When Life Gets in the Way of Writing

Posted in About the Author with tags , , , , , , , on June 24, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. Sometimes life gets in the way and sometimes one just need to take a step back. In this case, it’s a little of both.

In regards to life getting in the way, be assured that it’s nothing bad. As some of you may know, my husband and I foster kids. Generally, we only foster one at a time and one between the age of 6 and 12. A few months ago, though, we were talked into taking two teenagers, a brother and sister. We were told they were well-adjusted, well-mannered kids and this has turned out to be totally true. Still, parenting can be a busy job.

We are also in the process of adopting a two-year-old boy from China. The paperwork for this process has been a terrible headache. It’s not just a matter of filling out forms, but also a matter of gathering specific documents and making sure they are from the right sources, in the right format, with the correct information, with the right signatures, and with the right dates.

Eddie

I can’t show you pics of our foster kids, but here’s the boy we’re in the process of adopting. We’re naming him Edward, or Eddie for short.

I had to take a step back from my writing and from blogging for other reasons as well. To put it simply, I just needed a break so that my mind could recharge. Not too long ago, I told you how I received feedback from a content editor. She pointed out several core story problems that I needed to work on. Although it was hard to swallow the criticism, I knew she was right. But I wasn’t entirely sure how to fix the problems.

That was back in March, 2017. Rather than ponder the problems right off, I took a few weeks off and completely stepped back from my novel. I binged on Netflix and read a few fantasy and sci-fi novels.

When I felt I had wasted enough time, I dived back in. And when I dived back in, I devoted almost all of my free time to the novel itself. I didn’t blog.

So where do things stand now? We still have our two teenagers so I still devote time to them. The adoption process is pretty much done and now we’re just waiting for the government organizations to get organized. I’ve found the time to ponder the story problems and have come up with some great ways to fix them. And now I’m in the process of rewriting parts of the novel. In fact, I believe I’m almost done.

Now that I’m back to writing and nearly finished with the rewrite, I figure it’s time to get back to blogging. This post is a rather boring and personal post, but hopefully next week I’ll be able to post something more useful for you. Any topic in particular that you’d like me to cover? Writing tips? Publishing tips? Editing tips? Or perhaps you just want to read a part of the rewrite? Feel free to comment below.

Do You Really Have to Kill Your Darlings?

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Stephen King Kill Your Darlings

First of all, what are darlings? To writers, the term is used when referencing a piece of the story or a character that the author loves but really has little to do with the story itself. The advice you’ll hear from many writing experts is that you need to kill them, murder them, or to put it simply, get rid of them. Take them out of your story.

Eliminate or Change?

The problem I’ve encountered more than once is the assumption that they always have to be killed or gotten rid of. This is not always true. After all, if you as the writer love some element of your work, why should you get rid of it? For example, you really love a certain character but he or she doesn’t really add value to the story. How about changing your story or your character a bit so that they do add value to the story?

Moana’s Hei Hei Changed

I read that when Hei Hei the rooster was originally written in the story of Moana, he was a cranky and proud rooster (http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Heihei). But his part in the story really had no purpose other than to be annoying. So the writers had to rewrite him or he’d be cut. Hei Hei is a much different rooster now. He’s also a more important element to the story—he’s a source of comical trouble. Perhaps the character in your story won’t need such a dramatic change in character. Maybe he or she just needs a more dramatic part. And if, after trial and error, you just can’t make this character fit into the story, then you can reconsider eliminating them (or save them for another story). The same can be said for certain scenes or other parts that aren’t contributing to the story.

Don’t Force It

You might be told that you shouldn’t try to force it. This could very well be true. So ask yourself why you want to keep this darling in your story. Is it because you worked so hard on it and it seems like a waste to get rid of it? Sorry. This probably isn’t a good enough reason to keep it. Is it because you really like it? If it doesn’t fit in your story, save it for another story. Or is it because you think it’s an important part of the story? If you think it’s important but your professional critiquers doesn’t, try to figure out why. Then consider changing things so they see the importance too.

Listen

As a writer, we need to be willing to listen to the advice of a professional writer. We need to be willing to make changes to our stories in order to make them better. If you really want your story to shine, if you really want people to love your story as much as you do, you need to listen to and learn from your betters.

