World Builder’s Disease: Knowing the Sickness

World Builder's Disease.jpgWorking as an editor, I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with other writers.  For me, getting to be a part of the process of creation is very rewarding.  However, it doesn’t come without peril.  Part of being an editor, much like being a doctor, is that you have to develop a sort of bedside manner.  When you look into the eyes of a vulnerable writer during review and utter, “My concern is that you have developed late stage World Builder’s Disease,” you need to be able to at least explain the nature of the sickness.  (Okay, I might not say it just like that — but I’m trying to make a point).

Some of you may already know, but World Builder’s Disease is basically when a writer gets so lost in the backstory of the world they are creating that they produce endless pages of history, character background, cultural information, and setting.  The characters, conflicts, and actual telling of the story become secondary to this grand history and complex world.  The book begins to look like an anthropological dissertation, instead of a story.

If you are completely unfamiliar with this term (or concerned that rash on your neck is actually World Builder’s Disease manifesting physically) there are a few sources I would recommend checking out.

The first thing to do would be to swing over to Writing Excuses and listen to the Season 3, Episode 1 podcast titled World Building History.  I’ve mentioned this website in a few of my posts already and will continue to do so.  There’s a reason the website is listed as one of the top 101 websites for writers by Writer’s Digest.  It’s an awesome source of information.

Gentleman World Builder.jpgNext, you should review, (The Dreaded) World Builder’s Disease from The Writersaurus blog. It’s a fun read and a very descriptive look at the menace.  This blog is loaded with some fun, writing specific, content.

Finally, check out the article The Truth About World Building Disease, from the website, The Worldbuilding School.  The article offers a basic explanation of World Builder’s Disease and explains some causes.  If you wanted to get a map illustrated for your work, this would be a good place to check out.  Additionally, if you are suffering from a lack of world building, this is a good place to start getting the gears moving.

Now for my two cents.  I feel writers have the most trouble recovering from this because the words are coming easily.  We hear this all the time: “Just write.  Meet those daily goals. You’re right if you just write.”  I still agree with these statements.  Just because you have a stack of paper with no real story, doesn’t mean its useless.  It just doesn’t have use as a publishable story just yet.

history.jpgSo if you have sat down and blasted out inches worth of unrelated historical information regarding a world, character, or item — don’t despair.  Set it aside and use it as part of your reference material.  Try sprinkling in some of it as descriptive beats and reveal the history throughout the course of your book.  Maybe you can set up a wiki page for your readers on your blog or website that lists this extra information after the book drops?  Or you could use this extra info to market your book before release, like I’ve been doing with my Wasteland Wednesday posts.

Regardless, unless you are working against a deadline, or have finished the book only to realize half of it is historical information (i.e. not characters dealing with conflicts), then don’t stress it.  Everyone’s creative process works differently.  Some people have the easiest time writing their characters, some people surge when they write conflicts, and other people create unbelievably complex worlds, histories, and cultures.  A blending of these things is what we need.

question-markAre you a sufferer of this affliction?  Do you know someone who is?  Do you have a cure that works for you?  Let me know.  While I don’t have a magic elixir, sometimes just addressing it works as a soothing balm.  Thanks for reading and be sure to stop by tomorrow.  Until then, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Writing Groups: Purpose, Productivity & Professionalism

A Bored Writing Group

Some people can write in a vacuum.  For others, collaboration is essential.  I lurk around somewhere between the two.  I feel it’s important to flush your story out independently before you let other people in who might influence it.  Personally, I don’t want someone else’s visions polluting the story I am writing.

Regardless, at some point, (hopefully after you have finished, or are close to finishing the first draft) you might want to start reaching out and getting outside feedback.  For me, this is the stage before going to Beta Readers and after the first draft.  Essentially, it is an element of my self-editing phase.

I was messaging a fellow blogger, A.M. Bradley, who wrote a post about trying to locate writing groups.  While I will let this intrepid pioneer chronicle the journey of searching for the perfect group, I thought I would touch on what you should look for in one.

lewis-inklings-featuredA writing group is a gaggle of writers who meet to discuss their work and provide useful feedback to each other.  I always envisioned them to be similar to the literary club the Inklings.  Their membership included J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, and many other greats.   They were just a group of brilliant writers, in a pub, talking about their classic works and enjoying each others company.  The sad truth is, a lot of writing groups are full of literary blow-hards who are only interested in quoting other peoples work and listening to themselves talk.  Fear not!  There is a group out there for you, and these are the things you should look for in one.

