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If you’ve been anywhere near Facebook for the last couple of weeks, and especially if you have any writer-minded friends (and, really, to be honest, who doesn’t), you’ve likely seen or at least heard referenced a recent interview between George RR Martin & Stephen King. King is on tour for his latest book [End of Watch], and the final question of the conversation is that infamous one about writing speed.
Here’s the full video… the question is asked at about the 50 minute mark.
I am on record as being a pro-Writing Excuses person. On more than one occasion I’ve suggested particular episodes to fellow writers/crit partners for something they’ve had trouble with, or just spread the gospel of “you should listen.” Several episodes happened to hit at just the right time while I was completing my MFA that forced me to think about aspects of my thesis as I was moving from finishing my first draft and facing down the revisions. A central part of that comes down to Brandon Sanderson.
Outside of his active writing career, he also teaches a writing class at BYU. Sanderson recently posted this on his website:
Several years back, grad student Scott Ashton asked me if he could record my BYU lectures and post them for an online curriculum as part of a project he was doing. I said yes, and it was never supposed to be “a thing,” not really. It was a student doing a project, and using my lectures as a way to explore online education.
Well, since that time, those lectures (which are collected at Scott’s site, which he called Write About Dragons) have been viewed tens of thousands of times, and become one of the big hallmarks of my web presence, at least as far as writing education goes. I’ve been blown away by the reception to them. At the same time, I’ve been keenly aware that the recording was subpar. This isn’t Scott’s fault—he actually did an excellent job, considering his background. But the lectures are at times difficult to hear, and the filming was handled on a single amateur camera.
For years, I’ve been wanting to do something better. And this year I had my chance. My good friend Earl is a semiprofessional filmmaker, and was looking for a new project. I pitched a better-recorded set of lectures, filmed this year in my class, and he jumped at the idea.
The TL;DR of his post, in case you couldn’t guess from where I ended the copy, is that he has a “newly recorded” set of lectures that will be posted over the next few months. Since I have, in the past, watched several clips and pointed writer friends to the above Dragons site (and with an interest in teaching this stuff, myself), I’m stoked to be able to check these out.
Here’s the first lecture, so you can start checking them out yourself.
Context behind the conversation that happened last night…
So, MC is a GOT person (Game of Thrones, for those few not aware). She has seen all of the episodes, is caught up on the story lines and will read most of the “speculation” posts that get circulated on Facebook during the weeks between episodes and months between seasons. See, she binged most of the first few seasons when she was on bed-rest with the twins.
Me? Not so much. Don’t get me wrong, it’s VERY much in my wheelhouse, I just have not had the opportunity to get caught up, especially with 3 kids. I have seen several, or at least pieces of, episodes – more from this season than any of the previous 5, which leads to last night.
The Eldest is with grandparents this week. The twins went down at a semi-reasonable time and without too much trouble, but I was out of the room first, about 20 minutes before MC. When she finally comes downstairs, an episode of GOT played on the Roku.
MC: Which one are you watching?
Me: The second one.
MC: Of the season? [currently Season 6, for anyone reading this in the future]
Me: Second. Period.
MC: Seriously? [THIS reaction is what made the exchange.]
Yes, before last night I had only truly, with intent, watched the first episode – S1,E1.
Disclaimer: The central piece of this post is being cribbed from a guest post from Matthew Quirk at Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid site (as filtered through Steven Pressfield’s)… I follow both, and saw the link at Pressfield’s first, but there is additional advice in the Story Grid post that is worth reading.
So, on with the cribbing:
Use TK. This is the essential lubricant of the rough first draft. It’s a habit I learned from working as a reporter, but didn’t realize the novel-writing magic of it until I read this advice from Cory Doctorow. TK is an editing mark that means “to come” and is equivalent to leaving a blank or brackets in the text (It’s TK, not TC, because editorial marks are often misspelled intentionally so as not to confuse them with final copy: editors write graf and hed for paragraph and headline).
Can’t figure out a character’s name? “EvilPoliticianTK.” Need to describe the forest? “He looked out over the SpookyForestDescriptionTK.” Need that perfect emotional-physical beat to break up dialogue? “BeatTK.” Just keep writing. TK a whole chapter if you want. Those blanks are not going to make or break anything big picture. Come back for them once you’ve won a few rounds against the existential terror of “Is this whole book going to work or not?” There’s no sense filling in the details on scenes that you’re going to cut.
Disclaimer the Second: I read the same advice from Doctorow, just from his essay collection Context instead.
That second point, actually, is what prompted this post… As my MFA mentors and crit partners can attest, I fully endorse this idea. If the idea is to get the story down, get through a first draft, this can be very useful.
