The Craft: Research, How Much Is Too Much?

[This is part of a continuing series on the art of writing fiction.]

I’m trying to get the balance right between research and writing. One thing I don’t want to do when writing fiction is research too much.sketch

The other day, I read an interview with Tom Stoppard, the playwright. I haven’t been able to track down the exact one again. But the important point was: can one over-research before sitting down to write a story? Is there  a point where you should be begin writing before you know too much about a given topic? In the final analysis, Tom says yes, you shouldn’t wait to become a total expert, but dive in.

Now, I’ve written my fair share of stories in historical settings. And the question is: where do you stop? I don’t know the exact answer, but I do know you can overdo the research. You have to go into a work still a bit ignorant about it. You must choose the difficult middle path.

Over-research or over-plot your story/book and you risk making it stale. You’ll sit down to write and have nothing to say, it’s almost like you’ve written yourself out. Written the idea out. On the other hand, research too little, plot too little and you could soon lose yourself in a trackless forest of options and alternatives. There’s nothing to guide you back to the kernel of the story. And your world’s details are flawed or inaccurate.

So, when do you put the research down and begin in earnest? As always, there’s no hard and fast rule, you just have to make a gut decision. Right now, I think of it like a sketch of the human body. You want to have the skeleton and its position complete in your mind, but you don’t need all the organs in place or the skin. You just need a basic idea of how the thing will look on the page. That’s not to be dismissive of research or world-building, but you have to know when it’s time to stop and begin to write.

Everyone will have their limit for this, my only point is there is a danger in doing too much research, too much plotting, too much thinking. Your research and plotting has to be a foundation. The story itself is the building. When the foundation looks good, you have to start putting the walls in place. And in a writing a story, the writer is the only one who can make that call. It’s your world, writer, you have to build it.

Good luck and see you next time,

DJ

The Writing of the Fiction

Guys, getting into the writing…of the fiction…this week. So, I’ve got to post and run.

I thought I would like to talk about events at large, and I started this writing day fully intending to do that, but it just melted inside me…and was gone. I almost threw down the book I was going to quote from. It just no longer worked and I had no motivation to write about it.  

But in fiction writing, it’s whole different story. I’m reading, absorbing, researching, submitting, writing. All good stuff, but it means not much time left to blog. I hope to have more substantive posts in the future. Until then, I’m working and doing this fiction writing stuff.

Now back, to that writing/submitting stuff. 

giphy Ren

See you guys next time,

DJ

Where My Writing Is Going in 2017

It’s a little late for resolutions, but I wanted to post this before 2017 gets too far away from us. writing headphones

First, let me say I’m pretty pleased with where my writing is at. So, these are more like adjustments than “resolutions.” Overall, I’m keeping disciplined and writing “what I know and love.” So, all’s pretty good. But I was noodling on what to change and these three things came up. So, here are my writing resolutions for 2017.

1. No More Novellas
Well, well, well. Here’s the deal: I love writing novellas. I’ve never been comfortable writing short stories: I always feel things are just starting to get good when I get to about 5,000-7,500 words—the upper limit for a short piece. So, I always feel like I have to stop just when things are getting going. It’s very, very frustrating.

On the other hand, novellas are fine, but they have one big problem. BIG  PROBLEM. No one wants to publish them. Well, I can’t say no one. But I can say there are far, far fewer markets for novellas than short stories or novels. And it’s really tough finding just the right market for just the right stories. (If you think I’m wrong about this, please reply in the comment section, I’d love to learn about more novella markets).

So, this year I’m going to concentrate on NOT writing novellas. I’m going to go short/long this year. NO MORE NOVELLAS.

2. Listen to My Music While I Write
Back in the day, I used to write with music on. I mean I would ALWAYS write with my music playing in my apartment. Nowadays, I write at a café and  listen to whatever they’re playing. And this can be distracting or annoying, especially when the music doesn’t fit the  mood of the scene you’re writing. I think it can also overpower your brain if it’s too loud or too complex. For some reason free-form jazz seems to be quite distracting for me—and  that’s a fairly common genre for cafes to play.

So, I’m going to try something different this year. I’m going to buy some headphones and plug those in. Then, I can select the music I need to write by. This usually means instrumental music or something sung in a language I don’t know. I’m interested to see if this will help or hurt productivity. But hey, this  is part of the experimentation I talked about, the tweaks you need to make to see if they help or hurt your writing.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

3. Go to One Con
I have messed up this one  again and  again. It feels  I haven’t gone to a Con in ages. I need to change that now. So, here’s my commitment to go to ONE Con this year. I think I should be able to do one.

I’m looking for a mid-size Con with a good writing track. You know, one with lots of workshops and seminars on writing. Maybe with some filking on the side. I’m thinking about going to BaltiCon in May, but haven’t decided yet. I’ll keep you posted.


So, that’s it. Three easy pieces. Going to start making this happen right now. See you out there, fellow writers. And best luck to all of you in 2017!!!! Let’s do this!

,DJ

New Flash Fiction Story Published

Hey, everybody and Happy New Year! We’re starting 2017 off right: a new short-short So-You-Found-Mestory of mine has just been published. It’s about a self-conscious story. This is how it starts:

So you found me. Well done.

Don’t think for a moment that I’m merely a story. Oh no, not even close. I have thoughts, feelings, ideas, just like you. Just like any other sentient being…

If you want to read the rest head over to Between Worlds magazine and read the story, it’s called “So You Found Me.” You can also read the full new edition of BW magazine which has new stories from a bunch of up-and-coming writers. And, as always, I encourage you to contribute to the magazine which you can at the bottom of this page. Between Worlds is a paying market (for short stories, not flash) and we need to preserve and nurture these markets. Thanks!…Enough promo!

Hope you enjoy the piece and please leave a comment there or here on my blog. Would love some feedback on it. And thanks to Between Worlds for considering and publishing the piece!

See you again soon.

,DJ

Ending (the Year) Where I Began

Just a short post today. Feeling good. Not about the world so much, as my place in it. For what that’s worth…I was going to post about my resolutions for next year, but that’s going to have to wait. Here’s what I’m doing today, not tomorrow.

Prepping a story for publishingOcean Dawn
Good news: my flash fiction (less than 1,000 words) story “So You Found Me” will be published over at Between Worlds magazine. I loved this little piece from when I first sat down and wrote it, so it’s nice having it see the light of day. I will post when the story goes live.

This morning I sent my Bio and some other stuff along to the editor, so we should be all good to go. Nothing like starting the day off with a positive bit of literary business.

Wrapping another story
Right now, I’m in the café, hooked in and ready to start editing (as soon as I finish this post). With that, I should be done with “The Number Thief” a short story/novelette that I started working on this fall. It’s taken awhile, but I feel it’s a strong piece. I can’t wait to get this finished, proofed and off to editors.

Submitting finished stories
Well, this one might have to wait a day or two. I have a couple of other stories I need to send back into the arena. “Pacha-mama,” a play and a couple of other pieces will have get back in the fight and see how they do. I’ve been so slammed lately I haven’t had a chance to get them out there. Hope to submit them tomorrow.


So…I’m exactly where I started the year, in a sense. I’m living and writing fiction when I can. It’s a great experience and one that helps keep me balanced.

I know this year hasn’t been the easiest for everybody, but I want you to remember this quote from Heraclitus.

“The Sun is new each day.”

Remember, the sun will be back tomorrow and with it, a new day. The question is…What will you do with it?

Until next time…

Keep reading, keep writing,

Darius

A Look Back at My Year in Writing—2016

2016 was a pretty good year for my fiction writing. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad. This post follows an annual tradition: it’s the one time in the year where I look back at what I said I wanted to do way back at the start of the year and see how I did. It will also look at other things I accomplished. So, here we go.