You are the Writer

Ultimately, though, it’s your story. Don’t let a strong critique force you into doing something you don’t want to do. Don’t be pressured or let your critiquer make you feel stupid when you say you don’t want to change this or that and the critiquer responds, “Ugh. This is why I hate little darlings.”

Consider All Your Options

There is nothing wrong with keeping something or some character you love in your story. There’s nothing wrong with wanting the story to end a certain way because you plan on writing a sequel. If the person or persons critiquing your story think a certain element or a certain character is useless and should be gotten rid of, consider their advice seriously. But consider all your options. There’s more than one way to do something.

Get Multiple Critiques

It also helps to get the advice of more than one professional writer. This way if everyone is saying the same thing, you know the critique is valid and not just an opinion. Critiques are invaluable in that they can help you become a better writer. But the line between critique and opinion can sometimes be blurred.

What are your feelings or opinions on “darlings”?

Core Story Problems with “StarFire Dragons”

Posted in Sci-Fi Part 1 - Revised 3, The Kavakian Empire with tags , , , , , on March 25, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Book Cover for StarFire Dragons

Last week I discussed the core story problems my content / development editor pointed out. But when I discussed these issues, I discussed them in a general manner. The following applies those issues to my own story, “Starfire Dragons”.

Making the Primary Protagonist Face a Hard Choice

I seemed to have two primary protagonists, J.D. and Jori, neither of which had to face a truly difficult choice. Jori was faced with a choice where he could either please his father by hurting J.D. or not hurting J.D. and suffering the consequences of his father. But he makes his choice too easily. And the idea of consequences from his father is too distant for the reader to grasp. J.D. is faced with a choice where he could either go against his superiors to help the enemy child he’s come to care about or follow orders and betray the child. Again, he makes the choice too easily and he slips out of the consequences.

I admit, making characters I love makes it really difficult to put them in tight spots. But it’s got to be done if they’re going to truly grow, which leads to the next heading.

Helping the Primary Protagonist Grow

Both J.D. and Jori grew as people but not in a profound way and not in such a way where they had to face a final antagonist in order to grow. J.D. became less wishy-washy, but I think he’s still too wishy-washy in the end. At first glance, it would seem Jori made the most growth, but when you consider some of his history and his teachings with Master Jetser, he already had a foundation to build on.

Choosing One Primary Protagonist and One Primary Antagonist

As my editor, Kristen Lamb, pointed out, my story had no primary antagonist for the primary protagonist to fight. I thought my antagonist was more of an intangible one—our human tendency to hate someone because they are different than us. But how can there be a final battle with a human flaw? If I were to keep this human flaw as my primary antagonist, I would have put it into a single human form.

Jori as the Primary Protagonist?

If I choose Jori as the primary protagonist, who will be his primary antagonist? It can’t be J.D. because he would be downgraded to secondary protagonist. It could be the captain, but this would cause me to rethink the entire series I have mapped out. If I made Rear Admiral Zimmer the primary antagonist, I’d have to bring him more into the story. If I make Calloway the primary antagonist, I will need to give him a higher rank. Things to consider.

J.D. as the Primary Protagonist?

My other option is to make J.D. the primary protagonist. His primary antagonist can’t be the captain for the same reason indicated above. It could be Zimmer, maybe even Calloway. In a way, it could be the Alliance itself. After all, he’s struggling with a dilemma of duty versus morality. If the Alliance represents duty, he’d have to make a hard choice regarding morality. But the Alliance itself can’t be a defeated antagonist without a human form. Jori comes across as his antagonist at first, but my future stories won’t allow for him to be the primary antagonist.

Terk as the Primary Antagonist?

Perhaps Terk could be J.D.’s primary antagonist. Terk would have to wake up sooner and his father’s beliefs would have to be stronger than Jori’s. The only thing is, I will need to think of a way to defeat Terk without killing him (as Kristen suggested) because he’s an integral part of book two. I know, I know, Kristen. Having a “little darling” as you call it could be a huge boulder in the path of a successful story. But I will find a way to blow up that darned boulder and still keep my character. Perhaps defeat could mean thwarting Terk’s plans.

