Sometimes you can get interesting details that can be used in stories–or are just plain interesting. This video talks about the impact of zero gravity on the sense of smell.
This post comes from one of my newsletter tips and was requested by Harvey Stanbrough. I’m planning on eventually doing a workbook, and now, come to think of it, it might need a book itself.
I’m working on book 4 of my GALCOM Universe series. When I wrote the first book, it started as a short story for an anthology call and turned into a novel. Halfway through, I realized I’d stumbled into a series. By the time I got to Book 3, I knew I needed a series bible. Most of the examples I found were uninspiring. Even the variation from Dean Wesley Smith (Research for Fiction Writers workshop) didn’t do much for me (my creative brain is very fickle).
The term “series bible” comes out of TV. A typical TV show may have so many different writers come on the show. The series bible is a guide for the series so that they know Captain Kirk is from Iowa or Gibbs Rule #9 (“Never go anywhere without a knife”). It just helps keep track of continuity details. At least that’s how I’m defining it. Jane Friedman adds things like snippets of dialogue, which I don’t really get. The dialogue comes in naturally as part of the story, so snippets of random dialogue would be flotsam. But I digress.
My Guiding Principles
It shouldn’t be a lot of work to do.
The priority should be on the writing, not on filling out endless worksheets and questionnaires.
It shouldn’t turn into a junk drawer.
Really, it is possible to track too much information. A lot of my decisions about whether to include something start with: Am I going to use this again?
It should be easy to scan through.
Seriously, you’re in the middle of the scene and you can’t remember the number of people on your space station. Do you really want to spend fifteen minutes hunting it down or get the information so you can starting writing again? There are priorities.
I have my character one here because it’s the one that has the most details, and they’re always changing:
- JOB BACKGROUND
- FAMILY GROWING UP
- FAVORITE FOODS
Appearance, contrary to just about everything I’ve seen, does not include eye color. I don’t notice it unless it’s very unusual like Elizabeth Taylor’s violet eyes. I would tend to assume most characters wouldn’t notice either. It’s just what’s in the stories.
Clothing is the style of clothes the character wears, favorite colors (if I’ve mentioned it). Most of my characters are military, but they’ve worn civilian clothes. One of the characters wears sweats to sleep because he expects to be woken up in the middle of the night. Stuff like that.
Job Background is essentially what crops up in the story about the person’s military career.
Family growing up – my main character (the team lead) has extensive details about what her life was like growing up (ghosts do not make for a good family life).
Favorite Foods – well, if you’ve had any of Dean Wesley Smith’s workshops, you know that the five senses are pretty important. The characters eat a lot, and they have favorite things like chocolate (well, someone has to!).
Tags – These are things about each character that gets repeated over and over. An example is Jack Reacher being a really big guy. Just read one of the books and see how many times it gets brought into the story.
Dialect – I included dialect because I started doing it for some of the characters (thanks to another workshop and a skill I want to work on). One of the characters is a Hoosier. I looked up a lot of dialect for him for Cursed Planet, put them in Scrivener, then deleted that file once I compiled the final version.
Yeah. So I had to redo the research when that character became the main character in last stand. The dialect includes some common words, and also some general rules like adding an s onto words. (“We haven’t been down to the planet’s.” It’s still a work in progress. I know it looks like a typo.).
I’m also thinking about what I want to do for setting and timelines. Timeline would most likely be dated events that I mention. In the current story, I mention the Gold Rush days, which is 75 years ago.
One of the biggest things about the series bible is that it’s time saver. Writers tend not to think of their time as valuable, but every moment you have to spend hunting down information is time not available for writing.
Just got the cover for my upcoming book, Digital Minimalism: Reduce Clutter on Your Computer Now. The book will be out on January 29.
If you feel constantly overwhelmed by the amount of files…if you waste time looking for files you know you saved somewhere…
You’re not alone. I’ve been there.
Between a full time day job with mounds of paperwork every day and indie publishing, I was drowning in files. Not only couldn’t I find files I’d saved, it was like walking into a cluttered room. I was miserable and stressed out.
There had to be a better way!
I’m not a productivity expert. But in this book, I’m going to share with you what I did to get my files in order and stop being overwhelmed.
This is an interesting video on both the technicolor process and some film history. Contrary to popular belief, The Wizard of Oz was not the first technicolor movie. But watch on:
Since it’s the New Year, I thought I’d write about my creative process from beginning to end.
I have a bunch of random ideas that I pluck when I’m ready. Most of them are pretty vague. Like in my writing group, we were talking about a movie with giant robots, so I thought that would be kind of cool for a story. Can robots be ghosts?
