Saturday, August 9, 2014

Writing the end before you get to the end . . .

Starting yesterday evening and then continuing into today, I wrote the ending of the book I'm working on before I actually got to the end. The book, Brutal Enemy, takes place in Italy during August 1944 and takes both Sergeants Dunn and Saunders there. Of course I'm not going to give anything away, so don't worry, no spoiler alert.

As you might know (previous posts) I completely plot my books. My first two books, Operation Devil's Fire and Behind German Lines had 64 and 67 chapters, respectively. The new one is at 67 right now.

As you can see from my little progress bar on the upper right of my blog, I'm at 56% done (as of today). So why write the ending? Think about how movies are often made: scenes taking place at the same location are filmed together. This is simply to cut down on production costs. Many times, the first scene might be filmed last and the last one, first. For me, it's because sometimes I'm not ready to write whichever chapter is "next" in line, but I am ready for a different one. Just because I create the entire plot, doesn't mean I'm forced to write the book in the order it will be appear to the reader.

So I had fun writing this piece of the book. It was an opportunity to wrap up things for some new characters.

Writer's advice

If you plot, but feel stuck or not ready for a chapter, skip around. Something else I've done is write an entire story arc for one character (or set of characters, in my case) in order, even though they are separated by chapters for other characters. Works very well with complex stories.

Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Worst writing advice. Ever: “Write what you know”

People with good intentions, even authors, can be heard here and there telling aspiring writers (more on this later) "Be sure to write what you know." Writing about what I know would be horribly boring: trust me, I work in IT. What else do I "know?" Well, let's see, I know baseball, chess, and few other odds and ends. Maybe I even know a lot about things. The problem is, I don't want to write about those. I want to write about World War II. 

"Ah ha," say the write-what-you-know people. "That's what you know!" 

Yeah, okay, you got me . . . not really. I love World War II history. I have a passion for knowledge on that era of human history and am constantly learning about it (see Passion below).

"You should still write what you know!"

Uh . . . really? No. How about “learn what you write?”

Here’s why I think write what you know is the worst advice.

1 - Imagination

Dreaming stuff up is what writers do. You know how you role play, maybe when you're taking something back to the store for a return and you play this little movie in your head about how it will go? I say this then they say that, etc.? Welcome to my world. That's how I write. I spin up a little movie and I watch it and write what I see. I'll grant you it's more complicated than that, but that's the basis for my work. Sometimes when I'm writing a scene, I don't quite know exactly what will happen, so I rely on that movie. I'm often the first reader to be surprised by an event in my own books.

If it weren't for writers' imaginations we wouldn't have stories that take place in space, or the future, or in a country different from our own. Let’s use an example: the late Tom Clancy. He single-handedly created the techno-thriller, although I’m pretty sure he wasn’t calling it that when he was writing it, he was just telling a story he’d like to read. By the way, when he sold The Hunt for Red October, he was still working as an insurance agent. So how did he “know” all that technical stuff? See Research below.

2 - Passion

As I said above, I have that exact thing for WWII history. Other people like aliens, vampires, spies, or maybe a vampire spy  (hmm . . .) , the list goes on. Write what you're passionate about. If you love it, it will come across in your writing and your readers will pick up on it.

3 - Research

Some authors, very successful ones I might add, talk about going to the place they are using as a setting to get a feel for the people and the locale. Paris does not feel like New York or London or well, anywhere. This is a great idea if you've got several thousand bucks available to make the trip. Oh wait, you don't either? Okay, then how about oh, I don't know, the internet? For both of my published books and the one I'm writing today, I use Google Earth to "find" locales. I know exactly where certain events take place on a map and have in many cases used the street view (Google maps) to see what it's like to stand right there looking around in all directions. I can describe a place as if I've actually been there because, in a technological way, I have.

Need to know how many rounds per minute a Thompson .45 caliber submachine gun fires. I did. Google. Answer: around 700 / minute, depending on the version of the weapon. By the way, I also learned that the 30-round box magazine could sometimes fall out! So everyone preferred the 20-round mag instead. What's the service ceiling for a P-51 Mustang fighter? Answer: 41,900 feet. Time to find out these answers? 10 seconds for each question. In the olden days, I'd have needed to go to the library and dig into a real book. Time: hours? Although, going back to Tom Clancy, I can imagine him back then sitting at the library, happy and contented as he digs through books and magazines about submarines, helicopters and sonar.

Yes, in a way I write what I know because I looked it up, have seen a documentary, or I've read a book on it. I read at least one book a month on WWII (non-fiction), sometimes four. I watch the History and Military channels all the time. So to be truthful, I'm really learning what I write (about) instead of the other way around.

So there. My take on that statement.

One last thing. I found this Clancy quote after I wrote my blog post above. Nice to find out I’m not alone in my thinking. And yes, I used Google. Google R my friend.

My wife will tell you I'm practically addicted to the History Channel . . . and I read a lot of history.” ~ Tom Clancy, CNN interview on 22 August 2000