1. I Didn’t Go to Any Cons.Pushkin Writing
This was bit of a fumble. I wanted  to go to two Cons (you know, those assemblages where fans and creatives get together and talk), but I didn’t even make it to one! Well, it was a crazy year. I moved to a new place, work was hectic—and oh yeah!—there was  all that fiction writing to do. So, this didn’t happen. I will definitely try to make up for it—penance, penance—in 2017.

2. Blog Changes
I did get the blog headed where I wanted it to go. The posts are regular, but short and telegraphic when they need to be. I’ve also blogged a little bit about subjects that aren’t writing- or art-related. So, little steps. Little, good steps.

3. I Wrote What I Wanted
Hell yeah. This was probably my biggest breakthrough this year. Early last year, I just thought, “To hell with it, I’m going to write what I want to write.” And I’m glad to report I have. Regardless of marketability or clear genres or even common sense—I just dove in. I wrote those stories which were “burning in my belly” like Halberstam said. I finished a South American gothic horror fantasy, wrote a comedic play with a medieval setting and started a piece of flash fiction for crying out loud. Me! Flash fiction! A style which I swore I would never write in. But an idea came to me in the airport, I fired up my laptop and in 30 minutes later it was done.

And I brought it all back home with a story featuring the protagonist of The Ghul of Yazd—Yusuf ibn-Yaqzan. They’re all very different pieces, but they have a common thread. They’re EXACTLY the pieces I wanted to be writing when I took them up. And that has made all the difference.

4. I Saw my First “Literary” Fiction Piece Get Published
This year was the third time I had a piece of mine get published traditionally (i.e. by a third party publisher/magazine). Well, that felt good. And any year when you get something (anything) published is a good year. It also marks the first time I had a work published anywhere which had NO supernatural  elements. It was “literary fiction,” you could say. Anyway, it was exciting to see it in print.

5. I Wrote my First Play
This was also the first year in which I dipped my toe in a very, very difficult new style: I wrote a play. I still think it has flaws, but I was  able to keep it together, write five acts and have some consistency in plot, character, setting, etc. I’ve been shopping it around, but must admit I’m finding it rough going since I have to learn a whole new way of putting forward the piece. No emails sent to distant lands without a second thought. (And I get a lingering sense that I may not be enough of an extrovert to be a good playwright. All that dealing with playhouses and working through the script with total strangers—ugh!). But I wrote what I wanted and—damn it!—It was fun!

6. I Felt My Writing Improve
Now, it can be hard to judge your own stuff. I realize that. We always think our own works are the best. It’s a human weakness. But I do feel that the preparation, the thinking behind them and the outcome of my works improved this year. I would definitely say—to get a bit down in the weeds—that my plotting improved. I have struggled with that aspect MIGHTILY in the past. It’s very difficult to do the right amount of planning. Plan too little and the story fly off the rails. Plan too much and you risk not allowing your characters to breath and  live—and the whole project comes off as flat and sterile. I’m finally starting to zero in on a happy medium where I plan just enough to keep the whole thing moving and alive, but within the proper constraints. It was gratifying to see that change in my pieces this year.


So, all in all, it was a pretty good year in fiction writing. I will see you guys in a couple of weeks, where I’ll post a bit about my plans for 2017. I’m looking forward to another year of writing fiction.

Today, I Write

Well today I was going to write a nice, fat blog post. It ain’t gonna happen. X

I have a story burning a hole through me. And I have one chapter left. So, with only x hours to write today, I’m gonna spend that x the best way I know how: by writing fiction. So today, I write.

I will see you guys in a couple of weeks with a bigger post.

And if you’re a writer, I hope you’ll join me in writing today. Always remember: what separates writers from the rest is that writers write. 

Until Next Time,

Darius

4 Years of My Blog

Writer writing

Wow. WordPress is telling me I’ve been writing this blog for four years. (It’s actually a bit longer than that since the blog started over on Goodreads). I can’t believe it. So, today, I want to do a quick look back and, more importantly, a look ahead.

