Pantoom

Posted: March 5, 2013 in Writing Paranormal Fiction
Tags: , ,

I am stuck in both my murder mysteries, so I’m trying something more familiar: fantasy. In this case, a fantasy story called “The Over Sheriff of Pantoom.”

Min Zhao is appointed to be the new Over Sheriff. Why does Naomi the Sea Witch need an Over Sheriff? Because while most of her citizens live in Pantoom, some travel over the Great Plains and live here, in modern day America. One of them, a particularly troublesome Tinker, has something that belongs to Naomi, and she wants Min Zhao to get it back. Oh, and just to make things more interesting, Naomi sends along a shape shifting young mega bat named Pilgrim. It goes down hill from there.

Good fun. No trouble putting out 250-500 words a day on a fantasy-adventure story.  I’ll see if I can post a bit here later.

Photo of a calendar.

Any method will work, if YOU will.

As a general rule, you should write every day. A page a day will take you a long way. Don’t know the story? Work it out by writing it down.

This isn’t carved in stone. Sometimes you need a break, especially if you are completely lost in your story or just overwhelmed by LIFE (drama is lots more fun in the page or the stage, than in real life). To keep you on track, to keep you going, to inspire you and give you a sense of accomplishment, try recording your progress.

Just take a month-at-a-glance calendar and on today’s date write “Five pages.” Tomorrow, you may write six pages. So write down “Six pages,” or even just the number “Six.” Maybe you would rather use hash marks or Xes. For a long time, I would draw a circle, put cross hairs in it and fill in one of the four sections for each 15 minutes of writing. My standard was to fill in a least one sections per day (that’s 15 minutes of writing, or about one page). Any system that is fast and easy and that you enjoy using, will work just fine.

Story not going anywhere?

Look at your month-on-one-page calendar, and you’ll probably find that your story isn’t going  anywhere because You Ain’t Writing It!

I am sitting in Morgan’s Creamery dreaming about my story, “Headless at the Hotel du Monde.” It is good to find a comfortable place to dream up new scenes. The trick is to find a place with enough people and activity so you don’t fall asleep while you’re dreaming.

Of course, free Wi-Fi is nice too, as long as you use it to access your DropBox account and download your manuscript and not to search out the meanings of obscure Hopi words like Taiowa (I dare you to not look it up).

One nice thing about being here is my wife can stop by after work. “Working on your story?” she’ll ask. “Well, ah, just doing a quick blog post.” “Hmmm.” So, back to work. (Slave driver.)

A close shot of paranormal fiction author Rodney Robbins.The process of using paper and pen is going well on my paranormal fiction novel. I can write freely that way. No kinky power cords. No heavy laptop. No boot up delays, tricky passwords or awkward keystroke combinations. I open my nice feeling leather folio, grab my pen and start writing.

I leave a space between lines. Then, when I go back and read, or desperately change my mind as I’m writing, I can quickly and easily add a bit more description or cross out and insert a different word. The actual typing is easy, even with lots of changes, because there is lots of room. The text is clear and easy to transcribe.

So far, I’m on page 15 of “Headless at the Hotel du Monde.” The story is flowing well. Some of this may be that the writing process is very letter like, and the story reads like a love letter from a widower to his lost bride. Maybe it’s the combination, but so far, the voice and the writing process are working well together.

I hope to read you an excerpt soon. I’ll post it here, probably as a video of me reading (with expression). Why a boring video? Well, a boring video is probably less boring and more simple to produce than a good audio. I’ll find out for sure when I get up off my lazy assets and actually record the darned thing.

MP900385307[1]

Just a quick update: I’m taking a little break from “Gold Wings are Murder.” I just wanted to stretch my legs and relax my fingers on something “easier” than a classic mystery novel (darned plot points). So, I pulled out pen and paper and started back working on my “Hotel du Monde” series. “Headless at the Hotel du Monde” has an interesting structure–love letters from a widower that detail mysterious happenings at an old hotel–including murder!

Photo of a novel manuscript.

Pen and paper works GREAT for writing novels.

So, I’m reading a highly recommended book about plotting your novel. The author gives the classic advice that a good plot needs a strong lead character who truly WANTS something, but an equally strong force tries to stop her. In the end, she gets what she wants (drama) or fails to get what she wants (tragedy). After thinking about the author’s example of “The Wizard of Oz” movie, all I can say is, what a load of CRAP!

At the start of the movie, Dorothy kinda wants ta leave Kansas and go “somewhere over the rainbow.” At that point, Dorothy kinda sorta hopes-thinks-longs-a-bit to leave her home. That is certainly NOT a strong, interesting, dynamic lead character who truly, madly, deeply WANTS something.

