Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Keeping Track of Your Massive Cast

So you're writing a book with many, MANY characters.  How do you make sure you keep track of all of them?  How do you keep yourself from boring the reader with lengthy descriptions of each person's physical attributes?  How do you remember when and where you mention a character?

Well the first thing you need to do is MAKE NOTES!  I'll give you an example from my current WiP: I created a sports league with twelve teams made up of eight players per team.  That's 94 characters I need to create (because the two protagonists are also players in the league).  I'm handling this by writing down the complete league roster.

Any time I mention these members, I'll make a note of which chapter so that I can find the context without difficulty.  To be fair, most of the time a character is mentioned, it will be in the context of their team, but if you're writing a longer book, make more detailed notes.

But now the big one: physical attributes.  Question: what does Dean Thomas look like?  And don't describe the actor who played Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter movies.  What about Katie Bell?  The Patil twins?

Some of these characters played a significant role in the Harry Potter series, but we know very little about them based on the descriptions given.  THAT is how you keep the story from getting bogged down.  The protagonists – the characters always on the page – they're the ones who need to be properly three-dimensional.  The other people are set-pieces.  They need to come across as real people when they interact with the main characters (and when you make decisions on personality traits, note those in your character list), but otherwise, don't spend a lot of time on those cardboard cutouts.

Just make sure you show them from the proper angle.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Happy Memorial Day

For those of you who don't know, both of my grandfathers served in the US Military.  My sister-in-law is currently serving with the Navy's 5th fleet, a good friend is out in Germany with the Army, and two other friends are in the Army reserves.

This holiday means a lot to me.  My friends and family made huge sacrifices to serve this country, and I'm proud of them.

So take a moment to remember the men and women who served our country.  Thousands of lives have been lost to give us the freedoms that many take for granted, here.

If you're in the military, I thank you for what you do!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Three Day Weekend!

We have a three-day-weekend coming up, so I'm going to enjoy myself!

I'll put a real post up on Monday, but I have very little to say today.  So have a great weekend!  :D

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Official-Unofficial Contest Announcement

Start preparing because I am going to run a contest!  Why the pre-announcement?  Because I'm looking for short stories!

Here are the unofficial-official rules:

1. Entries must be no MORE than 350 words.

2. Entries must come from the United States only.  Sorry, but I'm going to be mailing a real prize (no money, just a doodad of some sort that I haven't picked out yet), and international rates are outside of my budget right now.

3. Entries must be e-mailed to me (e-mail address to be announced with the official-official contest announcement).  The entry must be EMBEDDED IN THE BODY OF THE E-MAIL.  Attachments will be deleted.

4. Entries that appear elsewhere are ineligible.  HOWEVER, as soon as the winner is announced, feel free to do whatever you like with your story.  Unless...

5. The Winner will have their story featured on this blog, both in the post-of-the-day and alongside other short stories that will be posted in my to-be-created short story page.  The Winner (and all other entrants) acknowledges that I do NOT own the property, but all entrants acknowledge that the Winner (and only the Winner) is giving me full permission to post their story on this blog for no LESS than 30 days (it'll remain up AT LEAST that long, but will ONLY be pulled down at the Winner's request.  Unless the blog shutters, gets lost, or an unforeseeable event forces me to remove it).  The winner also agrees to refrain from publishing the story on their own sight until the next post is published on this blog.  (Example: if the winning entry is published on Friday, the Winner will wait until Monday to put the story up on their own site.  If it's Monday, it can go up elsewhere Wednesday, and if Wednesday, then it can get published on Friday.)

6. There will be a limit of entrants TBD.

If I think of more rules (and I'm not going to try to), I'll add them to the official-official rules when I make the official-official announcement.


You are writing a Sensory Deprivation story.  THIS is why I'm giving you advanced notice.  Write a short story from the perspective of someone who cannot see or hear.  It can be any length (as long as it does not exceed 350...ish... I'm not a HUGE stickler, but if it goes TOO far beyond that, I'll disqualify you).  Beyond that, do whatever you like!  If your character could see at some point in the past, or hear at some point in the past, then that's fine but WHEN THE STORY IS HAPPENING, the character MUST be blind and deaf.  And NO FLASHBACKS.

This is a writing exercise in which I will participate (the first blog after the official-official announcement).

So get writing!  I'm judging this by myself, and I need to GET a prize, and I need to write the short story to kick off the contest, but as soon as that happens, I want to see your entries!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Tacos with Ketchup

I'm not sophisticated.  I like some things that sophisticates enjoy, but for the most part, I'm a simple man with simple tastes.  But if there was ever ANY time in our marriage where my wife was purely, blatantly, and even absurdly WRONG, it was when she told me that tacos require ketchup!

