take me up on.

Someone tried taking me to task on that at Balticon, though, claiming that it’s not the job of an editor to do research for an author. Aside from the fact that I get paid for it in addition to more traditional editorial services, I had to explain to him why he’s wrong. And while I’ve talked about the importance of consulting experts already, I figure I ought to give another concrete example.

Almost exactly one year ago, I brainstormed out a YA contemporary fantasy series (The Chronicles of the Ruahim) with my friend and sometime client Regina Doman, and that series is currently coming together. For the sin of coming up with the idea, I’m the managing editor and (technically) senior author on the series. Since it deals with myths all around the world, I find even my childhood fascination with comparative mythology can’t keep up, and I’m constantly doing more and more research on different cultures, different creatures, and different versions of particular legends. Apache, Irish, Norse, British, French, German, Polish, Russian, Jewish, Egyptian, Arabic, Indian, and Japanese have all come up in the context of this series, and we’re just getting started. It also means we have to find words in various different languages, sometimes all for the exact same creatures and concepts.

That’s only part of it, of course. The first book deals with sword techniques, (Irish, Norse, and German techniques, plus modern foil as well), and while I’m pretty knowledgeable on the subject of “real” swords, I know I can always learn more; and of course, I’ve never formally studied fencing, but fortunately I have a good friend who actually teaches it.

The second book (being co-authored by Elizabeth Hausladen of Confessions of a Seamstress) in the series takes place entirely in Paris, which means a lot of research into more mundane matters: maps of the city, Parisian habits, art history, Versailles, the French Revolution, and even life in a convent.

The man who tried telling me off for doing research for an author has obviously never done a typical book project before. I’ve talked before about how an editor is concerned with more than just grammar; an editor’s job is to make the book as high-quality as possible in the time available. That means fact-checking, because you never want your book to contain an error so egregious that experts and knowledgeable amateurs alike will find themselves just talking about what you got wrong.

What I just described for The Chronicles of the Ruahim is merely the most obvious research topics, and only what’s come up so far.  It’s too much for one person. I’m not even talking about the man-hours here; the person doing the research has to process it, translating it into what is necessary to tell the story correctly. Time isn’t so much a factor here as just dealing with all the mess of information that pours in once you open the research floodgates.

Sure, you as an author need to do your own research, but the editor’s job is — among other things — to make certain your work is consistent. If you’re lucky enough to have one already, or you’re willing to hire a freelancer like myself to help out, do it. No one person can do it all alone.

One more thing: listen to Uncle!

%d bloggers like this: