All posts by matthewledrew

My Writing Process 2: Starting

Okay, so you’ve got your plot done. The details are ironed out, and you have at least some idea what the beginning, middle and end will be. It doesn’t have to be concrete, but it’s good to have a skeleton. What do you do now?

Start writing, clearly. But before that, you should make sure you’re not going to get stuck first. A lot of people writing novels tend to make it to around 20,000 words and then get hung up. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen to you. Your story it great, and it deserves to be told. Just like parents, we want to give our story the best chance we can before sending it out into the world.

The best way to do that is to start out strong, and have a lot of characters and tricks to fall back on.

First of all, choose your method of storytelling. This seems simple, but it’s really not. There are dozens of possible points of view that your story can be told from. Common ones that everyone knows about are first and third, but there are lots of others. Second person prose, though rare, can be engaging.

I find most people starting their first novel have the urge to write in the first person (that is, using I). Personally I found this very difficult in the beginning of my writing career. That could just be me, but I notice a startling amount of manuscripts coming into the submissions folder written in first person. Sad as it is, a high percentage of them are either never completed or… Well, bad. That sounds mean, I know. Hate saying it.

So you can obviously do what you want, but I’d suggest a specific type of third person storytelling called “Selective Omniscience.” Maybe in the future I’ll do a series on writing in the first person if enough people are interested.

So let’s assume we’re using “Selective Omniscience.” In that, the narrator knows everything there is to know but is choosing what information he relays to the reader… Basically, the narrator is you. Even then, the voice you use is up to you. Will you be comical? Gritty? Neutral? Totally up to you. The benefit of this perspective is that it gives you the ability to move the focus from one character to another, much like different scenes in a movie. In fact, thinking of it as a movie helped me a lot in early works.

Okay, so next make sure you have solid characters. Get to know each of them. Some people do writing exercises as each character to accomplish this. I prefer to talk to myself as though I’m in a scene with them. The important thing is, have a strong feel for them before you start so that they’ll act in believable, reasonable ways.

Make sure there are enough ideas for events scattered throughout your plot. If you only have 1-2 ideas for minor events, we’re likely talking about a short story. Plenty of things should be happening.

Finally, write the first scene. This is all important. Shakespeare (according to an old Prof of mine) used to start every play with something exciting to capture the viewers attention up front. The same is true here. Look at my series’: Black Womb starts with the woman fleeing from her captors. Infinity starts with a girl being stalked by a strange creature. Then, in both cases, the action quickly shifts to a normal setting where we introduce our main characters. That’s not a coincidence. It’s carefully formulated to bring the reader into the story, just like those scenes that happen before the credits roll on many television dramas.

Hopefully this helps. I can’t give you much except for a good start… After this it’s all very, very fun. 😉

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

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My Writing Process – The Best Laid Plans

Okay, this will be the first of my Virtual Writing Seminars. I may not do them in order, but I’ll tag and number them all and number them for easy access. For those who didn’t read the description in my last related post, this is My Writing Process. I get asked at conventions a lot to delve into how I do things, I assume because people are having trouble getting started or getting hung up in the middle and want to know how someone who has completed 9+ novels keeps himself on track.

There is, I think, a fundamental flaw in this line of thought. To paraphrase Stephen King (I reserve the right to do that a lot):

If you want to write, write.

When he said this he was speaking of those people at parties and other social events that you meet and they always say “I’d love to be a writer”. Then do it. It’s the only career in the world where there is no interview, no requirements, no education criteria, and no hours. It’s beautiful like that. Being a paid and published writer is another thing entirely. Being a successful writer is another thing again, but if your goal is simply to write then sit down with your pen and paper and just do it. And if you find that you sit there for days and can’t even get one sentence out… Well, maybe writing is for you what skiing is for me: an enviable thing I just cannot do.

But I doubt that’s the case. Most people are writers simply because most people are storytellers, so I guess the goal here is to get you to write steadily and write well.

No matter what I’m working on, I always start with a plan. When Ken Tam and I work together on our writing seminars, we usually liken this plan to a jackhammer: something big that should only be used at the beginning, and should be discarded if it later threatens the body of your work with it’s force.

Even then, there are different levels of planning. For the Black Womb series there is, on one level, an intricate level of planning. Because events in one book are deeply affected by another there had to be. For that series I bought a supply of steno books and planned each CHAPTER of the series. These plans can be as loose as a simple description or as tight as having actual dialog and shot-for-shot events in them. Six-to-ten chapters would typically make a novel, but Black Womb books are typically short, so twenty would likely be a better guideline. Still, nothing wrong with a short novel.

With Infinity the planning went different. As I was writing it with a co-author (Ellen Curtis), it wouldn’t have been fair to plot and plan everything. It also wouldn’t have been logistically possible, not knowing what was going on with her characters and pages. Instead I planned the characters themselves. This wasn’t a writing excersize so much as acting one. I got into the head of each of my characters and figured out their voice and back-story, then when it came time to put them in scenes together they acted naturally and it was like I was just transcribing the movie in my head.

