Saturday, September 29, 2012

Meaningful Action

I'm fairly sure I've addressed the subject of Meaningful Action several times over, but—having come to a new(er) understanding of it—I'm going to address it again.

Meaningful action is what everything that happens in a story should be. Or, more specifically, what everything the writer relates in the narrative should be. Although a character might bath, groom themselves, and spend half an hour picking out duds, none of this is meaningful action unless it's somehow directly tied into the plot (like that character is being watched while doing so, or the water is full of nanites, or the clothes are magical, or...).

A minor exception can be made for actions that must be depicted so the reader isn't confused, as well as action that reveals character (although ideally these should be Meaningful as well, serving several purposes at once). Everything else is filler and should be gotten rid off, or, better yet, not included in the first place.

Just as importantly, Meaningful Action is directly tied to a character's motivation, usually the main character(s) and usually related to a try-fail cycle. Everything that happens in a story should be directed by a character for the purpose of accomplishing a goal and/or thwarting the goal of another.

Yes, overcoming environmental hazards or being presented with them counts (a volcano erupts, the temperature suddenly drops below freezing, etc). But be aware that survival, in and of itself, is rarely interesting enough to drive a story. Survival placed at odds with an important goal (making a run on the Death Star) is much more compelling.

So... undirected, aimless action (whether 'exciting' or not) is not healthy for a story. A reader should always feel as though the viewpoint character is acting in a way that that character believes will bring them closer to a goal. The goal should always be transparent (no false mystery!) and the action should always be explicable, if not logical (in other words: 'in character').

Action must have resolution. A character must succeed or fail, and it must be clear to the reader whether that character has succeeded or failed. Ideally, failure (excepting ultimate failure as in a tragedy) should leave room for a new approach to surmounting whatever obstacle the character has failed to surmount—whether over, around, or through.

Failure must not be relieved by coincidence (Deus Ex Machina). Coincidence is difficult to swallow in any instance, but some level of it is present in all fiction. Coincidence that saves the day robs a story of relevance. Action must have unavoidable consequences in order to feel real.Characters must have agency.

A story is a situation, acted on by a character in a meaningful way, leading to results that are clearly causally connected to the action taken by that character. No more and no less.

I'm as guilty as anybody of muffing all this stuff (like writing an awesome gunfight that is actually a snooze-fest, because it isn't actually relevant). Guiltier than most, probably. But laying it out like this, in a very clear and succinct (almost harsh) form, is immensely useful for me as a cribsheet I can refer to later, or a mental map (like a transparency) I can lay on top of my stories, then say "Hmm... is this actually a compelling Story?"

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Flower, Fire, Funeral Pyre

Flower, Fire, Funeral Pyre is now available on Amazon and Smashwords.


Sometimes childish things persist beyond their natural time. Sometimes evil is blurry at the edges. Sometimes a little imagination only makes things worse.

Boys will be boys
and sparks will be fire,
floral and flush
with death and desire.

Flower, Fire, Funeral Pyre is a weird-horror tale with a distinctly Southern flavor. It's about 5,900 words long.

Warning: This story has a few instances of adult language.

Buy it on Smashwords.

Buy it on Amazon.

Happy Days Are Here Again

As noted a few weeks ago, I've reached an understanding about Story that is dead simple but—for me, at least—revolutionary. (Or possibly evolutionary?) Basically, a story needs a protagonist with an actual goal, and I need to know what that goal is before I start writing the story.

This is dramatic structure 101 type stuff and no cosmic revelation, I know. I think the reason I didn't 'get it' for so long was because my process has been seat-of-the-pants, a start-writing-now-and-figure-it-out-later kind of thing. Which, as it turns out, is a great way to develop ideas, characters, and settings. But a lousy way to develop plots. For me, anyway.

I've only written a few stories since this magical revelation, so I don't know that I've solved all my problems. I do know that I've had absolutely no trouble finishing those stories. Compared to the last three or four, which I stalled out on, one-by-one, this is a huge blessing.

Yes, folks, it's true. I've converted. I'm an outliner now.

Keep in mind that my outlines are pretty much chicken scratch compared to a serious, hardcore planner-type. And the story often veers far away from the original plan. Even so, I'm starting out with a plan now, and it feels mighty good.

I haven't written as much lately as I would like, even with this new-found fervor. Not for lack of effort or time, but because I've been putting that time and effort into publishing. This is the second week in a row that I've formatted, made a cover, and epublished a short story. Which also feels mighty good.

When I started writing, about a year and a half ago, I did so because I heard about the boom in self-epubbing. My intentions were always to put my work out myself, but I've been mired in traditional submissions (and in learning how to write well, which turned out to be more difficult than it appeared). I finally feel confident enough in my craft to move the publishing to the front burner.