Start the story
Then I start the story. I don’t do any prep. I don’t figure out any major events of the story or come up with the ending. Nothing of what typically gets recommended that writers “should” do. If I do any of those things, the critical voice takes over and wrecks the story.
I just follow the front of the story. It’s hard in the beginning. In fact, it’s sometimes really scary starting the story. Part of me is screaming, “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” That’s critical brain freaking out. It feels like that scene in Indiana Jones where he steps off the cliff and has to trust that he’s doing the right thing. Writing like this is really about trusting yourself. I’ve found that while the beginning is always scary, it gets easier to manage the more I write.
I sort of write in order and sort of don’t. I may hop ahead in a scene and write something, then hop back and write something, then rearrange things. Other things come out of the story right away, and I dropped those in an extras file so I can still count it as part of my word count. Scrivener will show a negative word count if I delete too much, even though I’ve done a lot of work. My process is very messy though while creative brain tries out different things. It may be like a fussy dog that picks up a bone, then abandons it, then goes back to it again (in my case, types the sentence I just moved to extras file), abandons it again, and find works around that it really wanted this other bone.
The first chapter usually comes out pretty stable. Most of what’s in it will be what I use when I’m done. That wasn’t always the case, but something that evolved as I added new writing skills. It used to be that I started in the wrong place and it was hard figuring out where that was. That’s why doing more stories—and not repeating the same mistakes—has been so helpful.
After that, I write and cycle. Cycling is something that many writers mistake for revision or editing (terms they use interchangeably and shouldn’t). The definitions:
Revision/Editing: Oh no! This is horrible! What was I thinking when I wrote that? It’s garbage. I have to fix it.
Tweak that word. Tweak this word. I have to make it perfect.
Cycling: This way cool thing just came into my story. I have to go back to chapter 2 and add a paragraph for it. Hmm. And maybe I need a scene with this character, too. Ooh, and I just got this idea! (shuffles off to Chapter 9.)
My cycling is more random than other writers describe it. They typically go back a scene or 500 words. I tend to bounce around the story like a pinball machine. The scenes all connect in my head, so if I adding something to one scene, those brain cells fire and remind me that it’s in another scene, too. A lot of it is adding a sentence or two.
The key to cycling is to not leave any big issues unfinished. That’s where revision itself becomes extra work—if an important scene is left for the revision because it’s too hard (guilty), then everything that follows will be broken because of that missing scene. Cycling forces me to think about why something is not working instead of skipping it.
I also use cycling for proofreading. I make many, many passes over the story to catch typos. Considering how many I know I make, I’ve been impressed that my copy editor typically only finds one or two in an entire novel—and it’s usually a harder one that was easy to miss. Like typing statement instead of stateroom, which I do pretty regularly.
As I get near the climax of the story, I’ll get an irresistible urge to cycle through the entire story. I’ll start at the beginning and scan through it. I’m looking for more typos and stubs that don’t fit in with the story. My creative side likes to puts stuff in, and a lot of it I do use. But sometimes it puts something in and then forgets it’s there and never uses it. I used to have a lot of stubs at one point—attempting outlining caused them to breed. My creative side wasn’t happy that critical side was directing the story, so it left them everywhere, including way out of order. Then, it was hundreds of stubs. Now it’s two or three.
Finishing the Story
This part of the process is making sure everything is pulled together and fits so I can hit the ending at a run without worrying about anything else. Then it’s write straight through to the end and cycle a few more times to make sure I’ve nailed the ending…and the story is done.
The whole process keeps evolving. Next year, it’ll probably be different.
Comet TV has been running the 1970s science fiction show, Space 1999. They had a New Year’s Eve marathon, so I tuned in on and off during the day.
The History of the Show
It ran two seasons and starred Martin Landau and Barbara Bain. They manned a base on the moon that was used to store nuclear waste. The nuclear waste then exploded with enough force that it knocked the moon out of orbit.
According to my Google Fu, the producers were puzzled at the negative comments they got at the time. They didn’t understand why viewers didn’t give the show the suspension of disbelief that Star Trek got (yup, there’s a reason). The show was cancelled after the first season, but the producers were able to negotiate to bring it back. Fred Freilberger was at the helm (Star Trek), and he made it more action-focused. But it didn’t fix the overall issue, and it was cancelled a second time.
Writer’s Hat On
The suspension of disbelief issues started with the a message in the story. The producers wanted to show that nuclear waste was bad. They got on a soapbox and wrapped the whole series around the moon being blown out of orbit.
The characters simply react to the next thing the moon drifts near, and then the moon drifts away. The entire setup of the show kept them from having any kind of control over their own fate. In one episode, they drifted near an alien planet. Aliens did not want them on the planet, but inexplicably send rockets to the moon to give it atmosphere for a little while, then pulled back the rockets. The moon drifted away. And?