With other projects, such as my upcoming shorts, I try not to plan too much at all. Instead they revolve around one idea, like: “Xander as Plato in the Symposium meets Rambo: First Blood”… Actually, that sounds fun. 😉

There’s another single novel I’m still in the plotting stages on where I’ve combined the first two elements and made it so that I know everything that will happen to each individual character, but where their stories cross is up to me when writing. That story may never be written, but we’ll see.

So as you can see, there’s no one way. Ellen uses post it’s with notes scattered across her writing room. Some people use thought mapping (something I personally despise, but you go crazy). Some people (again, Stephen King) claim they don’t plan at all… And with some novels I believe him. Whatever way you choose, make sure it’s fun for you and that it doesn’t discourage you from the writing process.

Let me know how you do, post YOUR planning methods if you have any, and happy writing.

Matthew LeDrew
Engen Books

The Art of the Short Story

Okay, so I just finished the third of three short stories for an upcoming, unnamed Engen anthology, and it really got me thinking about the nature of the short story.

Sometimes when I’m writing a short it’s less about story and more about atmosphere, which isn’t the way I normally approach things. I’m usually of the mind that character, above all else, comes first; then plot, and then wherever the chips may fall. But as I write more and more short fiction I’m learning that these rules are often very different between the two.

Anyway, this was a short I’ve been itching to write for some time called Revving Engen. It’s kind of a prologue to the entire Engen Universe of stories, and takes place during what I’ve started to call ‘Black September’… In that both Infinity and Black Womb seem to have started around the same time in September.

Anyway, hopefully it’ll be good. Can’t wait to get some feedback on it. I believe it’s due out in April. We’re getting a host of great authors for this collection. Currently on the list include myself, Ellen Curtis, Jay Paulin and Sarah Thompson. There will be more, we’re just waiting on first drafts to announce.

Later days!

Full Moon Fever: Interview with Steve Lake

Steve Lake
Steve Lake

This April brings a host of familiar faces back into the limelight as new titles are published, including the new Black Womb novel Becoming and the second edition of the Sci-Fi from the Rock anthology. Featured prominently in the collection with be the sequel to Steve Lake’s highly touted Legacy of the Full Moon, Vengeance of the Full Moon.

Published in April 2010, Legacy of the Full Moon was started when inspiration struck Lake in the form of the character of Ryan. Upon kicking around the idea at an Engen staff meeting, it became a sort of an “Interview with a Vampire” motif with two interesting twists: the interviewer was a werewolf, and the werewolf had a secret all his own.

The concept was immediately popular with fans and reviewers.

“[Steve Lake’s] visit to the age-old conflict between vampires and werewolves is a good one, but too brief,” said Mark Vaughan-Jackson in the May 8th 2010 edition of The Telegram. “I hope [he] will take this tale and develop it, hone it and publish a larger work with this story as an integral part.”

This was a common sentiment, and so plans were put into place quickly to continue the development of the story and characters. Soon a plan for a series of short stories was in place, culminating with the eventual release of a full-length (as yet untitled) novel based on the property.

“[The novel] gives the back story on how Ryan became a vampire and the adjustments he and Frank have to make in their business and in their friendship,” said Lake, on the concept of the upcoming novel.

Lake will also be getting his feet wet with a short story that takes place within the Engen Universe canon shared by Black Womb, Infinity and Compendium.

“Timeline wise I’ll be setting my story just as the first Black Womb book ends, but my story will be set in Europe instead of Coral Beach,” revealed Lake. “It deals with characters who work for Engen, who are examining what went wrong in Coral Beach and what they are developing as the next step in Engen’s research projects.”

In addition to his writing ventures, Lake has been a key figure of the Engen writing staff since the release of Roulette in October 2010, and claims that his favorite Engen story in Falling into Fire, a short from Ellen Curtis’s breakout anthology Compendium.

“It hooks you from the start, the action is very well paced, the characters are nicely developed in such a short amount of time and the story leaves you wanting more. I want to know what happens, I want to know the events that lead up to the start of the story. Ellen’s very good at leaving the reader wanting to find out where the rest of the story is going.”

Now a thriving part of Engen Books, Steve Lake retains his support of fellow independent authors and businesses.

“It’s hard to get ‘traditional’ publishers to wake up and take notice of the excellent work that’s out there. Independent authors and small non-traditional publishers are growing slowly and they need the public’s help and support to get their names out there.

“When you see an author at a convention or a local book signing, take a chance, look at what they’re offering and talk to the author. You may just be pleasantly surprised.”

Vengeance of the Full Moon will be published in More Sci-Fi from the Rock, on sale April 17th 2011.