A blog especially for our younger writers who are just embarking on this wonderful journey
Good day to friends, old and new, and I hope you're keeping safe and busy during these uncertain times. My name is Jack Tyler. "Blimprider" my friends named me years ago for my work in the fascinating world of steampunk. The truth is that I don't write much anymore, but in over sixty years of pursuing the dream I have learned a lot of valuable lessons, and that brings us to the point of this blog. Every day, more excited writers begin the journey with stars in their eyes and no idea what's ahead of them. I have an idea that I can help with this.|
Thus, Flights of Fancy, a collection of life lessons inspired by a series of conversations with my new friend Silver Phoenix , and aimed specifically at our members who are too young for the adult material so many of our established writers, myself included, produce. New posts will appear every Saturday morning, usually written by me, but hopefully by occasional guest authors young and old; e-mail me if you're interested. I hope to welcome lively discussions, answer questions, and collect many telling comments. Some of this material will form the basis of future posts. Consider this blog to be Blimprider "paying it forward," offering a helping hand to those who might benefit from it. By the way, those conversations were with a lady too young to read 18+ material, and yet is blessed with a writing voice mature beyond her years. Those conversations were started by my review of "Act As If" . Take a look, and say hello to my young muse while you're there.
To continue, writers of every age and experience level are welcome to post comments here, and to be considered for guest author spots, but everything posted here will abide by WdC's 13+ guidelines, which I repeat verbatim so there will be no misunderstanding:
13+: Recommended for Readers 13 Years and Older Only
13 and Older
This rating signifies that the content of this item is intended for readers 13 years of age and older and may be inappropriate for any minor under the age of 13. We recommend that supervising adults not allow such minors to read 13+ content. Horror and violence may exist at a moderate level, but not extreme. There may be mild references to sex, drugs or alcohol, but do not exceed mild levels. Mild swearing may be used, but no use of the harsher sexually derived words may be found, absolutely no completed F-word, or phonetic spellings of such words.
I want to make clear that if this doesn't find its target audience within a reasonable time I won't continue it out of nostalgia, but if everyone understands the concepts and requirements involved, climb aboard and let the journey begin!
Looking forward to meeting you,
Jack "Blimprider" Tyler
| You've had a story, a plot, grab you by the scruff of the neck and take off running. You've put together a cast of commanding characters and decided on a structure to best put them on display. But where is this fabulous yarn going to take place?
Most of us equate the Setting with the time and place, the backdrop against which the action takes place. But it actually encompasses so much more. The Setting of any story must include the sights, sounds, and smells, the tastes and textures of what is happening to those wonderful characters in that wonderful world you've created. It isn't just the storefront, the jungle hut, the coral beach. A crime drama writer needs an intimate familiarity with the smell of a body that's been hidden for a few days, and a dystopian steampunk writer had better be able to describe the taste of coal smoke wafting on the breeze. I suppose it would be redundant to say that researching your subject is of paramount importance. Before I wrote the first scene of "Beyond the Rails" , I researched life in colonial East Africa until it was as familiar as the southern California beach town I grew up in. Swahili became a second language to me; people where I worked took it for granted that I would greet them with a cheery Jambo! every time we met.
The research is not optional, not if you're going to be a serious author. Too many people are too well-traveled these days for you to get away with faking it, and for those who aren't, the internet is at their fingertips to expose all of your mistakes. The good news is that it's also at your fingertips to help you get everything right. But this article isn't about research, it's about the Setting.
Okay, so setting is necessary and tons of research must be done to get it all right. Having put all this effort into research, the big temptation is to use every bit of it. To see how that works out, watch any Kevin Costner movie. Believe me, when your reader accepts your invitation to settle in for a mystery, a romance, or a thrilling adventure, he or she is not looking to read a travelogue, a dissertation on the local climate, or the history of some port town, no matter how picturesque or romantic. This wasn't always the case, and a big-name author could get away with it twenty years ago. Maybe still can to some degree. Read this opening paragraph from a well-known author:
Of the four clipper ships built in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1854, one stood out from the others. She was the Gladiator, a big ship of 1,256 tons, 198 feet in length and a 14-foot beam, with three towering masts reaching for the sky at a rakish angle. She was one of the fleetest of the clippers ever to take to the water, but she was a dangerous ship to sail in rough weather because of her too fine lines. She was hailed as a "ghoster," having the capability of sailing under the barest breath of wind. Indeed, the Gladiator was never to experience a slow passage from being becalmed.