The characters couldn’t get rescued.
They couldn’t settle on a planet.
Above all, they couldn’t even protag.
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with goals. My tendency is to set them too aggressively, and then a little voice steps in and informs me that I’m not getting any of them. I remember setting a goal of 10 books in a year in one of Dean Wesley’s Smith’s workshops. How many did I get that year? None.
Big change this year was one of the issues with my day job cleared up. I was the only one doing a job for at least two people. When I took leave, the work stopped and nothing got done, so I was perpetually behind and stressed out. Imagine having hard stop deadlines that must be completed and then having a crisis that sucks up an entire week. That was a normal for me. It made it hard to come home and do actual writing. A lot of times, I’d hit the weekend, when I should have lots of time for writing, and all I could do was … nothing. I’d tried Writing in Public until suddenly everything collided at once, and it was just too much for me.
This was a novel that was the result of Writing in Public. I did a redraft of the story because I knew I had structural issues. This was an area I had a lot of trouble with for years, and the only solution craft books provided was to outline. Somehow, I was supposed to get structure from outlining, and instead, it broke my stories.
The Novel Structure workshop had been available for several months from Dean Wesley Smith, but my creative brain went for the Research for Fiction Writers first. Then it wanted the Novel Structure, and then Secondary Plots, and then Teams. One right after another. It was an interesting few months!
This book also marked my first professionally designed cover. I realized that I was never going to get into paper books if I didn’t have someone else design the cover. I have a PC and not a Mac, where the software is readily available and easy to use, and I haven’t had the energy to spend trying to figure out what to do to create it.
This was my first book in the GALCOM series, inspired partially by the Ghost on Drugs anthology call–it was a short story that turned into a novella. Kevin J. Anderson did a call for military science fiction for a story bundle. My head went, “It’s not military science fiction.” It has military in it, but the main character is a civilian. But I pasted in the information and the links, and next thing I know, I’m in a StoryBundle. Holy cow! Someone even wrote me and said it sounded like something Baen would publish!
This is the second book in the series. It’s up with the cover designer now for a face-lift and a print cover. I’m also thinking of doing a large print version.
And it’s getting a name change to Ghost Ship.
I love the original title. It fits the book.
And it’s the same name as a travel book series. No one’s ever going to be able to find it. So title change it is! The new cover and title should be out sometime in March, or possibly late February. Depends on when I get the cover.
Digital Minimalism: Reduce the Clutter on Your Computer Now
This is a non-fiction book that was the result of attending the BookBaby conference and hearing Joanna Penn speak. The title is an Amazon search keyword, and when I searched on it, I found a New York release for February 4 on that topic. So it became my first attempt at meeting a deadline, which was December 31 to allow me another three weeks to get copy edits, a cover, and a print/ebook build. I finished the book two weeks early, and it’s in with a friend for copy editing. Cover will be premade.
The book will be released on January 29. I’m hoping that when people go in to buy the other book, they’ll see mine below and buy it, too.
This year, I decided I’m done with short stories for now, and this time I’m going to stick with it. I’ve always thought if I could nail a pro published story–and I was getting personal rejects from pro editors–it would help my sales. However, the market contracted for me this year. Too many of the pro markets have been focusing on political topics. As reader, if I ran across an anthology with an obvious political subject, I’d pass it on it. While it’s impossible to avoid politics (especially in science fiction), I don’t want someone to get on a soap box and lecture me on it. Not fun for this reader. I doubt if it would even be worth the time to write the story, especially since it would likely never fit into the calls.
Besides, I need to focus on longer fiction, and my series fiction, particularly.
I stepped off the deep and started a mailing list this year. If you’re interested in signing up, you’ll get five very short emails a week. Includes writing tips, some videos/podcast, and whatever else I find that is interesting.
New for 2019
This if the fourth book in the series and my commitment to simply hit a deadline I set. So January 31. This one takes what I learned in all four of those workshops from a year ago and is doing something I always wanted to do: More action. I get to blow up a space station!
I’m also going to plan to get some reviews for this one.
A new historical mystery series with Al Travers, private investigator. It’s set in 1947, Los Angeles, California, and the character is connected with Hollywood. It’s an interesting time in history because World War II has just ended, and the studio system is about to end. This one is a product of the Research for Fiction Writers workshop. I read books on this era when I was growing up. And I grow up in Los Angeles in the 1970s–it wouldn’t have been that different from the 1940s.
I haven’t decided on a deadline for this yet. I’m going to Superstars in early February, so I’m not sure how that’s going to impact my time. I may alternate with this and the GALCOM titles because this will have a different cover artist (the one who did Cursed Planet only does SF and Fantasy). Gives me a chance to be more flexible on schedules and still get books out.