Creating a Final Epic Battle

No matter who I choose as my primary protagonist, I need to make sure they defeat my primary antagonist in a battle of some sort. Battles don’t always have to be with actual fighting. But considering Jori and Terk are warriors and J.D. is a strategist, I think this makes the most sense. I see a huge space battle scene forming.

Conclusion

If I really want to improve my writing and make this story great, much of it will have to be changed. A lot will need to be cut out. And some things may not go the way I had originally planned. While this seems harsh or even discouraging, I’m not put off by it. If anything, I’m raring to go. My mind is churning with ideas. “StarFire Dragons” isn’t going to be published when planned, but it will be published. And it will be my best work ever.

Finding Core Story Problems with a Content / Development Editor

Posted in Sci-Fi Part 1 - Revised 3, The Kavakian Empire, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Have you ever heard the saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know”? It is very difficult to critique your own writing skill. My beta readers helped but the feedback they provided just touched the surface of what was wrong with my story. So I hired a professional content / development editor, one that looks at the overall story development. And let me tell you, Kristen Lamb’s feedback was phenomenal.

I knew my story wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t know why. I hoped it was good enough, but knew deep down that it wasn’t. When she discussed her findings with me, it was like a lightbulb came on and I was struck by lightning at the same time.

Lightning Bulb

The lightning strike was because nothing pains the heart more than hearing the story you’ve poured your soul into still needs more work. The lightbulb was because she also provided feedback that encouraged me to move forward. My writing is great. My story is on the right track. And the story problems can be fixed. Here is what she said:

Luke Skywalker Fights His Father

Your Primary Protagonist Has to Face a Hard Choice

You can’t just throw trouble at your character and always have him make easy choices to get out of trouble. You have to really push them to the edge in the final act. You have to force them to do something that goes against their nature. And you have to make the choice a sacrifice no matter which they choose. Think about how Luke in “Star Wars” is forced to kill his own father. His hard choice—sacrifice the galaxy to save his father or sacrifice his father to save the galaxy.

Labyrinth Ludo Sarah Sir Didymus

Your Primary Protagonist Has to Grow

Your character starts out one way at the beginning of the story and learns something so profound from his journey that he changes into someone else. I don’t mean literally, though it could be literal, like in “The Fly”. And I don’t mean their whole persona. I mean something about his or her character changes. Think about Sarah in “The Labyrinth”. She began with the romanticized view that she was a Cinderella-like person forced by a wicked stepmother to care for a spoiled sibling. Then she faced a real adventure and learned to appreciate her life and her brother.

Choose One Protagonist to Focus On

Although you can have multiple protagonists, only one will face the hard choice and truly transform and grow in the end. Consider “Star Wars” again. There are many great protagonists in the story. And they all have grown in their own way. Han Solo isn’t such a scoundrel after all. Neither is Lando. Leia and Han fall in love. But the primary protagonist is Luke. He’s the one who grew the most—from the whiny kid in the beginning to a Jedi master at the end. He’s also the only one who truly faced the heart of the Empire. And he’s the one who sacrificed the most when he made his choice.

You Have to Have One Strong Antagonist

When you just throw trouble after trouble at your character like I did, it’s more difficult for your character to face a hard choice at the end. And as you will see in the next heading, it’s more difficult for them to fight a final battle.

The Departed

Your Primary Protagonist Has to Face the Primary Antagonist in the End

I wanted to add “and Win” because I like my heroes to win. But they don’t have to win in order to make a powerful story. The movie, “The Departed” comes to mind. Although Billy Costigan killed Colin Sullivan in the end, Billy was also killed. Anyway, without one primary protagonist and one primary antagonist, you can’t have the hard choice with the big battle at the end. You simply have a journey from one place to another with no ultimate purpose to keep your reader interested.

What This Means for “StarFire Dragons”

To keep this post from getting too long, I will post my musings on this next Saturday.

Conclusion

As writers, we can either let critiques bring us down and keep us from writing, or we can accept them as learning experiences and work on improving our skill. Because the feedback I received from Kristen Lamb was so spot on and made so much sense (and wasn’t at all contradictory like it was with the beta readers), I’ve chosen the later route. I strongly encourage you all to get your own stories reviewed by a content / development editor. They’re well worth the money. You can’t become a great writer if you don’t learn what you don’t know.