This scene-setting maritime history goes on for five full pages in three separate scenes before the first character utters a word. The book is 1996's Shock Wave, the 13th entry in the best-selling Dirk Pitt series by Clive Cussler. I took the hard cover edition off my shelf to use as an example, and I can assure you that there is a rich, compelling story there if you have the patience to get to it. Nowadays, I'm given to understand that any editor who wants to keep his job would reject this without starting the second paragraph, unless he knew the author was Clive Cussler.
But some authors have never succumbed to the temptation to educate their readers. Consider this opening as an alternative:
I always get the shakes before a drop. I've had the injections, of course, and hypnotic preparation., and it stands to reason that I can't really be afraid. The ship's psychiatrist has checked my brain waves and asked me silly questions while I was asleep and he tells me that it isn't fear, it isn't anything important—it's just like the trembling of an eager race horse in the starting gate.
I couldn't say about that; I've never been a race horse. But the fact is: I'm scared silly, every time.
This is from Robert Heinlein's 1959 classic, Starship Troopers. The book has been maligned for its politics in the wake of Viet Nam and subsequent U.S. interventions, but there's no denying that the man could tell a story. You open the cover and you're instantly locked into your drop pod waiting to be launched into a knock-down, drag out fight for survival on the surface of an alien planet. It doesn't get much more thrilling than that, and by the time you get to page two, you're hooked.
I guess you can tell from this essay which style I favor, and I recommend to every newbie that they become adept at it. If you hook them on page one, you don't have to worry about what distractions they might be facing on page three when the story hasn't started yet. Remember, the thing that is going to hold your reader's attention is the vibrant leading character you've created, not the texture of the cobblestones she's walking on; the rendezvous she's headed toward, not the path to get there. If you show instead of tell, your character will point out the important bits; the rest aren't worth mentioning anyway.
* * * * *
Here's a bit news for the horror fans among you. I have set up a new horror forum with a special focus on the monster sub-genre. Don't let that put you off, though, if you're a fan of horror, you're welcome, and I'd love to hear what you have to say. Be my guest at
Boldly champion your dreams!
| Good morning once again, friends, and welcome to the weekend. We've been talking here (or I have; there's a substantial echo in here) about the construction of the story, that one that will put you on the map and make you a household name in the world of literature. We've talked about recognizing that one great story when it presents itself, and populating it with compelling characters. But now that you know what it's about and who's in it, it's time to get down to the gritty part, the actual writing of it.
Before you can begin to write with any sort of authority, you need to select a structure for your story, and that's what we'll be talking about this week. Structure is the skeleton of your story. Every living entity, which is what a story is, make no mistake, has some form of framework to help it hold its shape as the recognizable plant or animal it is; even an amoeba has a cell wall. The structure forms the framework on which you hang the "meat" of your story. Whether you write sweet romance, rip-snortin' action/adventure, or gross body horror, you must have Conflict, a Climax, and Resolution, and your framework, your structure in other words, will help you get those aligned in relation to one another and in relation to your chosen genre, and maintain your story's form from start to finish.
You should already have your characters by now. If you're writing a sweet romance, you probably shouldn't have a brutal serial killer as your antagonist. The antagonist in such a story is simply the wrong man for your ingenue. He doesn't have to be bad, just a bad fit, a point she will be unable to recognize for much of the story. The antagonist in a crime drama or a monstrous horror tale will be completely different. The hero of every story fits into the same characterization template, but that's a story for another day. Right now you need to look at how you're going to tell your story, meaning first, what is your viewpoint going to be?
You can always tell a gripping yarn by using the First-Person viewpoint: "I opened the door, wincing at the loud creak as the ancient hinges shrieked a warning of my arrival to anyone inside." That sort of writing is difficult to beat for drawing a reader in and investing him in the story's flow. The obvious limitation is that the reader can only know what the narrating character knows.