When we first got married, we didn't know you could buy taco seasoning (yeah, yeah, laugh it up), so we browned hamburger, grated cheese, and threw it on a tortilla.  I love salsa.  So I toss salsa on my taco and call it good!  But my The Wife insisted that ketchup is required to give the taco flavor!

Am I crazy?  Does that sound weird?  Don't get me wrong: I LOVE my wife!  But seriously?  Salsa has flavor!  It has spice!  It has ZING!!!

Ketchup is bland.  Sure, there's a hing of tanginess to it, but other than that, it has no panache, no pop.  And when offered salsa, she turned up her nose, grabbed the bottle of ketchup, and "pthbp!" Squeezed a healthy dose of red goo all over her shredded cheese, browned hamburger, and microwaved tortilla.

We've grown a lot over the years.  Now we season our meat.  We vary the style of cheese, and we don't buy ketchup.  I mean, really.  Who needs it?

And don't let her find out that I told you this, but I think I even saw her put salsa on her taco once!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Productive Procrastination

There's a fine line between working on your writing every day and grinding it into the ground.  That's why EVERY writing teacher (worth listening to) always recommends letting your work sit and simmer for a few days after you complete a draft.

"But Giles," you say, "my book is 100k words long.  By the time I get to the end of the last chapter, the beginning has stewed enough for me to look at it with fresh eyes!"

Well, you're wrong.  Not because you're wrong, but just because you are.  Whether or not that's ACTUALLY true, you NEED to take a breather!  Even if it's just a day.  Why?  Because if you don't, you'll start having imaginary conversations with random people who may or may not read your blog.

Take some time to rest.  Don't STOP writing.  Go free-write.  Read a book ABOUT writing.  Research your next project.  Create a character.  Write a short story.  But step away from the current project (unless you have a deadline looming!).

NOW the question is, what should you do with your free time?  How should you relax?  Since I just started it, and I found out how fun it is, I recommend home-brewing.  But if that's not your thing, there are board games, card games, RPGs, video-games... wait, you don't do that either?  How about knitting?  Bike-riding, jogging, (exercise is VERY good for you, and it stimulates your brain!).  Learn a new language.  Take up painting (my condo is in need of a few coats... or a nice Monet).

The point is, if you work to hard, you'll turn out crappy writing, and you'll burn out.  It's a double-whammy of MAJOR reasons why you should find a hobby.

See you Monday!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Writing Food

What's your favorite food to eat while you write?

Personally, I love Doritos.  And chili.  I have chili cooking in the crock pot at home, and a pitcher of sweat tea awaits me, too.  I'm not actually FROM the south, but I spent enough time there as a kid that I learned to love sweat tea!

So tell me, what's your favorite meal?  Any recipes to share?

Monday, May 14, 2012


So I meant to put together a vlog for today.  Unfortunately, vlogging is genuinely difficult.  Not very difficult, but it does require more planning than I expected.

I've put together a few updates on video format before, but I've never used that approach for a writing topic.  I wanted to discuss how to keep track of large casts of characters as you write your novel, and I didn't put together any notes.

When I sit down to write a blog, I often free-form my way through the post, going back to edit when I'm done, and then I simply post it.  But with this topic, I found that making a video would require an outline of notes, some slides to put up for viewers to take notes, and then several takes to ensure a decent post.  I didn't have the time for any of that stuff this weekend.  And I REFUSE to put up a video post that isn't up to my standards.  To be honest, they're not ridiculously high standards, but I want the video to come out well.  I don't want to throw some crap up and hope you like it.

So instead, I'm writing about vlogging.  I'm going to put together that vlog at some point, but right now I have a synopsis to edit as I get free time.

Wednesday will come with an announcement, so I'll see you then!

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Hard Stuff

I don't know about any of you, but when I was a kid, I had a tendency to finish the difficult tasks I was given before I moved on to the easy tasks.  I did this because I knew that the longer I put them off, the harder it would be for me to finish those tasks.  And I saw the easy, sometimes fun, tasks as my "reward" for doing the hard stuff I desperately needed accomplish.

I'm actually disappointed that writing doesn't work this way for me.  That's because I LOVE writing.  I wish I could finish the synopsis, the query letter, and ALL of the editing so that I could reward myself with the first draft.  Okay, the second draft is actually my favorite part of the process, but you see what I mean.  I have to outline first (which is fun), then write the book, then edit, then re-edit, then write the synopsis and query letter, and THEN I can go out and talk to agents.