Writing Exercise – Work

Posted in Other Stories with tags , , , , on March 11, 2017 by Dawn Ross

One of my writing group forums sets up a monthly writing challenge. It’s generally just a simple writing exercise turned into a contest. This month, it’s limited to only 75 words, not including the title, and the theme is work, either science fiction or fantasy-based. It only calls for one entry per person, but I couldn’t help but to practice with a couple more.

1.

Waste Management Engineer Personal Log

No one thinks about how much crap I gotta put up with. Literally. They think my job’s easy, like all I gotta do is make sure the crap dumped at one end goes out the other. C’mon folks! We’re in zero gravity space. It ain’t that simple. Then there’s also the scrubbing, scraping, plunging, flushing, and, oh-yeah, don’t forget about all the verbal crap spewing from the crew. Bunch o’ stools, I tell ya.

*****

2.

A Warrior’s Duty

Muscles quivered. Sweat dripped. Breath heaved.

His body was heavy, heavier than normal, like rocks were tied to his back and all his limbs. Even his eyelids felt heavy. He leaned onto the hilt of his sword, pressing its bloody blade into the hard earth, and tried to catch his breath.

It was over. They were dead. All of them. Even the children. He’d done what he had to. It was his job. His duty.

*****

Medieval Tapestry

3.

Plight of the Princess

The bottle warmed in her delicate hand. Her fingers caressed the smooth glass while her thumb stroked the grain of the cork stopper. Its clear liquid glistened like raindrops.

One swallow and she would be free of him. No more dutiful smiles or imposed silence. No more longing from the window as he ignored her by day then occasionally used her at night. Her misery would end.

All he had to do was drink it.

*****

Which one do you think I should enter? Would you like to write one as well? Feel free to write you own and post it here. I can’t enter it in the contest for you. But if you’re a member of SFFChronicles.com, you can enter it there.

Take Ten for Writers – Writing Exercise 01

Posted in Other Stories with tags , , , , on March 4, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Take Ten for Writers

This writing exercise is set in the year 3010. I have just completed my mission and need to send an update to my commanding officer. But the system only lets me send up to ten words. This will be my title. The story itself will be my personal log. The personal log has to begin with, “After a long…” and it has to contain the words, “blindingly bright” somewhere in it. Here it goes:

*****

55 Cancri e

Planet Celean Is Dead Thanks to the Bregonite Zealots

After a long month of interviews and interrogations, I have finally determined what I believe to have been the cause of the destruction of the planet Celean. The Bregonites started a nuclear war. Somehow, they infiltrated the Dominion of Sargon, accessed the secret nuclear control room, and set launched the warhead.

At first, I didn’t believe it was possible. Both the Dominion and the United Peoples have a myriad of checks, controls, and firewalls. But the Bregonites’ infiltration ran deep. And their zealotry and willingness to die was well beyond reason.

Of course, when the United Peoples’ capital city was struck, their leaders sought immediate retaliation. The Dominion barely had any time to figure out how it had all started. They tried to contact the United Peoples but they were either met with bureaucratic red tape or hostility. Their attempts to work together to find out what happened blew up in their faces… literally.

I arrived in time to see the final blow. It was blindingly bright and seemed to have encompassed the entire quarter of the northern hemisphere.

I admit, I was so angry at the breadth of this needless devastation that my interrogations were harsh; illegal even. Every Bregonite I’ve come across in this mission is now dead.

Some of the things I’ve done will give me nightmares. But the memory of the dead planet will haunt me for eternity. It will haunt all of you as well. No one will ever forget Celean. And hopefully, we’ve learned a valuable lesson and will never allow such an atrocity to happen again.

*****

It’s not the greatest short story ever. But keep in mind that this is just a rough draft and it was done in about ten minutes. The purpose of these writing exercises isn’t to write some great fantastic story. It is to trigger the imagination.

Try your own writing exercise based on this set up. Don’t worry about your writing skill. Don’t worry about plot or direction. Just write and explore and see where your mind will take you. And most importantly… Have fun!