The other two most common viewpoints are Third-Person Omnipotent and Third-Person Viewpoint. Third-Person simply describes the action as "Joe did this, Sally did that," and so on. The difference stems from the narrative voice. In Third-Person Omnipotent, which is the more common method, the writer, who has invented the world, and knows everything going on both on the page and behind the scenes, can disclose what is necessary and keep hidden whatever he or she deems appropriate to the story's development. You can show the actions of characters who aren't part of the main cast, you can disclose the identity of the killer as the detective follows a blind lead, you can show ice building up in the airplane's carburetor, something no one inside the plane can see, and those disclosures of the unknowable can be tremendously effective in building tension. You must be careful to avoid "head-hopping" in this style; confine each scene to a single character's thoughts and actions.
Third-Person Viewpoint, which is the one I favor, takes a different tack. In it, you establish a cast of Viewpoint characters; the Protagonist, the Antagonist, the Confidant, the Henchman, and whoever else you feel will be instrumental in telling the story, but rarely more than those four, and never more than six. That becomes a bit too confusing for the reader. Then, as you tell your story in Third-Person (Joe did this, Sally did that), each scene will be described by one of your viewpoint characters. The important distinction is that in Third-Person Viewpoint, you cannot describe anything that the viewpoint character of the scene isn't aware of, making it almost a hybrid of First and Third Person. You can describe in detail what your protagonist finds as he searches the villain's study, but you can never say, "He failed to notice the camera taking in every detail from its hidden nook on the bookshelf." You can certainly describe its effects later in the story, and describe the villain viewing the playback, but if the protagonist didn't see it, then the reader doesn't get to see it, either.
With those decisions made, you're ready to begin structuring your story. I'm an inveterate planner, so I will explain this process in terms of creating an outline. If you're a pantser, you're going to carry the story's main features in your head, and maybe make a few disjointed notes to remind you of your intended high points. In reality, none of that matters. We're all outliners; some of us call our outlines "First Drafts." To most effectively impart what's needed here, I'm going to look at the structure espoused by Dean Koontz, a contemporary writer of some repute. Author of over 100 novels that have sold over 450 million copies, Koontz has written that his philosophy of structure consists of four steps (though I tend to combine the last two into one), and as I have yet to find a more succinct one, I'm going to pass his along here:
1. Plunge your protagonist into terrible trouble as soon as possible. If you've been inspired to write, you've probably read a good many books. Consider the opening lines of Starship Troopers, a classic novel from Robert Heinlein, a god of science fiction:
I always get the shakes before a drop. I've had the injections, of course, and hypnotic preparation., and it stands to reason that I can't really be afraid. The ship's psychiatrist has checked my brain waves and asked me silly questions while I was asleep and he tells me that it isn't fear, it isn't anything important—it's just like the trembling of an eager race horse in the starting gate
I couldn't say about that; I've never been a race horse. But the fact is: I'm scared silly, every time.
Within a few pages of opening the book, you and your squadmates are being fired from the launch tubes of an assault ship, and headed for a knock down, drag out fight with a unit of wiry, 8-foot tall aliens known to their human adversaries as "Skinnies." There is no lore dished out in advance in leisurely paragraphs. You are given that bit-by-bit during the madcap brawl. This is effective storytelling.
2. Everything your character does to get out of this trouble makes things only worse. Your hero's efforts should resemble trying to climb a sand dune; with every step you sink in and slide back. There's a wargame I used to play back in the day whose title it could be useful to write down and post near your keyboard: Crescendo of Doom. Your hero's situation must grow progressively worse until…
3. The situation appears hopeless. He's wounded, trapped in the villain's lair; his leading lady is about to say "I do" to the wrong guy; the rope has snapped, trapping half the party at the bottom of an unscalable wall, and just when it seems Game Over is going to flash on the screen...
4. Your hero succeeds (or fails) against all odds. Yes, your hero can die, and the story can still be satisfactory. Usually, the hero will give his or her life to stop the catastrophe (think Deep Impact), but even failure can form a powerful ending if handled well.