First, here is the first post on my blog from July 20, 2012:


Well, here goes nothing

My first novel has just been published. It’s on the Amazon Kindle store here. It’s also on Goodreads.

Please take the time to leave a review. And a big thank you to all of you who have already got it and are reading it.

,D


My posts have come a long way since then. They even include pictures, which apparently is an unwritten rule on the Internet. So, to continue the look back: what have I done, in my writing life, over those past four years? Glad you asked. This is what:

  • Self-published a novella.
  • Got three of my stories traditionally published in magazines.
  • Wrote a fricking play. (Thanks, Fink!)
  • Wrote 171 blog posts. (Was it that many?)
  • Shared the blog with thousands of visitors.
  • Changed the frequency of the blog from weekly to biweekly.
  • Kept focused, kept disciplined, kept writing.

That last one is the most important to me. Constancy. I’ve written about that a lot here on the blog. But it’s one thing to write about something, and quite another to do it. To sit your butt down and write every weekend, when you could be doing other things. I’m really proud of that.

So, what’s next? Number one: keep writing fiction. I also want to re-christen the blog. It’s not going to be a “Writer Begins” anymore. If it needs a title, it’s going to be “A Writer Writes.” I think that fits just fine because that’s what I’m all about. And with three published stories, I feel a new chapter has begun. I’ve done a lot and learned a lot since I started this blog. There’s always more you can learn, of course. But that third story felt like some sort of milestone. One time could be lucky—a fluke. A second time, could be a coincidence. But getting published three times—There’s something to that. Three times is no accident. And with that comes an assurance you can do it again and again. Even before you put pen to paper.

As a consequence of that I feel the characters and the stories and the writing are all maturing. And improving. Now, the challenge is to keep going and build on that solid foundation.

And that’s what I intend to do. So, here’s to bloggers blogging and writers writing. Let’s keep this going.

Thanks for Tuning In,

DJ

Writing Update—An Acceptance

Well…Well…Well… Prince_SelfTitled

Here we are two weeks later and I feel like I could be blogging again about the passing of another music legend. Sigh. Big Sigh. Losing Prince sucks. Just as much as losing Merle Haggard or David Bowie…But I don’t want to make this blog too much of a downer. And there are others who are bigger fans and far better placed to do a proper homage to the Purple One. And also, these guys wrote songs about “this thing called life.” And we, the living, have to continue, must continue…To live, to love and to write—great music or great stories as suits our personalities. 

So, reflecting on that, and more importantly, acting on it…Here’s a little good news: one of my stories was accepted by a magazine. That’s right, “Barabanchik” has found a home. I don’t want to get into the details, but suffice to say, the editors wrote back and are excited about including it in their next issue. I will share more as things solidify, but I wanted  to get this good news out there. Barabanchik means “drummer” or “little drummer” in Russian and it’s perfect name for the character in the story. I’m glad he’ll finally walk out of Kazansky Station and onto the pages of a magazine. Can’t wait to see him there.

And while we’re at it, here’s an update on other stuff I’m working on:

Pacha-Mama
This long short story/novelette came darn, darn close to being published by a magazine. It made it into the final round of consideration, but in the end it didn’t make the cut. This weekend, I’m going to proof it one more time and send it off to magazines again. I love the Pacha-Mama character as much as I love Barabanchik. 

The Sludge Ship Chronicles
This play…Man, it’s so close to being done. I have to sit down with a hard copy of it again this weekend, mark it up. Then, input the changes and it should be essentially done. All that will remain is a good proofreading and marketing the piece.

In fact, I have decided upon what I’ll call the “apex market” for the piece: the most selective market out there that I still think it’s got a shot at. It’s a local theater known for putting on eclectic, modern plays. And they accept submissions from local playwrights, which is rare. But it won’t be easy. I have a feeling they are very, very selective. A perfect apex market to start with and see what happens.