  • Then Miss Gulch wants to have Toto killed. So, Dorothy needs to save her dog. She does, in fact, want that badly enough to leave EVERYTHING she knows behind. Ah, dramatic need!
  • But no, as soon as the Wizard in the wagon reminds her that people will miss her, she wants to go back home.
  • She gets almost home and sees the tornado. Then she wants to get into the storm shelter.
  • The house gets carried away. So, Dorothy just wants to survive.
  • Then she lands in Oz, and just wants to know what the heck is going on.
  • Glinda gives Dorothy the Ruby Slippers (that rightfully belong to the Wicked Witch of the East’s next of kin, the Wicked Witch of the West). Dorothy doesn’t want them, but she gets stuck with them anyway.
  • Then Dorothy, who doesn’t WANT to see the Wizard, never heard of the Wizard, doesn’t care about the Wizard, is told by Glinda, to go see him. That is not a strong dramatic need, but Dorothy takes off walking.
  • On the way, she happens to meet a Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman. and a Cowardly Lion. Not that she was looking for friends, or looking to avoid meeting new people. They just sort of bump into each other.
  • Dorothy is confronted with snarky talking apple trees that just want to keep their own apples, and the Witch shows up again, wanting HER slippers back. (Now the WWotW has a true, clear dramatic need. She want’s her slippers!) And gets through the poppy fields with a little unexpected, uncalled for, help from Glinda.
  • They see the Wizard, and he tells her to go kill the Wicked Witch of the West. Does Dorothy WANT that? No. She kinda wants to go home, but is having a great time in Oz, and she doesn’t even know why she should keep those stupid red shoes. If anything, she just wants the WWotW to leave her alone. A weak, mild, negative need.

Does this meet the classic plot structure of a strong, dynamic lead who really REALLY wants something and meets opposition along the way? I say no, not at all, not even close. By the end of the movie, Dorothy is back in Kansas where Toto’s life is once again in danger. She has dithered around and put Toto’s live in danger AGAIN. Great job, Dorothy!

Very popular story. NOTHING like the classic plot structure. Dorothy is thrown hither and yon, pushed this way, pulled that way, forced into situations she did not want and does not understand. All while just trying to hang on and stay alive–with perhaps a little help from her friends. Sounds more like real life than the classic plot to a novel.

Once again, the writing teachers have it all wrong. Don’t trust them. Don’t listen to them. Stop reading their advice. Stop reading writing books and start reading real books, novels, short stories, poetry. Get out there in the real world. Start writing. Keep writing. Keep dreaming up stories. Keep writing down plots, YOUR plots, your story outlines, your story structures, your ideas. Better to write and ruin a dozen novels than to waste your time reading the crap that passes for writing advice in American colleges and book stores.

Stop reading this drivel and go dream up a story already!

It is Rare Disease Day

Posted: February 29, 2012 in Health

Yes, it is February 29th–Rare Disease Day–and I’ve got a dozzie! Well, three dozzies actually.

I get migraines, but not just migraines: I have classic migraine with auras. All the auras. What’s an aura? Auras are weird things that happen before you get the actual headache: flashing lights, mood swings, phantom smells, strange sensations. Lights hurt. Sounds hurt. Heck, if a bad one is coming, people’s faces start to look weird, kind of cubist. But migraines, even migraine with aura, aren’t all that rare. About 1 person in 10 gets migraine headaches.

I also have Celiac Disease. This is an autoimmune disorder where eating wheat, barley, rye and probably oats turns on the immune system and tell it to attack the lining of the small intestine. Even a tenth of a crumb of toast every day can start to destroy the small intestine. I never, ever, knowingly eat any of those bad grains.

Experts used to think Celiac Disease was rare and found only in skinny, malnourished children with diarrhea. Not necessarily so. Celiac Disease leads to all kinds of weird symptoms of malnutrition. B-vitamins, calcium  and essential fats are lost first. Celiac can mimic all kinds of things and lead to serious long term consequences, even death. About one person in every 100 has Celiac Disease.

But along with all that annoying bother, I also have a really rare disease: Periodic Paralysis (or PP for short). We’re talking really rare here–maybe one person in every 100,00o has Periodic Paralysis. While I don’t usually end up completely paralyzed, I often loose my hands from too much typing, and often have days where I am weak or feel flat. I feel flat because my muscles are half paralyzed. Long term, PP can destroy muscle cells, especially muscles in the upper legs–you know, the ones we need to walk! Triggers include cold, heat, exercise, stress/excitement, eating too many carbs, not eating enough food, heck, I’m pretty sure sun spots and the phases of the moon can throw me off. PP affects everything I do, every plan I make, every dream I dream. The main character in my “Hotel Du Monde” mysteries has Periodic Paralysis.

So, as you go about your day, spare a thought to those living with a rare disease. Rare disease or not, sometimes life sucks. If you can, please take a moment today and light a candle to all who suffer, but are not comforted.

Yellow candles burning against a red background.

Remember those who suffer but are not comforted.

Rodney Robbins here. I’m using a new software program for novels and I like it a lot. The program is called Scrivener and it is now available for Windows programs. Mac lovers may have heard of this program before. Or, you may have heard of a similar program called yWriter5. I have both plus, of course, MS-Word.

Scrivener and yWriter5 are similar in that they are specifically designed for professional writers working on large documents. MS-Word is fine for editing and layout of a finished document, but it is just not in the same league for writing a book length project. With the real writing software, each chapter or section is treated as a separate file in its own folder. Detailed information is attached to the file. It is almost like paper clipping a note card, summary page or research notes to each chapter you write. The files are kept handy so you can find them, work on them or rearrange them with ease.