And you are now armed with all the information you need to begin fleshing out a real, coherent story worthy of the investment of time that writing a quality story requires. Remember, writing is hard work. If it wasn't, we'd all be on the best-seller lists. The ones who do the work are the ones most likely to make the lists. Next week, my plan is to look at what Setting actually is (hint: Location is only a tiny part of it), how to gather the details necessary to bring it to life, and how to impart it to the reader on the page.
* * *
But that's next week. On a personal note, I'm still waiting for that story idea that blows me out of my socks, which is very roundabout way of saying that I'm not writing yet. Finally, I want to promote a new contest here on the site:
Richard ~ RL Bites! defines a newbie as anyone with a WdC tenure of two years or less, so drop in over there and see what he's running. The first month's prompt is up, the prizes are awaiting the winners, and there are still two weeks to create your winning entry. Don't miss it if you can!
Boldly champion your dreams,
| Good morning, friends and followers. Here it is May 7th, a day after I had made all these plans, blogged about them, contacted a number of people to set up item transfers, began to prep my port for downsizing, and then...
But wait. Allow me to start a little further back. Everyone who reads me with any sort of regularity knows that I've been writing with varying degrees of proficiency for the past 61 years. But as happens with most long-term pursuits, I have gradually been losing my interest in creating worlds, characters, and plots in an accelerating slide into... what? Another hobby, I'd have to guess. I haven't heard from my muse in so long I've forgotten what his voice sounds like, and when I went down to the warehouse to confront him a few weeks ago, there was a "For Rent" sign on the caretaker's cottage.
Now, I've been good with that, which is a fortunate attitude, as "resistance is futile," as a bald-headed Shakespearean master once said. My Upgraded membership, which allowed me such things as books, groups, and forums had become far more than I need, and it was set to expire on June 30th. I was prepping my port to downsize to either Free or Basic, much more in keeping with my writing needs, or lack of them. I had posted a statement about coming events ("Downsizing Looms Ahead" ), and had found someone willing, and perhaps even eager to take over the running of "Dreamweaver Bar & Grill" . I had sent him the guidelines I had established for running the group so that he could see what was behind it and make whatever changes he felt would improve it, and then . . .
And then, about 24 hours ago, some incredibly generous, incredibly well-meaning soul gifted me with a year's Premium Membership. Any of you, I have no doubt, would feel like you had won the lottery had you received this, but it brought me to a complete standstill, which is why no one has heard from me since yesterday. I've been trying to come to terms with the impact this is going to have on me and my plans.
Instead of the 250 items allowed in my port, of which I've barely been able to fill 20%, I'm allowed a thousand. Instead of ten books, I can now have 25, each with a 10MB limit instead of 5. I can post photos and host web pages, and am now the wielder of scads of features that I don't even know what they mean. If Stephen King was a WdC member, he would have a Premium Membership. But here's the kicker: A glance at the Membership Information Page will tell you that this amazing gift removed $139.99 in actual U.S. currency from someone's pocket, and I feel terrible about that. It's as if someone gave a Ferrari to someone who can't drive. I am not ungrateful; ten years ago I would have been reduced to tears on receiving this. It may have changed the whole trajectory of my writing career. Those are things we can never go back and revisit, but it's possible. But now?
Well, there are some lessons to be learned here. One for me is not to discuss my membership level and upcoming changes in a public forum. I guess one for my benefactor would be not to give expensive, irreversible gifts until you know how the recipient feels about them. I know that sounds ungrateful, and that is never how I want to come across. Rather, I view this as an obligation to make myself worthy of this gift, which has to be among the most valuable items that one member can give to another. I guess another lesson is that there are people who really like me here.
My focus here has long been on giving novice writers a hand up; when you've managed to avoid success as spectacularly as I have, you've learned some lessons that could just possibly benefit others. That's been the focus of my blogging here, and I have two blogs, this one, and one specifically for the minors who I especially enjoy working with. Of course, the features of the Premium Membership are primarily to support the efforts of a serious writer which I very much am not, so a day into the process I have no idea what I'm going to do with this, but I'll try to make it good. I'll view it as inspiration; maybe it will bring me back from the brink. Time will tell, and so will I. Watch this space for updates!
