Archive for April, 2014


I’ve been watching these lectures by Brandon Sanderson on Youtube. It’s him teaching a class on writing scifi/fantasy. But it’s full of ideas that can help writers in any genre.

I definitely recommend them, but a bit on Sanderson first, so you know what to expect: Sanderson is a great structural, nuts and bolts, technical writer. Meaning he knows how to make ideas into novels using tools and devices that have been tested over time.

He is undeniably talented, and comes up with great ideas, but he does have limitations. I don’t think he’ll ever write a truly deep or personal book, and his style isn’t particularly interesting. But that’s fine. He tells good stories.

And these lectures are very useful at showing how he creates those stories. They are full of great tools. Structure, plot, character, prep, word-counts, genre expectations, etc. It’s very focused on getting published, which sounds like the antithesis of art but these ideas have their place.

To put it simply, these videos can give you a structure to fill in with your own unique creations. Combine some of these tools with beautiful and personal prose and you’ll be unstoppable.

I’m reading Steelheart now. It’s a great premise, and it moves quickly. Light, but a lot of fun. A good counterpoint to the wrenching book that I just read.

I’ve read some interesting books during the past few weeks. Here is a quick run down of just a few that I think were notable:

I Loved You More – Tom Spanbauer

Fucking Tom Spanbauer, man. My personal favorite author. His writing connects with me, heart to heart. His latest, a sort-of love triangle between two men and a woman, is probably his most personal book. Beautiful and touching as usual.

The Hoke Moseley Series – Charles Willeford

Charles Willeford wrote a series of novels starring detective Hoke Moseley. There are only four (not counting the unpublished Grimhaven). But they are unique and exciting and incredibly engaging. I can’t believe all of the pieces that Willeford keeps moving in these books. He must be a juggler.

Miami Blues (they made a cool film out of that one). New Hope For the Dead (I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that had as much going on in it as this one did), Sideswipe (After the previous book, I can understand Hoke’s mindset), and The Way We Die Now (A fitting final entry).

The Girl Next Door – Jack Ketchum

Jack Ketchum writes brutal horror pretty well. Most of his books are entertaining throwaways (The Off-Season series), but this one stands above the rest. A girl is held captive in her foster mother’s basement under the watchful eyes of the neighborhood kids. What makes this different than Ketchum’s terrible Right To Life, is that the idea of authority and mob psychology are explored. You get a POV of one of the children and you can see how this incident developed from the ground up. I reviewed the film here.

The Wind Through the Keyhole – Stephen King

Stephen King gets a lot of flack for being a perceived hack but that is just not true. This Dark Tower entry is excellent. The novel focuses on a story that Roland tells while hiding out from a Starkblast (A cool idea by itself). It recounts one of Roland’s first missions as a Gunslinger. Nostalgic, fantastic, exciting. Great character’s too. A good example of what Stephen King can still do.

The Rithmatist  – Brandon Sanderson

This is the best book I’ve read by Brandon Sanderson. The cornball chalk-drawing magic system is much more interesting than it sounds. The book moves quickly, has an intriguing mystery, and builds to a cool ending. And it full of the charm that young kid in magic school books can have if done well.

Deadman’s Crossing – Joe R. Lansdale

A set of hilarious and action-packed weird west novellas by the master of the genre, Joe R. Lansdale. They all star Reverend Jebediah Mercer, and each one is better than the last. Very pulpy, in a good way.

The King in Yellow – Robert W. Chambers

More of an interesting oddity than an engaging read. It’s a set of short stories that all revolve around a made-up play called The King in Yellow. If you read the second act of that play, you will go insane. It’s a cool idea, but not all of the stories were engaging. The ideas in this book did influence Lovecraft, though.  So that should be good for something.

In Game of Thrones and the rest of the Song of Ice and Fire series we know that he is not kind to those that hold the title of King’s Hand, for sure. But I’m talking about actual hand injuries and arm injuries. Have you ever noticed how many injuries to those extremities are inflicted upon characters?

For some reason, I have. And for some further unknown reason, I have decided to make a list. And here they are, in no particular order: SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!

