Tag Archives: Writing advice

What is Trendy Today…

99modesbenglish

 

What is trendy today… will have cooled down tomorrow! Don’t lose time chasing the latest fads!

As for the publishing delays, the new realities of the writing world have reduced them. Nevertheless, that advice stays: better write/draw what you love!

 

 

Fun at the Signing Table – The Contract!

My Big, Cool Contract

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I just signed the contract for my 17th novel  which gave me the idea. My first contact as a budding writer, years ago, was a not such a good one, and I was saved only because the publisher went bankrupt.  This contract is my third with this publisher and their conditions are fair.

There’s a lot more than the  traps told by the snakes. CAVEAT: I’m not a lawyer.  In case of problems, the best is to consult an IP specialist.

The Writer’s Union of Canada offers sound advice too.   More precisions on the US Copyright Office. The website Writers Beware presents a good overview of rights vs copyrights. For those of you pondering about indie publishing, I do recommand the very well-organized series of articles The Business Rusch by the poly-genres author Kris Rusch.

My husband often wears a Marillion T shirt in the comics, a group that he likes.

The page is my hidden homage to  Andre Franquin, the creator of the pesky “laughing” Gull featuring in the Gaston Lagaffe series. And in this comic. As for my own signature, it figures in the middle of the page for a change…

And, about the copy…

The Big, Cool Contract: Epilogue

Friendly advice on the Clarion blog

The Clarion foundation helps budding writers of genre (SF, fantasy, fantastique, horror) to develop and mature their style. I had the joy of being invited by Lynda Williams (the author of the Okal Rel saga)  to write a few posts from my own perspective of a SF writer with comic artist.

So my first post was about extending our writing roots to achieve a deeper connection with the reader. The illustrations are my own.

The last one is an  account of my big, fat, first novel and its endless incarnations!

Carrying a heavy novel project!

I am working on four more writing posts. Coming soon: The secret well of ideas, a another take at the well-known fan question: where do you get your ideas? 

The Research Iceberg… a hidden danger for writers and readers alike!

As a SF writer, research is an essential part of my work. But I sometimes do too much of it!

Too much research for that novel?

If the finished product is burdened with heavy lumps of exposition, those annoying scattered blocks will slow down the story  – and the reader’s interest.

Many people saying “You know, I don’t like science-fiction” are often more afraid of those lumps, than they would be  of a gripping story with warm-hearted characters affected by  loyalty conflicts.

Even for fantasy world-builders, the internal logic of the magic-or-supernatural workings requires a fair amount of thinking. And, as magical as the world is, the story must be well grounded in reality. How many fantasy novels, for instance, demonstrate a total lack of knowledge about equine biology and maintenance? One of my friends, who raises horses and loves fantasy, is appalled by what she reads.

And some SF or fantasy authors, too proud of their word-building, dump large exposition blocks on the unsuspecting reader! “I suffered for my art, and so must you!

Research is like an iceberg.
The Research Iceberg - a conundrum for the writer... and the reader!

There is the emerged part, the novel that you enjoy. But whatever the number of pages, there is a larger, hidden part underwater.

Not enough research under it and your story collapses under the contradictions, impossibilities, logical errors and paper-thin characters.

But when the universes and societies are lovingly built, the strong foundation even allows other writers to participate in it! Two examples: The Darkover series by Marion Zimmer Bradley and the Honor Harrington series by David Weber have spawned many paper children.

According to the readers’ ages or familiarity with the concepts, the submerged part of the iceberg is around 90%. For a simpler story, you may choose to tone down the emerged part. A story aimed at children will be a smaller icebeerg. A vast work, like the Martian trilogy of Kim S. Robinson will be a huge iceberg!

Hal Clement, in my view,  left more of his research over the waterline… But that was the good ol-days of science-fiction writing! I found Needle, aimed at young adults, captivating, even when the concept of “teen” and “young adult” did not exist at the time!

In my latest SF novel, La spirale de Lar Jubal, aimed at YA, I set aside about 99%  of my painstaking research and physics calculations for the space station, to concentrate on the visual  and dynamic aspects, and on the character’s conflicts.

Nevertheless, I put some visual information at the beginning of the novel.

An example of world-building... with a floating garden!