For me, I found yWriter5 a bit too complicated. I liked the idea, but found the interface busy. There was more than I needed with yWritere5. On the other hand, Scrivener has may of the same features with a simpler, more visual interface that I liked better. The word processing power is there, but perhaps one layer away. Maybe it is the Mac influence (for ages, Scrivener was only available for Apple computers).

In Scrivener, the screen is divided into three sections. The section on the left is called the Binder. The Binder is like the folders view in Windows, but it only shows folders related to the open document. The larger central section is for writing, holding your plot cards or looking at an outline of your novel. On the right is the Synopsis section. It holds the plot card and other data that is “clipped” to the writing section you are working on.

  • So, yWriter5 is free and certainly worth a look. It is written by an award winning author and lots of people use it.
  • Scrivener is under $50 and well worth the money as it is an elegant program designed specifically for the needs of professional writers working on long documents.
  • MS-Word costs over $100, but you probably already own it.You can get some of this functionality using by using the Document Map function and naming each section using Heading Tags, but it’s a work around.

In my opinion, Word is not nearly as good for actually working on a story–moving scenes, keeping research handy, following multiple story lines and such–compared to the other two options. (Plus, I just hate the new Ribbon in the 2010 version of Word. All the functions are moved around willy-nilly with no apparent logic.) You may want to edit or layout your final document in Word, but there are better options for writing a 400 page novel.

So, for me, I really like the power and simplicity of Scrivener and highly recommend you give it a try. On the other hand, your mind may enjoy the detail offered by yWriter5. While you may end up using MS-Word for your final edits, it lacks the features novelists need for handling large, complicated stories with multiple chapters, scenes, plot lines and related research, notes, settings and character arcs.

Try Scrivener. I think you’ll like it.

UPDATE

I downloaded the new 2.9.1 version of Celtx script writing and pre-production software onto my Toshiba Windows 7 laptop and it worked great. I love this program for writing stage plays and screenplays because it lets me just type without having to worry about the technology. However, when I tried to use my download link to put the paid version on my iMac (not a problem with the paid license), I couldn’t get it to work. I actually use this program fairly frequently, so I downloaded the updated free version to the iMac and that went fine. I’ll give Celtx a call and see if they have an explanation for why I couldn’t get it to work on my Mac (my guess would be the shopping cart knew I was on a PC the first time, and so my download link is PC only). You’ll know more when I know more. Check back soon.

ORIGINAL POST

So far, I’ve written a new straight play and a new musical using the free Celtx writing and pre-production software. I went to work on a little something today and saw they had an upgrade available (free) and a $10 Writer’s Pack. I figured I’d give it a try, but it was not to be. There is a bug in the purchase process. I tried 5-6 times to buy the package but the screen just sat there. I’ll update this post when they bug this fixed.

Last year, I had such a horrible time in the Seton Hill Genre Fiction MFA program. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. (In my humble opinion, anyone interested in actually writing novels should steer well clear of that place; although, if you are an academic looking for PhD Lite, you may fit right in.) So, now, a year later, I have finally gotten my mojo back.

Rodney Robbins "Murder at the Du Monde."

How? I went back to writing the way I like to write, the way I know I can be successful writing. I like to work from an outline. I like to dream it up and write it down. I need to see that the whole story works or I’m not interested in wasting my time. I hate hate hate writing and polishing a few pages at a time. Hate it. It makes me want to jump off a freaking cliff and die. Some academic programs insist this is the only way to write (Seton Hill, for example, forces  students write this way or fail out of the program), but it just won’t work for most writers. In my experience, writing and polishing every few pages is too freaking slow, deadly dull and forces writers to  constantly switch hats between being a writer, an editor and a master grammarian. (Insert puking noises!)

So, I went back to writing an elevator speech (pitch line, story line, theme), then working up the introduction, plot points and conclusion, then scenes, scene questions and simple answers. Suddenly, writing is fun again. The new mystery novel is moving along nicely. I can see the whole story and where it is going. I am confident the story will work because I can see, scene by scene, the way the story builds and moves. I am back to writing with confidence and joy.

You need to know that a lot of experts are full of crap.

They know what works for them (or at least what is easy for them to grade). That doesn’t mean their process will work for you. Some people like to just sit down and write (Steven King and Louis L’Amour come to mind). All they need is a setting, a character and a feeling and they’re good to go. Some folks (damned few) like to write and polish, write and polish (Dean Koontz and Mary Higgins Clark work this way). Others need a detailed outline (Randy Ingermanson, yours truly and tons of other people who actually finish their novels). While some like to write a summary or synopsis then flesh it all out later (Nora Roberts/J. D. Robb is one).

Could anyone “force” Steven King to slow down and use an outline? I don’t see how.

Is there any chance that Nora Roberts could increase her output by writing and polishing one chapter at a time? I’d say the chances are slim to none.

If you don’t yet know the way you like to work, try the four different methods used by successful authors. If you already know what works for you, don’t let some geeky academic dweeb, some internet expert, or even your favorite author ruin your good thing.

PS

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