  • Jon Snow burns his hand on a lantern when fighting a white walker.
  • Caitlin Stark cuts her hands on a knife while defending herself from Bran’s assassin.
  • Theon Greyjoy has his finger flayed by a Bolton.
  • Sandor “the Dog” Clegene gets his arm burnt white fighting Beric Dondarrian.
  • Great John Umber gets his fingers bit off by Grey Wind.
  • Davos had parts of his fingers cut off by Stannis.
  • Jaime Lannister gets his hand cut off by Vargo Hoat.
  • Qhorin Halfhand, you guessed it, has half a hand due to a Wildling axe.
  • Victarion Greyjoy injures his hand in a duel. Then has a weird mage set it on fire to heal it.
  • Ghost finds a lone hand in the woods, leading the Night’s Watch to a two corpses.
  • Arya gets her hands scratched up pretty good while trying to catch cats.
  • Urrigon Greyjoy lost half a handplaying The Finger Dance, the axe game of the Iron Islands. (Countless hands and fingers have been lost by people playing that game…)
  • Lady Hornwood chews off her own fingers because her dear husband, Ramsey Bolton, locked her in a tower with no food.
  • Marillion the singer  confesses to killing Lysa Arryn, and as punishment gets a few fingers cut off.
  • Narbo, a theif in Braavos, gets stabbed in the hand a prostitute, losing the use of three of his fingers. Poor guy can’t pickpocket anymore!
  • Tanselle had her finger broken by Prince Aerion in The Hedge Knight.
  • Way back when, some guy named Silver Denys tried to tame the wild dragon Sheepstealer, and got his arm bit off in the process.
  • Lancel Lannister obtains an arm injury in the Battle of Blackwater Bay. It turns him religious.
  • Nymeria bites Little Shit Joffrey’s arm, hopefully inflicting great pain.

 

There are probably many more! Maybe some day I’ll create a comprehensive list. It will be the most useless Game of Thrones list ever. If you would like to contribute any I missed, please leave your suggestions in the comments.

Also, I found an appropriate Q+A from Mr. Martin in this interview:

I have a question that’s been bothering me for six books now – what’s with hands? How come characters keep getting hand injuries?

GRRM: Well, actually hand injuries were very common in the Middle Ages. When you fight with swords and axes and do a lot of hand labour, you get a lot of hand injuries. In fact, even leaving out the swords and axes you get a lot of hand injuries. my father was a longshoreman, a stevedore, and I know they would always get hand injuries. They would wear protective gloves, but they would still get injuries. There are other touches of realism; my characters who fight in repeated battles in these books tend to get scars. They lose noses and ears and become disfigured, and that’s a consequence of those battles. That’s where the icon of the Scarred Warrior comes from. Every time you go into a fight you risk emerging a little less pretty than when you went in.

Imagine writing a book a hundred years ago? Writing it long hand by candle light? Or on a primitive typewriter? Most of us think we are blessed to be writing with today’s technology. Computers, printers, spell-check, word processor auto-formatting. Scrivener, outlining and novel-building software. Email and submissions managers.

How could we possible write a novel or a story let alone edit it without all those tools? But I’ve found in my experience (as what I would call an Experienced Amateur writer), that all of those tools and features get in the way of actually writing.

Distractions are everywhere! Even things that seem productive are really just distractions. Now, this is all just my opinion, but I have found that my best and most productive time is when I am just writing on my computer and not thinking about anything else on the screen. If I misspell a word, I don’t want to see that red-squiggly line. It will interrupt the flow and make me want to fix it. But that can always be done later. After I’m done being creative.

It took me a while to figure that out, and I had to leverage some technology and software to get back to the spirit of what authors were doing hundreds of years ago. Mainly because I can’t write long-hand quickly.

Here are some things I found that are very useful for that productive time:

  • WriteMonkey – A simple full-screen text editor that lets you easily control the writing experience. If you have a Windows-based system, try it! I used it until I got my Chromebook.
  • Chromebook (I chose the Acer C720) – Cheap, easy to use. Starts in seconds. Isn’t full of distractions (Well, the internet is always a distraction, but see the point below). Basically, it’s a typing machine for me and nothing more.
  • I now use Google Docs full-screen with the menus hidden. Looks just like WriteMonkey did.
  • Windows Notepad – When all else fails, go with the classic. I use this one when I’m not on my own computer.
  • Turn off the internet if you have no self-control. Unplug the network cable, turn off the router, whatever you have to do to keep you mind on writing instead of browsing.
  • Find a location where you just write and do nothing else. No internet. No TV. Train yourself like Pavlov’s dog. When you sit in the chair or couch or bean bag or or wherever, your writing glands should start salivating.

After the writing is done, I go back to the distraction filled world of fully-featured software that helps me organize and polish my work.

My recommendation is to clearly separate your time actually writing from the time you spend doing all the other stuff. The latter has to get done, but it should never impede the former.


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