Category Archives: Engen Books

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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Back to the Books

Ellen Curtis
Ellen Curtis

This week at Engen Books saw myself and Matthew back to school for the fall semester. Now don’t get me wrong, I love school, but there are things I’d rather be doing. Say, working on the tentative international re-release of Compendium for November. Or the upcoming Engen Universe book of short stories. Or the TR project.

What you can definitely expect in the coming weeks will be some brand new Engen Bytes, which we will be filming next Wednesday. As always, we’re trying to keep people informed about some of the new things we’re working toward.

Basically, I’m just going to be brief today. The early rise for school and the late nights of sick-Matthew (apparently the boss isn’t impervious to the common cold) mumbling and coughing are catching up to me, and quite frankly I need some time to relax! So, until next time, and until we get some Engen Bytes online, I’ll take off!

Happy reading!

42 Webs Review

Infinity, Matthew LeDrew & Ellen Curtis, 2010 edition, Engen BooksSometimes I read stuff and it makes me blush. The following is a review of Infinity lifted from 42webs.wordpress.com.

“Quick survey: who wishes that they had a superpower? That’s right – everybody does. We all want to have some supernatural ability. Whether it be the ability to fly, teleport, or even the all powerful brick-vision, we all wish we had some ability that put us above the average person.

But what would the world be like if we actually had them?

This is an issue that was examined in the latest book from Engen Publishing. The book, called Infinity, is penned by the Engen all-star team of Matthew LeDrew and Ellen Curtis. Infinity tells the tale of a small band of seemingly regular people who discover they are in fact nowhere near.

The book begins down a very traditional path, making sure to hit all of the required items on the ‘Urban Meta’ (42 Webs exclusive) genre checklist.

Enigmatic mentor: check

Mysterious School: Of course

Growing conspiracy: You betcha

The difference is in the writing skill of the two authors. Is lesser hands the story could have become bland and uninteresting but with the skill wordmanship (I swear that’s a word) we have a stellar story that doesn’t feel old or rehashed. The building mystery of Victor, Port Haven and the growing conspiracy is touched on in the book just enough to wet your beak and leave you wanting more much like how Lost or Morning Glory would tantalize us.

A crucial scene in the story, and one of my favourite, is a poker scene. Without giving much away our characters are participating in a crucial poker game with the life of an innocent in the balance. The trouble with many card games in books is that they tend to be very dry and drag on, the inevitable importance and tension of the game lost to the details. Infinity manages to keep the tension strong while not letting the game go by the wayside. It felt reminiscent of Ian Flemming’s writing in Casino Royale.

One of the benefits, and strengths of this story, is how the written work was separated. The two authors each had their own character that came together as the story progressed. The benefit was that the characters felt entirely different. Some times when a writer creates multiple characters they have a tendency to blend together, to be similar and to sound identical to each other (Joss Whedon). With the two authors sharing the writing responsibilities we see a stronger variation in the characters.

Another notable plus with Infinity is the smoothness of how the two writing styles fuse with each other. Often with joint projects one person writing style dominates the other but that isn’t found here. LeDrew and Curtis writing styles compliment each other’s perfectly, their individual characters becoming the strength that counteracts the others weaknesses.

All in all a powerful book that tackles more issues then just powers and conspiracies, it also tackles issues like spiritual infinity and the responsibility of those with power. This is a must for fans of X-Men and similar titles.”

The Taskmaster

Ellen Curtis
Ellen Curtis

People often ask me what it is like to write with another person, especially since that person is my partner. The truth of the matter is, it is at once the most stressful and most rewarding experience that I have had as an author. Matthew is one of my favorite people, and we are alike in many ways, so when we work well together, we work very well. When we clash, however, the fights can be extreme.

I refer to Matt as ‘The Taskmaster’ because he often is on my case about writing. We both lead busy lives, juggling the business, post secondary, our day jobs and day-to-day life. Sometimes, it is too much to come home after such a full day and sit down for three hours at my desk and write a few thousand words. Matt, on the other hand escapes to his computer after a long day. As such, we often do not produce the same amount of work in the run of a month, which admittedly must be quite frustrating for him when we’re operating under the system of writing particular sections of a novel, and I’m a fair few chapters behind where he is.

This stress aside, there is the added stress of agreeing on what exactly we will be writing ahead of time. All of our joint endeavors are meticulously planned chapter by chapter, so the planning portion of the novel can often be more labor intensive than actually writing it. Many times we will viciously fight over which character should play which part, what their motivations are for their actions, and ultimately if we should pursue a storyline based on conflicts with existing or planned material. In the end, it rests on how devoted each of us is to our ideas, and through these challenges we have learned how to better compromise as a couple. Our conflicts in writing remind us to not take criticisms personally, and to not make criticisms personal.

There are many upsides to writing with Matthew, if anything I have said leads one to believe otherwise. We feed off each others ideas, and through this interaction we are both challenged to deliver more and be more creative. Each work is more complex, more intriguing, because we each add our own layers to the story.

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

Starting Off…

Ellen Curtis
Ellen Curtis

Engen Books is in a little bit of everything I do, or rather, storytelling is. I’m Ellen, and back in 2009 when I first handed a rough draft of my latest work to publisher and author Matthew LeDrew, I never thought my work would take off so fast.

Before I graduated from high school, I had three book launches under my belt. The last few years have seen the publication of my first short story, The Tourniquet Revival, in an assorted anthology that later spawned my solo collection Compendium. From there, Matthew and I co-wrote Infinity, and I moved into a larger role within Engen.

While doing this, I also acted as co-host for local web-series Sci-Fi on the Rock TV, a production aimed at providing information connected to the annual Newfoundland based science fiction convention Sci-Fi on the Rock. It was at Sci-Fi on the Rock that I first met Matthew at a panel about getting published.

Since that day, Matthew and I have teamed up on panels together and traveled across the country to different conventions. From a small start, Engen Books has grown to a multi-title, small-press machine, turning out work that I can say we are all truly proud of.

Essentially, through this blog I’ll be keeping people up to date on the latest goings on at Engen, and my latest day-to-day adventures. Until then, happy reading!

Starting off…

Engen Books is in a little bit of everything I do, or rather, storytelling is. I’m Ellen, and back in 2009 when I first handed a rough draft of my latest work to publisher and author Matthew LeDrew, I never thought my work would take off so fast.

Before I graduated from high school, I had three book launches under my belt. The last few years have seen the publication of my first short story, The Tourniquet Revival, in an assorted anthology that later spawned my solo collection Compendium. From there, Matthew and I co-wrote Infinity, and I moved into a larger role within Engen.

While doing this, I also acted as co-host for local web-series Sci-Fi on the Rock TV, a production aimed at providing information connected to the annual Newfoundland based science fiction convention Sci-Fi on the Rock. It was at Sci-Fi on the Rock that I first met Matthew at a panel about getting published.

Since that day, Matthew and I have teamed up on panels together and traveled across the country to different conventions. From a small start, Engen Books has grown to a multi-title, small-press machine, turning out work that I can say we are all truly proud of.

Essentially, through this blog I’ll be keeping people up to date on the latest goings on at Engen, and my latest day-to-day adventures. Until then, happy reading!