So You Found Me
Was waiting in the airport one day and this idea just hit me. Or should I say an idea that had hit me a long time ago finally and suddenly coalesced, popping out of my subconscious into my conscious. So, I wrote it out right there on my officially-licensed work computer. Smuggled the piece out later and have been polishing it since. It’s a short-short piece, a piece of flash fiction at under 1,000 words. Never written anything that short before.

Will be editing this further and see what I want to do with it.


A Little on Prince
Didn’t think I was going to completely short change you, did you? This is a speech Prince gave upon being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He talks about two of the most important things for artists: freedom and friendship. I especially love these lines:

Without real spiritual mentoring, too much freedom can lead to the soul’s decay. And a word to the young artists … a real friend or mentor is not on your table. A real friend and mentor cares for your soul as much as they do the other one.

But really, you should check out his music. As much of it as you can.

Until Next Time,

Darius

How You Can Support the Art of Fiction

People often have more power than they think. The easiest thing to do in the world is throw up your hands and say: “Well, what am I supposed to do about it?” and just move on and forget. The following post is designed to discourage you from doing that. Anthology1-FinalCover-thumbnail

A question I often think about, but am rarely asked is: “How can  I support the art of writing fiction?” Well, here are some ideas. Broken down into three areas, in no particular order:

1. Buy books from writers you enjoy
It doesn’t matter to me what format you digest your books in: an e-reader, a tablet, your smartphone, a physical book,  papyrus or a stone tablet. But what does matter to me is that, at some point, you make a little contribution to the person who created the content you’re enjoying. This contribution can be $20 or $10 or even 99 cents. But it should be something.

A vibrant creative culture does not spontaneously generate, but needs support from the broader society in which it grows. Making sure artists are compensated in some form for their hard work is part of this. Sure, I would still write for free—what real writer (or artist) wouldn’t? But being on the other side, I can tell you that there’s something rewarding and validating in being paid for something you’ve created. I know this is a time of tremendous change in digital goods, but it behooves all of us to contribute something to artists so that the creative culture remains strong. To borrow from the music industry: If you like the music you hear on Spotify/Pandora/YouTube, buy the album.

2. Support the little journals
If you want to support fiction, especially the development of new writers: I suggest seeking out the smaller, harder-to-find journals. There are the big ones of course: Asimov’s, Analog and Clarkesworld to name a few. And then there are semi-pro journals (as judged  by Duotrope, not me) like Apex. But there are also smaller journals. You can find a ton of them on Duotrope or Grinder, if you sign up for a basic account.

In fact, I’ll put in a little shout out here for two I have worked with and who have published my stuff. Fiction Vortex published my first story, “The Hatchlings.” They’ve come back to life after closing a couple of years ago. They recently started a new episodic series thing that’s pretty interesting. Strangelet Journal published by second story to find its way into print, “The Ghul of Yazd.” You can subscribe to that magazine or just straight up contribute to them on their Patreon page. It’s up to you.

Without small journals like these, I doubt I would have got my foot in the door and had my first stories published. These are those self-same “obscure magazines” that new writers have always submitted to and they need your support because they’re the only ones out there taking risks and publishing unheard-of and often un-published writers.

Every issue bought and subscription renewed, helps keeps the art of discovery of new writers alive. And the only ones out there doing this, that I’ve seen, are these small journals. Please consider giving them a little love. This writer certainly would appreciate it.

3. Encourage that writer friend
You know who they are. You hear them talking in the halls at work about their writing project. Or maybe they bring it up at the bar or the kids’ softball game on the weekend. Wherever it may be, go easy on them. And be patient. And if you know it’s important to them, give them a little nudge to keep them going and producing. After all, words lead to word counts which lead to first drafts which lead to second drafts which lead to finished pieces. I should know, that’s exactly how I do it.

I’m a big believer in the power of peer pressure applied in doses when appropriate…And truth be told we writers usually like a little encouragement (pressure?).


That’s it. Short and sweet today. Next time, I’ll be back with an update on my writing. I guess you could say, I’ve been keeping busy. And productive. So, I will have quite a bit to  say.

See you then,

Darius