Semper audax esse,
| Good afternnoon, friends, and welcome to my blog. I have big changes to talk about today, so let me get right to it. I have written stories to entertain others for just over sixty years, and it pains me to admit that it's gotten a bit tiresome. I've been fighting this lack of interest for months, and while there are flashes of inspiration that last a few days or a week, I'm really so over writing that it isn't even funny. It's just work these days, and as a 71-year old retiree, I'm no longer interested in doing a whole big gang of work.
So I'm going to fold my tent and stop pretending to be some super-duper writing guru. I had some fun and achieved some VERY minimal success; I proved that I could write a coherent story in several formats and genres, and that's what I set out to do. I was unable to join the ranks of the Big Celebrity Authors, and that's okay. The modest success I achieved wasn't enough to impact my family's lifestyle, and looking back, I'm glad of that. The reality, though, is that I can't teach you anything about how to succeed in publishing; read Stephen King's book if that's what you're after.
What brings all this about is a confluence of events. First is my struggle to come up with any exciting fiction to write about. Seriously, virtually everything I write looks silly to me these days. Second is the difficulty involved in coming up with blog subjects. I have a finite amount of material to impart, and it was done years ago. I'm just recycling stuff now. Third is my upcoming WdC anniversary date. I've had a mid-level paid membership for several years now, and given all I've just said, I can no longer justify maintaining it with my fixed-income retirement, so I will be reducing it to free at the end of June.
Given the restrictions of a free membership, some things, many things will have to be given up. Both my blogs, gone. Not a huge loss. When I occasionally have something to say, I'll post it in my notebook. Books will be removed, which means Beyond the Rails III and Broken English. I can no longer host forums, so should anyone wish to take over "American Haiku" , let me know and I'll transfer it to you. Likewise "Dreamweaver Bar & Grill" and its associated forum. That group took off like a house afire, then just pretty much died, and should no one want to take it over, then I'll divide the points among the membership and close it. Also lost will be every stand-alone item over 50k in size, which will leave a few of my shorter stories. That's okay, they're some of my best work, in fact three of them have won awards from the "Twisted Tales Contest" . That won't happen again, as free members can't enter contests, but again, that's all right, as I'm not writing new material, so it isn't an issue.
So by my current calculations, my updated port will have eight items in it: "Talk of the Flight Deck" , six of my short stories, and a private file for special characters and my review template. And I'll need my review template because that is going to be my whole reason for being here from this point on. I haven't bought a book in ages (except copies of my own works to give as gifts) because there is so much here to read, and it's being added faster than I can read it. To show my appreciation, I will frequently be giving my famous detailed reviews, the Flight Deck Award, discussing the Craft with anyone who cares to do so, and those will be my retirement projects. So I'm going to take the next few days to transfer my no-longer-valid items to MSWord files, and get going on the new, updated activity.
To paraphrase Mission: Impossible, "This file will self-destruct in five days..." — more or less. Watch your e-mail for reviews, and I'll see you around the stacks!
Boldly champion your dreams,
| "You don’t have to tell us every detail. Indeed, if you pay out background in glimpses, you can create more depth because you let the reader use intuition."
— ROZ MORRIS, bestselling ghostwriter turned novelist
Good morning, friends old and new, and welcome to May. Last week I wrote about the story itself, and how to recognize The Story among all those intriguing plot lines that present themselves to you on a daily basis. What shall I write about today?
Those of you who have been the recipients of a Blimprider review have already been exposed to Tyler's Axiom. For those who haven't, let me expose you now: Tyler's Axiom: Characters are fiction! So, how do you build those great characters who will essentially write your story for you? Well, we're all very different as writers, and all I can do is tell you how I build mine. You are then free to evaluate, try my method, see what aspects work for you, incorporate those, and discard the rest. That is essentially how we all learn to write. Stephen King's method won't work for you, despite the fact that he is one of the best-selling authors of all time. J.K. Rowling's method won't work for you. And Jack Tyler's method won't work for you. Why not? Because you aren't Stephen King. The trick is to learn how these other authors approach a common problem that all authors face, in this case character creation, then say, "Ah, so. This will work for me, but that won't" From those first steps, we learn to build our own methods. So, how does Jack Tyler approach character creation?