It's funny how life works that way, sometimes.  But this is STILL what I love!  :D

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Research is Fun

Many years ago (which is strange to say, but stranger because it's true), I came up with a character who will remain in my top five favorite fictional characters of all time.  I'm pretty sure that, even if I never get a traditional publishing deal with this character, I will eventually (when I have the experience to do so) put out books staring this character.  Of course my goal is traditional publishing, but that's not important right now.

What IS important is the occupation of this character's father.  And brother.  And grandfather.  They all own a brewery together (and a farm, but that's just to make sure they have the ingredients they need).  It's a family affair, and the protagonist of my story isn't involved in the business.  He doesn't really want to be involved, but he loves his family, and they play an important role in the background of my novel.

Now, I don't know much about brewing beer despite taking THREE tours of the Coors facility in Golden.*  The process has always fascinated me (and by always, I mean for at least four years).  So yesterday The Wife and I brewed our very first, ever, batch of beer at home!

I took pictures, and I will take more when we bottle, and then I'll post them here when we have a chance to sample the beer!  It was a lot of fun, but exhausting.  It took longer than I expected because our stove isn't as efficient as a gas stove, and I washed my hands more times than I thought possible just to make sure I didn't contaminate any of the containers or ingredients.

I didn't really learn a ton: it's mostly just taking the ingredients from a kit and following the instructions.  Like having Cracker Barrel ship you their food.  They pre-package everything and give you heating instructions.  That's pretty much what I did.

I do know that next time I'm going to have more ice on hand to cool the wort faster.  I'd like to get a wort cooling coil, but I don't have the cash for that yet.

Anyway, if YOU have some research to do for YOUR story, I recommend doing it!  Hobbies are fun, they educate you, and they're a darn site better than watching TV all night :).

Question Time: What research projects have you enjoyed for your writing?  What projects have you avoided because you don't know how difficult it would be?  Or you're scared?  Which projects terrified you, but you did them anyway?  And how did it turn out?

*Sarcasm.  There's a lot of basic information about how to make beer throughout the Coors tour, but it's hardly definitive.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Coffee and Donuts

I love junk food.  Especially donuts and good coffee.  It tastes great, and it makes me feel like an adult.  I don't know why, but it does.

Life is odd.  Sometimes (for me), the things that should make me feel like an adult just remind me of how much growth I still have ahead of me.  Home-ownership, for example, has taught me that I am actually mature enough to pay a mortgage, but I desperately hate the responsibility of taking care of my home.  I thought about that the other day when I remembered that I want to get rid of the carpet in my condo.  Sure, it's mine, so I can make that decision, but there's a big part of me that would rather shrug and say, "It's not my problem."  You know, because someone else owns the place.

Writing, on the other hand, makes me realize how much I've grown since I "became and adult."  I make the decisions that will lead me toward success.  And I take responsibility for the decisions that prevent me from making progress.

I'm not sure where this twisting, winding tangent is going, but it's nice to think about donuts, coffee, a day job, a career, and my own home.  And it all comes back to the coffee and donuts.

Man, I wish I'd grabbed some donuts on my way in to work today.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Hotdogs With Peanut Sauce

So last weekend I decided to get adventurous with a hotdog from a local Belgian Frites shop.  You see, they just recently added hotdogs to their menu, and they make ALL of their sauces from scratch on location.  I wanted something new.  Something I've never had before.  Catchup and BBQ Sauce didn't sound quite right for me, especially since we had BBQ Sauce with our fries.  And I hate mustard and mayonnaise.  But they had a Thai peanut sauce.  It was AWESOME!  So awesome that I've been craving another one all week.

Life is a lot like that, too.  Sometimes, it's great to just try something new.  It may turn out to be one of the weirdest things you've ever done, but that's not always a bad thing.  So go take a risk.  Have fun.  You may discover that you've been missing out on something great!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Charity of the Month: Samaritan's Purse

So, I know this is the third time that I've featured this charity, but as many of you know, the mid-west has been plagued with tornadoes recently.  They desperately need help!  Please head over to Samaritan's Purse and donate to their disaster relief fund.

If you're interested, they sent out a message to donors recently that discussed their work in Uganda.  I know Kony is a big deal to some people, and this organization has been working against his regime for over a decade.  If that is where your concern lies, then Samaritan's Purse can give you the opportunity to help the people of Uganda.

They have many other causes to donate to, as well.  You'd be surprised how far $10 (the minimum donation) can go.