Look for groups operating within your genre.

You don’t go to a restaurant and ask the chef to give you a close shave, so why rely on someone who only reads and writes romance to provide feedback on your horror novel?  The naysayers are probably going, “But a real literary connoisseur isn’t limited by genre!”  Maybe there’s some truth to that.  I’m just saying, if I’m marketing a book to horror or romance readers I want someone who enjoys these genres to be critiquing it.  Not someone who is forcing themselves to read it to appease a writing group.

There should be some ground rules.

Writing Group Rules.jpgThis may seem like common sense, but if you are new to writing groups and you’ve stumbled into one lacking structure, know that’s a red flag.   The group, upon meeting, should have to stand, place a hand over their heart, and recite from memory the groups rules.  Okay, so that’s crazy.  However, there do need to be rules.

Depending on the size of the group (I would advise a smaller more intimate group) time is going to be essential to the success, enjoyment, and usefulness of your meetings.  For example, each meeting you will submit X number of pages for review the following week.  We each have X amount of time to provide feedback.  We have X amount of time to respond to feedback.  No cell phones (barring emergencies obviously) and so forth.

People should know when to show their cards and when to hold them. 

A Waterloo.jpgSo you’ve found your genre specific group and it has rules.  Good deal.  You are all huddled together in the corner, clutching coffees (or booze), and waiting with baited breath to hear feedback.  The feedback is coming, but wait, this clown missed the point I was trying to make with that passage.  You open your mouth to protest.  Stop.  Just don’t.

Brandon Sanderson, Howard Taylor, and Dan Wells made a phenomenal podcast on their website Writing Excuses about writing groups and touch on this specifically.  Keep in mind, these aren’t my words, they are the words of super-legit published authors (I’m not worthy…I’m not worthy).  If you won’t listen to me, listen to them.

Wells states that, “When your thing is being workshopped, shut up.  You sit, you don’t talk.  If you start to defend your work while others are critiquing it, you will get into arguments, and it will be a useless writing group.”

Taylor adds, “And the other thing to keep in mind, in that regard, is that if you’ve written something and it can’t defend itself without you saying stuff, it’s broken and it needs to be fixed.”

People should know the difference between providing feedback and inciting a duel to the death.

Unwanted Feedback.jpgLimit feedback to match the goals of the group or individual.  Some group members may want you to provide them with ideas as to where the story should go (not recommended). Some just want to know what you thought of what is already written, and why (recommended).

No writer that I know of wants to hear, “Hey, have you considered completely changing your main characters motivations to more align with this?”  That’s not feedback — that’s changing the course the voices in someones head are guiding them down.  We have enough voices in our heads pulling us along without another one derailing us into no mans land.

Even worse, no writer wants to hear, “The last few paragraphs were riddled with typos and didn’t make any sense at all – maybe grab a grammar book and try again?” That my friends is a word bullet.  Rephrase to, “There were some inconsistencies in the last few paragraphs that made it a little hard to follow.  To be honest, it left me a little confused.”  This sort of social awareness should be common sense, but I’ve heard worse statements made.

Even in my own group, which has been meeting together for years, I have an understanding of how to communicate effectively with each member.  It’s not a one-size-fits-all method.

People should share what they think, not what some amazing wiz-bang published author wrote and would think  (because we don’t really know what they think).

Angry Critic.jpgIf you can’t think of a bunch of feedback, that’s okay.  It means the writer conveyed their story in a well written and interesting manner.  Just say that.  You don’t need to start searching through memoirs, autobiographies, and self-help books to create feedback.

Don’t say, “Stephen King would probably tell you to stop focusing on describing clothes so much.  You know that’s a pet peeve of his?  I read about it in his book On Writing.”  We would all be so lucky to have Stephen King in our writing group — bad news though — Stephen King you are not (unless Stephen King is reading this, then you are more than welcome to cite yourself old chap).  When it comes to writing groups, be you, not the mouthpiece of someone else.

People should take notes.

take notes.jpgNothing says, “I don’t give a flaming crap rocket about what you are telling me,” more then someone who sits blankly and stares at you during feedback and doesn’t take notes. Unless you have an eidetic memory, you should be jotting down notes.  Honestly, even if you do have a mutant eidetic brain you should take notes anyways.