I'll use for my example my signature trilogy, "Beyond the Rails" . The story grabbed me, steampunk adventures aboard a late-19th century airship. Britain owned the world at that time, and that, coupled with the fact that I'm a bit of an Anglophile myself, placed it in the Empire somewhere. East Africa was off the main trade routes yet valuable enough to have an Empire presence, so I settled on Kenya. The airship would be small and non-military to allow for a rich variety of stories, so a small crew moving cargo. Thus the key question then was, who would be in that crew?
The father-figure was felt to be necessary, thus was born Clinton Monroe. Middle-aged, wise, maybe with a wisdom he'd rather not have acquired. Why did he know about airships? Ah. Ex-Royal Aero Corps. Retired? No, cashiered, unjustly cashiered after a run-in with a titled brat. Monroe was a rising star, the future "Nelson" of the flying force, until a junior prima-donna officer with strong family connections screwed up his assignment, causing the Empire to lose face and a vital outpost. The young jerk blamed Monroe's ambiguous orders, and it all became politics as usual after that. So Monroe became a drunk for a couple of years before calling in an IOU from a former colleague and cobbling together a cargo vessel from castoff parts. You can just imagine the attitude he holds toward Empire authority figures.
With the captain in place, I needed a crew. The first need was an American to appeal to my predominantly American audience, so I decided he would be the deck hand, an all-around dog's body who would be the captain's right hand, and involved in a large amount of the action. The confidant, in other words. David Smith by name. So, what was an American doing on a blimp in Africa? Ah, a fugitive. Running from what? He killed someone in America. So what? Lots of people killed someone in America; they didn't feel compelled to run to Africa to escape justice. Somebody important, then, or a relative of somebody important, somebody with the wealth and influence to hunt him down and bring him to justice. Thus would an African backwater become logical. I didn't need to work out the details of his crime at this point. It was enough that he was hunted.
My next consideration was to include a woman in the crew, and my first thought was to make her the engineer. But then I realized that a cute female engineer is the biggest cliché in steampunk, so huge that it has spilled over into mainstream sci-fi, so that was out. What other position was open? The pilot? That would work. She would have a rapport with the ship almost like it was a living being. But why and how? I decided that Patience Hobbs was born into poverty, but when her father was killed in a mine accident, she was adopted into one of the noble families of England by the mine owners, a lord and lady who had six sons but no daughters; she was almost a hobby for the lady of the manor. Seeing the fate in store for her, a trophy wife to be kept on display in a gilded cage, she fled to Africa. Armed with a recommendation of being a "smart and resourceful girl" written by a retired senior officer, father of one of her classmates, she presented herself dockside, where Monroe gave her a chance. Her rapport with the ship was immediate and near-legendary, and she has been on his crew ever since. One of her acquaintances, a titled lady of the realm, even passes through the narrative to fuel one of the darker stories in the collection. The ship's engineer, Gunther Braun, was a throwaway character given the nature of the airship; he would barely be able to get out of the engine room, and was, in fact, changed three times; I don't think anyone cared one way or the other.
The final piece of the puzzle was an "everyman." I was writing about a made up steampunk world with its contrived physics and imaginary equipment that readers would need to be brought up to speed on. The choices are to have a character who needs to have things explained to him, or page after page of information dumps to bring the reader along. That's a terrible idea, and I cannot stress that enough, so Nicholas Ellsworth, newly-minted botanist and frontier babe-in-the-woods, joined the crew. The balance was to give enough information by other means that he wouldn't be asking non-stop questions like a two-year old, and I flatter myself that I succeeded. To see how I brought these people to life, you are welcome to flip through the stories. They're all available here in my portfolio, so I'm not asking you to buy anything.
A very important point is that all of these characters had extensive backstories, but what made them compelling was that I didn't just take a half-dozen pages to explain in painful detail the story of each of their lives from childhood on. Had I done that, I doubt a single reader would have finished the first book. Instead, their stories came out piece by piece over the course of the trilogy. We didn't find out what the American, a dangerous gunslinger, was wanted for until late in the third book, and Patience has a secret that never came out. She has a tattoo in a place that is always covered by her modest Victorian clothing. It is never discussed in the stories and none of her friends know she has it, but I know she has it. I know what it is, where it is, who put it on her, and why she allowed it, and though it is never seen on the page, it informs nearly everything she says and does.