 

(c) 2017 Dawn Ross

How to Come Up With Sci-Fi Story Ideas

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2017 by Dawn Ross

My sci-fi story is more of a space opera than a hard-core sci-fi. For those who don’t know what those terms mean, a space opera is more about the characters and their lives in space than about any technical sciency. Hard-core sci-fi is quite the opposite. I’d like for my science fiction novels to be a little more sciency, but I’m having a tough time coming up with ideas. So I thought I’d do some research for idea generation and have come up with some ways I hope will help.

Firefly Cast of Characters

TV, Movies, & Books

What are your favorite movies, TV’s, and books? What were their plots? You shouldn’t steal someone else’s ideas, but ideas can generate from them. Actively think about the plot when you watch or read something. Then mediate on it later to see if it inspires your own ideas. I admit I got the idea of Jori from a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Suddenly Human”. Jori isn’t exactly like the boy in this episode. Nor is his situation the same. But some aspects follow along the same lines.

World-Building

Documentaries & Non-Fiction

You can get a lot of great ideas from reading a science magazine or non-fiction book. One book I’ve read, “World-Building” by Stephen L. Gillett has given me a few ideas. This book educates you on how things work in space and provides potential planet-scapes and such based on today’s knowledge. Documentaries, such as “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” can also give some great ideas.

Take Ten for Writers

Writing Exercises

Writing exercises are a great way to stimulate the imagination. In fact, this is something I need to do more often and something I plan on making a part of my regular writing routine. One book I’m planning on going through is called “Take Ten for Writers” by Bonnie Neubauer. Books like this give you a basis to start. For example, the first exercise in this book gives you a list of phrases that you can use to write a short story. The first phrase is “blindingly bright”. Next week, perhaps I will share the short story I wrote that contains this phrase.

Seems simple enough, but this book contains a variety of different exercises. One asks you to write a short story around a particular object, such as a Styrofoam cup. Another gives you a scenario, such as being abandoned by your date or being lost in the woods. Another wants you to write about an attribute without ever actually using the word or similar words. Even if none of these writing exercises mentioned here sound fun, there are many different exercises in this book. And there are lots of other books that help prompt writing exercises.

Brainstorm

I most often use brainstorming as a way to come up with book titles. But it’s great for coming up with story ideas as well. Simply write words related to your topic. For example, if you’re writing about a space ship, write down words like interstellar travel, speed of light, vessel, sub-space, warp drive, and so on. One or more of these words just might trigger an idea.

Write Randomly

This is the most common method I used to generate a story idea. I know my setting and I know my characters, so I simply start writing what I want to achieve and randomly write things I think might work. I don’t’ stop and think. I just write. And so when one idea comes while in the middle of writing another, I go with it and keep writing. This is the method I used to come up with the idea of the Chekrosians in book one of my sci-fi novel.

Computer-Generated

There are a number of apps that help writers generate story ideas. One of my favorites, and one I learned about through a fellow writer, is called Brainstormer. Brainstormer lets you spin three wheels, which line up to form one idea. I just now spun the wheel and here’s what it came up with – healing journey, Nazi, mansion. Did this trigger a short story idea for you? It certainly did for me.

There are websites you can visit as well. One I recently visited called SciFiIdeas.com randomly pulled up this story idea – “When a man is abducted by aliens, a clone is created to replace him. The story is told from the perspective of both the original and the clone.” Sounds fun!

Study People & Surroundings

The world might seem boring most of the time. But if you look carefully, you will probably see some quirky people or odd out-of-place things. Yesterday, I saw a short couple with a really large white dog and I began thinking about how those small people could possibly control such a large dog. I bet that dog eats more than those people! Maybe it’s an alien. I also saw a Star Wars kids baseball cap laying on the ground by a pond. Of course, the child could have just left it there after feeding the ducks. But what if he was pulled into the pond by a pond monster? (We have no alligators in our area, so pond monster would be much more realistic.) I started thinking about this kid and all the circumstances that led to him leaving this cap behind. It could make for a great mystery story.

Conclusion

There are many ways to generate ideas. It’s just a matter of actually implementing them. Tv’s, movies, and books are great, but don’t let yourself get too absorbed in them. And don’t just mediate on ideas. Write. To quote Yoda, “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Do you have another way that helps you generate sci-fi story ideas?