I use it as reminders for flavor ([TK – add more about wound/colors]), or as a scenic placeholder for moments that need to happen, but I haven’t quite figured out how the sequence will play out ([TK – adventures happen in cave until emerging on the other side of the mountain]). Or, if there’s a detail that I’ve already established but don’t remember in the moment? [TK – Guy’s name from chapter One].
That, by the way, is how I use it [TK – (note)]. Yes, it might throw of some word count estimates, but most of the time those notes get replaced with longer passages that any disparity washes out. The brackets help the note stand out more prominently in hardcopy, and the “TK” instances are easy to move through using the “Find” feature.
Or, someone needs to tell DEATH to “take five” (with the understanding that it’s a break, not to take five more people)…
It has been reported that Prince has died. While my affinity for his music is primarily limited to his work from the 80s, the man could play.
I think it’s time to get a little crazy… Let’s get nuts…
Growing up, I was a gamer. I use the past tense simply because I currently have neither the available time nor the flexibility of schedule to consider resuming activities. The last time I actively played anything more than a few round of Magic: The Gathering was before the turn of the century (ouch!)… However, with three boys, I imagine there will be opportunities to re-enter the arena… To that end, among some of the images I will be sprinkling in among the weekly Story Prompts will be some classic images from my gaming days. Quite often, the best ones evoked a story all their own.
I was tagged on Facebook with one of those “List some information, then tag other people” memes… I don’t usually do them, mostly because I don’t see them until well after the fact. This one, though, I saw early enough to respond, even if I’m not doing it directly on Fb… you’ll see why in a moment.
The basic meme: “List 10 books that have stayed with you…just ones that touched you.”
Asking a writer to do anything involving books is…difficult. Hell, just looking at my reading list for the past decade, several of them stand out – granted, some more memorable than others, for various reasons. In several instances, the first things that struck me were several books or a series by the same author… So I’m going to cheat a bit… and provide a little explanation for each (hence, why I’m putting this here, instead of on Fb)… So, in no particular order:
Neil Gaiman: This one is likely the biggest cheat on the list. Of all his prose work, I’ve not read anything that I didn’t like. Between his novels and short story collections, there are too many to list individually. There are two novels that stand out for me, though. Neverwhere is a subtle book, in my opinion, that, even though it’s been labeled as “Magical Realism,” it smack very much of early Urban Fantasy – before it was taken over by vampires, werewolves, etc, etc. American Gods is a book about mythology that, as soon as I finished it, my first thought was, “Damn, that’s something I wish I’d been able to write.”
The Hobbit: JRR Tolkien: I have said it several times before…this was the work that started me down the path toward SF/Fantasy fandom (mostly due to the animated movie, back in the early 80s). This was the first book I ever checked out from a public library.
Charles Stross: Another cheat here, since there are two series involved, but… Glasshouse – a study in gender identity [available technology allows for any outward presentation one might desire] wrapped in a tight little thriller. The Merchant Princes (series) – world-walking and the world-building of multiple time streams. The Laundry Files (series) – UF with shades of Cthulu, what I would consider my first readings in that genre.
The Harry Potter Series: JK Rowling: The first time I read book 1, I devoured it in a day, then plowed through books 2-4 in short order. Books 5-7 were the first that I pursued pre-ordering, instead of simply waiting until they were released.
Neil Peart: Two books, loosely related by title and context, but worlds apart for content. Masked Rider – about his bike tour adventures around parts of Africa. I shouldn’t have been surprised that such tours were a travel option, but this was the first stories I’d ever read/”been told” about such an experience. Ghost Rider…was a book that gave me perspective and guided me through a journey before I found myself thrust along it.
Call the Midwife: Jennifer Worth: I’ve actually mentioned this one fairly recently. It’s been a few weeks, but those effects still pop to mind every so often.
Ready Player One: Earnest Cline: A combination of SF and pop culture references that I lived through. Like American Gods, it’s one of those, “Damn, I wish I’d written that” books.
Mary Robinette Kowal: Her Glamourist Histories (“Jane Austen with magic”), although as of this writing I’ve only finished the first three books, and am currently in the fourth. I was subjected to the reading of Pride & Prejudice for my freshman English class in high school, and loathed it (as, I suspect, most 14-year old boys might). Kowal’s series, while deliberately steeped in the Regency language and style of Austen*, blends contemporary ideas with historical events. Likely the most craft-centric entry on this list, she’s also given me pause to consider revisiting Austen.
The Dresden Files: Jim Butcher. I’ve only completed the first two books in the series, but it’s that blend of mystery/PI with a fantasy spin that smacks of the “Damn, I wish I’d written that.” It’s also a series that has directly affected a project I have in development, and forced me to reconsider and rethink most of it, so as to be “similar, yet different.”
* I have a short story written around the time I was reading Shades of Milk and Honey that became unintentionally influenced by that style. In that sense, it can be said that Mary had a more profound and lasting affect. Not a thing I will object to having happened.