These, then, were my core characters, and through twelve novellas and a full-size novel, they carried the plots on their capable shoulders. Villains, henchmen, McGuffins, and damsels in distress came and went throughout, and every character large and small had a similarly developed backstory, most of which was never disclosed to the reader. As contemporary author Michael J. Kannengieser wisely said, "Discover everything about your characters that you can before you write your story. If you get stuck at any point, they will write your dialogue for you." When it comes to developing characters, I doubt that wiser words were ever spoken. If your fiction has felt, or even *gasp!* been called flat or dull, try developing at least your main characters richly and fully, then tease your readers by holding bits back. Make them wonder why these people act like they do. Remember, people read fiction to vicariously live an experience, and if you explain everything they need to know on the first page, they'll have no reason to read the second. Be mysterious. Make them wait for the payoff. They'll love you for it!
And that's 30 for this week. Read well, write better, and make the adventures on your pages realer than life!
Boldly champion your dreams,
"One of the dumbest things you were ever taught was to write what you know. Because what you know is usually dull. Remember when you first wanted to be a writer? Eight or ten years old, reading about thin-lipped heroes flying over mysterious viny jungles toward untold wonders? That's what you wanted to write about, about what you didn't know."
~ KEN KESEY; author of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
But what is the great unknown that you want to write about? The first step in the process is to find that storyline, that germ of a plot that you can ride to completion. Planner or pantser, poet or novelist, it is your story that will carry you to success or lead you to failure. But we all have ideas coming at us by the dozen. That's the nature of being a writer, and it's probably one of the main reasons that you consider yourself one. But how, among this sea of ideas, do you recognize The One?
The first novel I completed was Temple of Exile. It wasn't very good, and only exists in a weather-beaten storage box in the back of a closet, but it grabbed me like very few ideas have. So, what was it about that idea that lifted it above hundreds of others?
This was literally that story about thin-lipped heroes in a viny jungle, at least the first part of it was. Archaeologists in Peru are excavating an Inca site which includes a temple that transports some of them to an alternate universe where they must solve the riddle of where they are, overcome a greedy tyrant who would use their science to enhance his own power, and figure out how to return home. That's a big, sprawling story by anyone's standards, and I didn't learn any part of the characters' actions working in an office, or even prowling the airfield as a safety inspector; I had this burning desire to write what I didn't know, and I acted on it. But I had also developed ideas about space operas, sword and sorcery, spies, and hard-boiled detectives. What gave this one legs?
Quite simply, I found that this was the idea that held my interest, the one that I kept coming back to again and again when my space opera lost power or my hard-boiled detective hit a dead end. And that's how you can tell. The One is the idea that you talk about with friends, daydream about while you're walking your dog, develop while you're washing dishes or waiting to fall asleep. It won't leave you alone. If an idea loses steam, there's no point fighting for it; it hasn't made the cut. But if it holds your interest, that's The One.
In closing, I have a couple of related ideas to pass along. The first is a suggestion: As much as you can stand it, don't tell friends and family about your project. I know, it's hard to suppress your enthusiasm, but I know from painful experience that when you tell someone all about what you're doing, it lets the air out, removes the pressure to create. In your subconscious mind's opinion, that story has now been told, and it's on to the next thing. Share it prematurely and you'll lose it, if not permanently, at least for weeks or months.
The second is an absolute necessity: Always carry the means to record ideas, either electronic or old school. Being the old guy that I am, I favor the Meade fatbook, 200 college-ruled sheets of 5½ x 3½" paper in a spiral binding. The choice of method is yours, of course, but never be caught without the means to jot down ideas for plots & twists, characters, dialogue, settings, and anything else that might enhance your project. They're easy to lose in this modern, hectic world, and if you aren't prepared to record them they'll fade like rings of smoke; all you'll remember is that you had this great idea, and now it's gone.