I've got close to fifty short stories finished at this point, plus another ten in various stages of completion, plus a novel that's in dire need of editing. I'm still going to keep the most recent stuff in circulation as submissions to pro-paying genre markets (since it will take me a while to get to putting it up myself anyway), but I am going to focus on getting the older stuff up on Amazon and Smashwords.

I still hope to get a decent amount of writing done while I do this, but writing new work will be going from main priority to, erm... co-priority? So expect to see as much publishing talk as writing talk in the coming months. And expect to see lots more stories by yours truly go up online.

One final note: Putting my stories up is a huge motivator to write more stuff. The fact that I can log onto my author accounts and see a list of my work available to buy is, frankly, awesome. So perhaps this new pubbing focus will result in more fiction after all :)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

About Self-Epublishing:

It's a pain in the keister.

Okay, maybe not compared to all the effort that would go into paper self-publishing, especially how it used to be before POD and online distributors like Amazon and Smashwords. But still.

And maybe it isn't a pain so much as it is work, and unfamiliar work at that. But, but, but...

Yep. I'm going through some growing pains. And I'm feeling a tad bit whiny.

It took me around three or four hours to edit and format my most recent story, Hunter-in-the-Dark. It took about the same so the cover, and about the same to do the actual publishing. All told, I'm about 12 hours invested now, not counting the time spent actually writing the thing.

That's not too shabby in some ways, compared to how things were for self-pubbers until the last few years. But it's about three times longer than I want to be spending on a short story. It's also about the same amount of time it took me for the last three.

So, why aren't I getting faster? I've learned a ton in the process of getting the other stories up. That should translate to increased speed, ease, and efficiency. The problem is, I'm also figuring out new things that need to be done.

So basically, my workflow has gotten 'leaner', but it's also gotten more involved. I'm currently resisting the urge to go back and fix all the stuff I had no clue about in the first three stories. Like back matter and cross-links :) I probably will, but later, after I've done a few more and figured out even more ways to improve my presentation.

The concept of which makes me want to simultaneously tear my hair out and jump for joy. It's a strange and nonobvious time we live in, ain't it?


Important addendum: My publishing company (Step5 Transmedia, of which I am the founder, owner, and PR flack) wants to make sure I let you know that Hunter-in-the-Dark is not actually self-published. Because it's published by, erm... Step5 Transmedia. Yep. I'm recursively shameless.

Hunter-in-the-Dark is now available

Hunter-in-the-Dark is now available at Smashwords and Amazon for only .99 cents.


Ferd'do is so close to being an adult that he can taste it. This is his last hunt with a troop (and under the supervision of a crusty, old pup-master). And all he has to do to be accepted as a full-fledged hunter... is survive.

Ferd'do's species (the Hunters-in-the-Dark) believe they are the apex predators of their world. But are the campfire tales true? Is there really something higher up the food chain?

And what kind of twisted creature is formidable enough to to hunt the hunters?

Hunter-in-the-Dark is a dark-fantasy short story of about 1,900 words.

Check it out!

As always, book bloggers may contact me for a free Smashwords download code.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I Got Smacked in the Face... what Story is and isn't, this last week or so. But, before I tell you all about it, a joke:

My new pen name (I'll be writing as a girl): Sue Doehnim. Tee-hee-hee. I'm sure I didn't think of that all on my own, but I didn't steal it (consciously, on purpose), either.

Anyway, back to important writerly stuffs.

I figured out what's been holding my story-telling back lately. (By lately I mean always, although sometimes more so than other times.) I have been doing a great job (if I do so so myself) with characterization, descriptions, interesting ideas, all the spices that go in the stew. But I've been skimping on the meat and potatoes.

To wit: a story has to have conflict. More importantly, a protagonist, which a story has to have, has to have a clear goal that the reader understands. This is where I've been failing, without even realizing it.

Sometimes my stories have conflict, but it's not really relevant to 'the problem the MC must solve to win.' Sometimes there is no clear problem. (In other words, the story just 'happens' to the MC.) Sometimes, because everyone is lucky occasionally, I get it right.

But it wasn't until this last week that I realized how important this fundamental point is, and how often I've been skating straight past it. Story has to have an MC with a clear goal. A storyteller has to know what the MC's goal is, from the start. Or no story.

I've struggled to finish several genre stories lately, not understanding why it was so dang difficult to figure out what happens next. Now I know: I didn't know what the characters wanted to accomplish. So how could I possible know what happens next (when they try to accomplish whatever it is they are trying to accomplish)?

Answer: I can't. Result: unfinished story.

Sounds dumb, and basic as all get out. But I am so fired up about writing again, because I finally understand what my fiction needs. Not plot, not conflict, not great characters and settings. Goals. I have to let the reader in on the characters goals, ASAP.

Yay, me. Now back to writing.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Typecast the Second

 Note: You may be wondering "Why does anybody need a typewriter anymore, anyway?" (Or how I came to be infested with this particular fetish.) Never fear. I may be considering explaining myself in a post-to-come.