In my upcoming SF novel, aimed at the “Oh, I don’t like science fiction” crowd,  there are very few numbers, but more active descriptions of stunning settings and actions. The planet and science aspects are explained only by their impact on the characters’ lives.

And I must manage, of course, the sense of wonder…as this Winds of Tammerlan novel cover suggests.

The SOW cover by the artist

Another time, I will explain why science-fiction is like chocolate…

Meet my fans: the success story fan

The successful fan... meets the slightly less successful writer!

Has this situation happened to you?

Fortunately, none of my old college friends are afflicted with such a materialistic mentality.   This meeting did not happen in a book fair, but at a dinner for young professionals at the Ecole Polytechnique. I was so well dressed that newcomers automatically takes me for a successful businesswoman. I had this same air as this comic  character…then, it is when they realize that I am a humble self-employed worker that potential contacts shy away.

For some media, the value of an artist or writer is primarily related to his or her financial success.

I do not scorn entrepreneurship itself, since I lead my own business. In a recent lecture given at a dinner of the AFAF, I mentioned that building a business, any kind of business,  requires a good dose of creativity!

SF and fantasy author Dean Wesley Smith (a prolific author who gives advice to young writers, his site is worth a visit) takes writing as a serious business. According to him, if you do not make a living from your writing, it is because you do not write enough or want it, work hard enough. This appears like a disdainful view of people whose productivity do not match his own. But the reasoning works also to remind us that we often find excuses for… not writing.

Well, there is an area for nuance or discussion, and all our situations and writing goals are not the same.  I like to dig a lot of infos for my SF novels…  besides doing comics as well. DWS believes in writing  a lot, and submitting a lot, and taking care of the business end. With a hundred novels published in twenty years or so,  he is an Olympic writing athlete himself! (A page in 10 or 15 minutes… faster than me, even when I have the story clear in my head).

This year, he gave himself the challenge to write 100 short stories for 2011. Yes, a hundred! There is already eight published, between 2500 and 6000 words each. It is fortunate that he repeats that every writer is different!  Nevertheless, his blog “Killing the sacred cows of publishing” offers great pointers and unorthodox advices.

DWS is very optimistic. In his opinion, publishers are always looking for new voices. And that too much rewriting  “blunts” your creative voice, the personal, original part of the creation.

It happened to me for my first novel Ithuriel (16 agonizing rewrites!), so his message resonates strongly with me. Obviously, DWS revises to correct the “ortograf”, or flagrant errors or blunders. But after that he rewrites only if his editor asks him. And after the contract is signed…

It was a stimulating reading for me. Dean Wesley Smith’s advices have the effect of  empowering a writer, reminding that he or she is not at the mercy of “the market” or agents. And to put the pleasure back in writing. Writers can achieve a good measure of “success” with effort and perseverance, without sacrificing their unique voice.
:^)

Chasing your wild ideas!

The science fiction author attempting to control the wild ideas for a novel!

There comes a point in writing where we feel that the story, the players and the universe that hold them have gained enough consistency to secure them in a tangible form. The ethereal cloud of infinite possibilities must now be condensed, into a brick (but not a too thick one!) Of course, there will always remain a small cloud of regret…

How to take this step without too much pain?

As I explained in another post, I do not have a rigid plan. I rather draw a grocery list. Here is one of the subplots in a novel work.  (It does not give the big punches, and if you can’t read French, my secret is safe, bwa-haha!)

Liste d'épicerie des intrigues secondaires d'un roman (elle s'allonge pendant la rédaction...)

I draw clouds of relationships between characters, and do the research to comfortably establish my imaginary world.

Nuages de relations pour le deuxième roman de la série Chaaas

An imaginary world well designed, whether in science fiction or in fantasy, do not only allows the author to return to it, but fans can also seize it (it happened with the universe Darkover by Marion Zimmer Bradley).

CAVEAT: Research is good, but … to some extent!

Trop de recherche nuit à la rédaction!

This is me writing a science fiction novel! Alas, too much “let’s google this, check up that” in the middle of writing the first draft of a manuscript will cut your swing, slow or even paralyze you. Oh, I wanted to read this post by Cory Doctorov sooner!