And that's this week's sermon. There are many, many aspects to being successful as a writer, and I'm going to discuss as many as I can think of in the weeks ahead, but the basic foundation is a high-quality story that can go the distance. Listen to your own mind at play and decide what story you're burning to tell, then tell it. That first taste of success will fire you with enthusiasm to go on to bigger and better things, and what a wonderful prospect that is!
Boldly champion your dreams,
"You don't choose writing; writing chooses you."
~ JACK TYLER
So, you've been chosen, and suddenly you're literally not able to stop the words flowing from your fingers. You're in good company; writers from Austin to Zola have found themselves chosen, and have entertained readers and built fame for themselves that has lasted, in many cases, for centuries.
Good morning, youngsters, and welcome to my brand new blog, built with you in mind. I hope this will become your go-to stop for information, tales of the Craft, and often just pure entertainment. I thought a good starting point would be to tell you who I am, where I came from, how I got here, and let you decide for yourself whether you think you can learn anything from reading this blog.
As I've mentioned elsewhere, my real name is Jack Tyler. I was born in the fall of 1948, which means that at the time of this writing I am 71 years old. It feels strange to even write this as, while my body is declining as all bodies eventually do, my mind hasn't moved much beyond ten. I like Xbox, strategy games, and big sprawling fantasy movies with lots of action. I'm a kid at heart, and happy of the fact. I don't believe that people who lose touch with their inner child live very pleasant lives.
So, what got me started? From 3rd through 6th grade I attended Sunset View Elementary School on the western slope of a hill in San Diego overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Every year around Christmas time we could watch the gray whale migration from the playground. It was a wonderful school, my favorite of all the schools I attended, but every year up through 4th grade, writing was a chore that we had to complete to avoid some sort of minor punishment, and my spirits sank every time one of my teachers would get out the lined paper for a writing exercise.
Then in September of 1957, I began 5th grade with Mrs. Warner. I had encountered her in the lower grades in my duties as a messenger and in after school activities, and knew her as a friendly woman who genuinely cared about the students. I considered myself incredibly fortunate when I was assigned to her class for 5th grade. I turned 9 in October, and discovered to my chagrin that Mrs. Warner was a big proponent of creative writing. Hmmm. Perhaps I wasn't so fortunate after all?
But when I balked, instead of making me stand in the corner with a dunce cap on, Mrs. Warner took me aside and encouraged me to try it. Don't you enjoy good stories?" the conversation went. This is a chance for you to try your hand at telling your own stories." So I tried it. She would give us an hour to write some little story, and put pictures that she'd cut from magazines around the eraser troughs on the blackboards for inspiration for those who needed it. Then she would turn us out for recess. While we were out, she would read over our stories and pick a few favorites, then when we came back in she would read the favorites to the class without revealing who wrote them. To my surprise, mine were consistently among the most popular, even though I wasn't anywhere near the most popular kid. I was hooked.
And what great literature was I writing at nine years old? The same thing any other nine-year old boy would write. Rip-snortin' adventure tales about me and my neighborhood friends hunting live dinosaurs in the canyon at the end of our street, winning WWII in planes, tanks, or submarines, or solving creepy crimes that had the police stumped. But something about my style or construction spoke to readers, and they weren't shy about letting me know it. I never looked back.
Since then I've studied the Craft incessantly, talked with agents, editors, and publishers both socially and for business, learned to edit for publication, and a raft of other things. I never caught my break, and went on to self-publish, adjusting my expectations to find contentment with my lot. Life experience is important to a writer, and after school I spent some years at sea, giving my adventure stories a nautical flair and a wealth of colorful characters to populate them. I've explored our local deserts in a series of four-wheel drive vehicles, and raised a family, learning how to deal with schools as a parent – it's a whole different world, I assure you. Over the next months and perhaps years, I hope to share lessons I've learned from these experiences, and scores more. I hope they will prove useful to you as you make your way through the tangled undergrowth of the world of writing.
So, where did you come from? What sparked your creative gene and caused you to become Chosen? This isn't just me doing a monologue, it's an open forum. I'd love to hear from you!
Boldly champion your dreams,