I also have titles for additional GALCOM books, though I haven’t decided on what’s next. But they are:
- Giant Robots (from my writing group. Brought back memories of Johnny Socco and his Giant Flying Robot.)
- Space Murder (inspired by a premade cover that said Deep Space Murder. Ghosts and murder..yeah, I could deal.)
- Zombie Planet (no clue other than the title…but zombies and ghosts…mmmm.).
- Space Pirates (ghosts and pirates)
- Space Ghost (it’s an Amazon search term)
- Shuttle Crash (really, how can I not do a story like this?)
- Most Dangerous Planet (probably not the final title, but it’s a version of Most Dangerous Game)
- Ship Graveyard (inspired by an episode of Space 1999, but really, a staple of all action-adventure).
Any title anyone wants to see?
Travel Tips for Writers (tentative title)
A non-fiction book on some aspects of travel no one talks about. Everyone else talks about how to get the best deals. Mine’s on the parts that get people into trouble if they don’t pay attention. My day job is travel administrator, so this is a topic that will play to an expertise. I’ll use a premade cover.
Writer’s Toolkit: Time Saving Strategies
This is a book that was the result of my day job. I was so overwhelmed at one point that I was reading all kinds of time management books. One was on systems and talked about going through processes to identify unnecessary steps. So I went on a hunt to do that for my work-related tasks. But there are a lot of places where writers add unnecessary steps.
I’m also pondering doing a book on Scrivener for Windows and one on picking writing workshops without getting burned or scammed.
That’s going to be the start of my year.
What did you accomplish in 2018? What do you want to accomplish in 2019?
This is a beautiful song that gets played every year in Washington, DC.
This was sparked by a comment on one of Dean Wesley Smith’s posts (the one from Jay on December 10).
It was along the lines of “Do I really have to put myself out in social media to sell books? I’m not comfortable putting out information about myself.”
The comment could have been written by me.
I started out doing actor David Hedison’s website. We wanted to keep a barrier between his personal life and the fans. The fans? They would have asked for his underwear size and what type if they could.
And I was seeing people put everything out. One writer started listing the medication she was on in her blog, and it wasn’t cold medicine. Way too much information!
Having been in the military, this level of information flow bothered me. We’re trained over and over “Loose lips sink ships.”
But I kept seeing that Twitter was the big thing. Everything I saw said to post 10 times a day to get any kind of visibility—when the heck did anyone write anyway?
So I tried Twitter.
Then, it was about the numbers. You had so many followers, or got a certain score. Services allowed you to follow people and hopefully they followed you back. And it was all shiny and new.
There was one writer I ran across who had 8,000 followers. I was astounded. How had he managed that? His books must be selling up a storm!
His books were riddled with typos and poorly written. Everyone liked him on Twitter. Couldn’t give him the time of day with his books. He eventually tried short stories because they took less time to produce and disappeared eventually.
I tolerated Twitter for a while. I quickly found that if you’re a writer, you get followed by other writers who spam you about their books. Or if you’re on a hashtag associated with writing, you’ll get spammed. I did a social media class on blogging and Twitter and we had a nice discussion on the hashtag. Then a writer started sending autotweets promoting herself to the group. The members tried tweeting her. Then they tried email. Then they reported her as spam to Twitter and got her suspended. She got back on and started right up with more spam. One of the members finally joined her Facebook group and openly posted to her board where everyone else could see and asked why she was spamming us. She denied it, but the tweets stopped.
By then, I’d had my fill of Twitter. Way too hard to keep up. Definitely not fun, and I’m sure it showed. I’m an introvert, and Twitter made me feel like I was dragged to a party for mandatory fun (it’s an Army thing).
During this I took a writer’s social media course. I’d been blogging for several years at that point but I wasn’t getting much traffic. The course was kind of a cheerleading session more than anything. We all came up with log lines to fit our blog. I had a lot of trouble with mine…I suppose because it felt too personal.
Then it was blog three times a week, and all the other writers would visit and comment. Cheerleaders.
I was the first blog everyone dropped off from. It was humiliating. Was I really that bad?
(In hindsight, it was likely because I was trying not to post writing how-tos.)
But within about two months, all of them started dropping off their blogs. They said blogging was interfering with their writing. They were writing 2,000 word blog posts, revising them extensively….well, you can see how it self-destructed. A lot of them have disappeared. A few are still writing.
Since then, I’ve seen writers saying that writing a book is 90% market and 10% writing. There ain’t a lot of writing going on with those numbers.
I like Joanna Penn’s idea of marketing much better—marketing should be such that you only have to do minimal work. More time for writing.