Tag Archives: creative writing

Titles Are Hard—But These Tips Make Them Easier

I’m in the midst of a dilemma as I need to come up with a new title for a story. The story in question is one that’s been accepted for publication and the title change is at the request of the editor, so of course I’ll change it. I wasn’t wild about the title I had when I submitted it, but I did feel it fit, and now it’s grown on me, which makes the change more difficult.

The thing is, titles are hard. Sometimes good titles seem all but impossible. There are times when the “right” title seems obvious; it comes to you during the writing process, it fits the work on multiple levels, and it sounds good to boot. But those cases are probably fairly rare. Yet you know that when you’re trying to sell a story or novel, the title is your first bit of marketing that an agent or editor or reader is likely to see. So, you want to get it right.

On the other hand . . .

How important are titles, really? Continue reading

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Writing Characters: Playing the Cruelty Game

Think about your favorite characters in your favorite stories or novels. For me, that would be people such as Cory Mackenson from Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life. Or Frodo from The Lord of the Rings. Or Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. Do your favorite characters travel a straight road, or rather are the beset by obstacles at every turn?

When you fall in love with a character as a reader, you might wish that they had things easier, that they could solve the mystery, defeat the monsters, win their true love, or whatever it is they’re fighting for. But if they actually do all those things easily, if there aren’t obstacles or the obstacles aren’t sufficiently challenging, your reading experience won’t be rewarding.

So, as writers, we need to remember this and make sure we put our characters on a twisting, rocky road: Be cruel to your characters in order to be kind to your readers.

At times, I know I have a tendency to go easy on my characters, to let them off with a warning, let’s say, when I should be cracking them over the head with a ton of bricks. I like my creations and I don’t want them to suffer. But it’s time to get serious and start doing some damage—I’ve got to put away my feelings for my characters and get cruel. I need to remind myself, again, of my favorite characters that others have written. Let’s take a look at Frodo’s journey. Continue reading

Fun Writing Is Fun—And Successful

I had a spot of good news this week. I had a short story accepted for inclusion in an anthology that’s due for publication this fall. Although I’ve been writing professionally for years (i.e., getting paid to write), this is my first fiction piece accepted for publication professionally, so naturally I’m fairly excited.

The story was written specifically for the call for manuscripts for this anthology, which is being published by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) organization. The anthology will include stories that explore Denver’s Colfax Avenue, “the longest, wickedest street in America,” according to Playboy magazine. When I first saw the call, I thought it sounded interesting, but I didn’t have any stories or ideas for stories that would fit. So I passed the call off to the members of my writing group, prepared to ignore it myself.

Fortunately, the historic nature of Colfax and its multifaceted personality continued to swirl in the back of my brain. A few other ideas from unrelated sources came into the mix. Then suddenly, a couple days later, I had a story. And I knew I had to write it, whether or not it would make the cut. By that point, I wasn’t even sure I could get it done in time to submit for the deadline. Continue reading

Warts & All: J. Tull & My Early Creative Writing

I’ve pretty much been writing stories for as long as I can remember. It’s the only way you can get away with lying all the time. You know, if that sort of thing appeals to you. I did quite a bit of writing when I was first in college, right out of high school, in the late ‘80s. That was also the same period when I first listened to the music of Jethro Tull. It turns out that even back then, my stories were influenced by the music I was listening to.

When I started listening to Tull, they had already been around for nearly 20 years. In fact, the second time I saw them in concert, in 1988, was for their 20th anniversary tour. I was only 21-years-old at the time, so naturally, they seemed really old: I mean, they’d been performing for basically as long as I’d been alive. (Their first album was released in 1968; their best-known album, then and now, Aqualung, was released in 1971.)

As part of that 20th anniversary, Jethro Tull also released a box set of rarities and live performances. Among those tracks were a few songs from their famous abandoned album (from 1973), known as the “Chateau D’Isaster Tapes.” Due to technical difficulties, illness, and other problems, they scrapped a nearly complete album, but those recordings were still around; this was the first chance to hear a bit of what the band had been planning, warts and all.  Continue reading

The Changing of the Gods

[See the story behind this story in “Warts & All: J. Tull & My Early Creative Writing.”]

The center of the room was occupied by a pillar, a tall and sturdy, strong and functional pillar, rooted firmly in the floor and growing broader as it rose upwards. This pillar had a name: He was called Zeus.

Zeus was wearing his favorite white tunic today, the one with the fine gold fringe and tassels. He had arranged for the Eternity Suite and, upon arrival, had firmly planted himself as if he intended to grow still greater. He had checked his thunderbolts downstairs and now stood like a pillar with his hands behind his back, alternately gazing upward and then casting his eyes down.

He muttered, “So many. I had not thought death had undone so many.”

(This, echoing down through the Ages, would later be picked out of the Ether by some crazed poet.)

The others had by this time arrived and were lounging about, awaiting the solemnities. There was Aphrodite in the cushioned, low-backed chair, her leg over one of the arms, her golden hair trailing to the floor behind. She was gazing lustfully at Apollo, who had found a harp and was absentmindedly plucking the strings. Apollo glanced up and gave a slight smile. She licked her lips seductively. Suddenly becoming very aware of his short tunic (and the fact that he was wearing nothing beneath it), Apollo twanged a sour note and looked away.

Pan, meanwhile, was sitting on the floor in the corner, his knees drawn up, horns nicely polished, leg hairs neatly trimmed and styled. He was playing on his pipes in pleasant discord to each note of Apollo’s. Continue reading

Synchestra: Unleashing the Transdimensional Space Goat on America’s Wickedest Street

I’ve written before about my reliance on music to form an appropriate mood while I’m writing, and how music can influence a story I’m working on. And I’ve written about my constant search for new and stimulating musical experiences. The point is: I really love music. A while back, someone posted the following pic on Facebook, and yeah, I totally get it:

That moment when the music is so good you turn into a transdimensional space goat

My latest transdimensional space goat moments have come from a musical selection called Synchestra by the Devin Townsend Band. Devin Townsend has been around for more than 20 years, recording under a number of different band names, although I only discovered him about six months ago. That introduction, by the way, came via another band that’s influenced some of my recent writing, Voyager. When Voyager tweeted about opening some shows last fall for the Devin Townsend Project down in Australia, I figured DTP was worth checking out, which led to finding all the other Townsend permutations.  Continue reading

Examining Wretched Words: Plotting & Pantsing

If you’ve been part of the writing community for long, you’ve probably at some point been asked: Are you a plotter or a pantser? If you’re a plotter, you write by plotting—that is, you outline or otherwise work out the details of your story before actually writing it. If you’re a pantser, you engage in pantsing—flying by the seat of your pants, writing to find out what the story is.

As a description for what we do as writers, I think these terms are ugly, detestable, and reductionist. Almost no one claims to be purely one thing or the other; they’ll answer, “I’m mostly this, but with a little bit of that.” The idea behind using these terms seems to be to pigeonhole writers into types, although reality fights against such narrow definitions.

As far as what these terms define, the two writing methods (and shades in between) that they describe, both types are perfectly valid. Depending on what I’m working on, I might find myself working at either end of the spectrum—different types of stories call for different approaches to the writing process. At least for me.  Continue reading