When you’ve worked and thought and lived with our stories behind the head, the characters grow and eventually become almost friends to the writer.

After the throes of planning is a very pleasant step in creating a novel. In my case, I enjoy doing lots of sketches that show a little life characters “outside” the scope of the novels. Here, I sketched a family scene from the world of Chaaas.

Le Bassin - croquis (et non, cette scène n'est pas décrite dans un de mes romans!)

The downside is that it might push the story in all  directions. And as it happens while I am writing, the manuscript gets longer! We must rein in those ideas, and jot down the wildest ones to recycle them for another story!

As the publishers have a specific format in mind for their books, there is usually a limit of pages to follow. We must strive to keep one or two main plot lines and give up many ideas and developments full of promises … with no guarantee that all the children of our imagination will emerge elsewhere!

Trimming down the manuscript can be tearful...

The secret well of ideas

The secret well of ideas !If there is one question that every published author hears at other events, it is this one : But where do you get all those ideas ?

Secret well of ideasMany people who dream of becoming a (famous) writer are scratching their head to find this mysterious well of ideas. Most are under the impression that writers form a tight circle around a secret lair of the golden-egg-laying hen. The secret well of inspiration, teeming with ideas!

This belief joins another one : all writers signing at the events are filthy rich!  Or if they are not, it must be because they don’t have access to a good well.

This in nonsense, as chance and fashion are the capricious ingredients that make or unmake successes. Also, many are convinced that once this idea has been fished out of the well, the main work is done, the book will write itself! Hence this ubiquitous anguished question : will someone steal my idea?

Relax, it is rather the opposite. Ideas are like dandelion seeds, easy to blow : pfffffuit!

Chaaas blowing dandelion seeds

They are blown in the sky half-formed, and many budding writers try to capture them with  clumsy fingers ! When they manage to catch one, they notice that there is still a long way  between the seed and the grown tree, between the idea and the completed book!

About ideas, the following scene happens often at a signing table (preferably when the writer is alone). A fan walks by, telling of his wonderful idea for a novel, an idea so genial that the writer should leave all his current projects to do the hard work on it! It happens especially with the SF writers…

An idea may be a very small seed at the beginning, so we must not try to pull from it a completed 600-page spy novel !

Imagine if the writers worked like that!

(Who is this author?)

Les Nuages de Phoenix (The Clouds of Phoenix) was my first SF novel aimed at YA. The novel idea took a long time to grow.

It began with a simple mental picture, a girl looking at the clouds. One of my favorites activities when I was a child. I happened to like meteorology (and I later followed climatology courses when studying Geography). The place took form, Phoenix is another planet with a green sky. Why green? Ah, enter the airborne particles size, and many other explorations.

In that special environment, I found out that the little girl, Blanche,  was handicapped, a consequence of a grave accident, and she wears an exosqueleton that gives her legs the capability of running at 80 km/h (a fun fact when I mention it in classrooms). New characters appear : Blanche has a family: an big sister in love , a father worrying about the oxygen production plant, etc.  Those characters grow and eventually become like friends of the writer. This is a very nice step in the creative process, and I will come back to it in a future blog entry.

Cover of Les nuages de Phoenix

The clouds of Phœnix‘s seed idea took about one year to grow discreetly, before I was ready to write the full-length manuscript. Afterwards, there has been the long rewriting and edition process under my editor’s eye. All in all, the novel took almost two years (working on it part-time) between the seed and the finished work.

I wrote about the challenge of growing a story in my French blog. A story begins as a tiny seed, which we put in soil and water, leaving it for a time. But the idea grows in silence. And nothing prohibits us to have more than one idea growing! Certain will get ripe earlier than the others.

So, our inspiration tree must be fed, in three ways. We draw first from our own life experience, that help to get empathy with what our characters are living through. Then by our readings, any kind of reading: for researching our subject, for fun, for exploring different genres and ways of storytelling.. and last but not least, our imagination, always creating bridges.

The inspiration Tree

Many of those links may be absurd, but some will prove fecund.

A writer cannot get into an ivory tower and tell himself that his fertile imagination will be enough. Our plant needs watering, fertilizer, care: the three inspiration sources interact between themselves. And when the story gets too profuse, the care will later include pruning

(to be continued…)