Writing under the Influence

It’s amazing what professors don’t teach English majors.  Perhaps it’s different in creative writing classes (we were both strictly lit people) but there were all sorts of things we missed out on.  For instance, neither of us was ever told the how behind good writing.  Hamlet is good, obviously, because it is full of important themes, three-dimensional lead character, and inventive language, but how Shakespeare did that is left a mystery.  (Actually, that really may be an unsolvable mystery.)  Another thing neither of us remember ever being taught is story structure.  A chart so simple it could have been drawn by a three-year-old showing rising and falling action doesn’t count.  We read dozens of novels, but never talked about how they were put together.  And we both heard plenty of rules.  In one class, I couldn’t use more than three “to be” verbs per page.  I can’t even tell you how many years it took me to overcome the circular writing style that nonsense created.  But we were never provided a coherent theory of good prose.

Ever since, we’ve been trying to figure it out for ourselves.  We’ve run across some great essays and books on writing, but as of now, there are three that we always end up going back to, the ones we constantly reference.  The ideas we try to implement.

For anyone out there who has yet to read this essay, I think the best summary I can give is this essay helped my circular writing problem more than anything else.  Clear, fresh prose leading to clear, fresh ideas.

This book covers so much more than just what’s in the title.  In the most famous section, Card describes the four kinds of stories, also sometimes referred to as the MICE quotient. This was one of the first books on writing I ever picked up and one of the two I go back to the most often.  The other being…

Like most budding fantasy writers, I’m a fan of the Writing Excuses podcast.  I had been listening for months, going back to the beginning and listening to every episode, but I’d never made J sit down and listen with me.  That is until I heard Lou Anders talking about the Hollywood Formula.  Last summer when we went to Gen Con, we were as excited to see Lou Anders hour-long presentation on this topic as we were to meet, well, Brandon Sanderson.  Lou Anders mentioned Schechter’s book, and I’m paraphrasing, as the only book on writing he truly likes.  Obviously, we had to grab a copy.  The 44 beat system described in the book has proven extremely helpful, and I now wonder how we ever wrote novels that weren’t gelatinous messes without it.



So it begins

Between the two of us, we’ve written 17  3/4 novels.

(Holy crap! I honestly hadn’t realized it was that many.)

Most of those are still lingering as first drafts, although our original 4 book series we wrote together (The Myrcia Quartet) has been through drafts uncountable.  We rewrote from the ground up the first book of that series (This Present Life) earlier this year.  After a few more touches, we think it might finally be time to do something crazy–try and sell it.  Of course, before that, we need to get it copy edited and do some homework on agents and publishers so we have some clue what to do with it.

We’re guessing this process might be an adventure.  And if not, writing itself it an adventure, especially with NaNoWriMo coming up.  (My next book in my fantasy/crime series in the Myrcia ‘verse is already outlined.  And when I say “outlined,” the outline is 11K words.)  We’ll probably end up talking all about our created universe, writing tips we’ve run across, and the kind of extreme outlining we do that leads to novel scheduled to run around 70K words having a 11K word outline.  And when we need a break from that, there’s always joy in ripping apart books and movies and trying to figure out why they work or don’t work. Continue reading