Part of the strength of writing groups derives from the camaraderie of coming together with a sect of like-minded individuals.  If you are sitting down with people you don’t know, taking notes, and being receptive to criticism, it tells everyone you mean business and take this writing thing seriously.

Let me put it another way.  You sit down with two pieces of work to critique.  One is your best friends, who always gives you useful feedback.  The other is some weird guy/girl from your writing group who doesn’t take notes and just mouth breaths at you the whole time you provide feedback.  Which one will you read with more interest and care?  Be the best friend.

Lastly, and most importantly, people should check their ego at the door.

ego.jpgIf you are looking for someone to read your work and gush about how amazing it is, email it to your parents, or girlfriend/boyfriend, or siblings, or whoever.  I’m not saying you can’t be upset about criticism (never let them see you bleed), but if you are going to turn red and go radioactive when someone tells you they aren’t connecting with a character, or idea, then maybe a writing group isn’t for you.  For me, I would rather a small circle of people tear my work up so I can rebuild it stronger, then go willy-nilly into the night and have critics publicly crucify my work on every review website and blog scattered among the interwebs.  (It will probably happen anyways, but hey, that’s writing for you.)

Happy hunting! 

Hopefully, some of this helped.  There’s plenty more hot tips out there, and I encourage you all to share them.  Heck, maybe you disagree with some of this completely.  If you have an experience or differing opinion, share it, I’ll make sure it posts (as long as it isn’t a string of incoherent expletives).

question-markSometimes you just fall into a writing group and it’s hunky dory. Sometimes you have to search far and wide.  Regardless of your situation, don’t settle for a crummy group.  If you can’t find a group, it’s time for you to make one.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Undead Army: Resurrect Your Darlings

Frankenstein_poster_1931You may be thinking, “Not another killing your darlings post!”  Wait.  Just wait.  I want to talk about resurrecting your darlings.  Using dark magic (necromancy) or brilliant flashes of insight, technology, and lightning (Victor Frankenstein) to spark life into forgotten and dead texts.  So grab a shovel,  some mad scientist goggles, and let’s get to work.

To resurrect your darlings, you must first have killed them.  I’m sure it was painful.  No one likes to take a knife and cut away a piece of their creation.  But let’s face it, if it wasn’t doing work (moving your story along) it was little more than a beautifully written parasite sucking away the readers enjoyment.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of, “Killing your darlings,” then here (an article on the origins of the term), here (an article from author Melissa Donovan about understanding the term), and here (a podcast from Writing Excuses discussing the concept) are some places to check out.

Frankenstein,_pg_7.jpgNow for the weird science and dark magic.

I really enjoy the idea of killing your darlings and tossing them into pickle jars full of formaldehyde.  The Frankenstein monster, after all, was made up of bits and pieces of people.  Despite where those people came from, they were certainly loved at some point.  Much like your own discarded creations.

With that being said, don’t put you fallen darlings on boats and push them out into the river only to set them ablaze with flaming arrows (backspace them out of existence).  Cut them out and paste them somewhere else.  Have a graveyard document full of them.  Then, when you get bored, try stitching them all together and blasting the manuscript with creative lightning.  Who knows what may spring to life.

Another concept I really like, is using some dark magic to resurrect those darlings and have them serve you from their afterlife.  I remember when I was a kid and DVDs just starting coming out.  Suddenly deleted scenes were available to watch.  Holy smokes it was glorious!  Those scenes didn’t make the cut for the final movie, but hey, they lived on afterward.

magic blast purple.jpgYour resurrected zombie darlings can do the same work for you.  Use them as teasers on your author blog, newsletters, or other social media avenues.  My friend M.L.S. Weech (author and necromancer) did just that with one of the removed scenes from his book Caught.  You can check that out here.  I know he also sends this information out to his hundreds of newsletter subscribers and has told me he receives positive responses.

Sometimes your manuscript may need a transplant here and there to improve function.  Your fallen darlings are the unwitting donors.  Once killed, you can use them as beats later on.  Those two paragraphs of tantalizing description that destroyed the flow of the story, they can be broken down and sprinkled in later on.  This is yet another form of resurrecting a darling.

Brainthatwouldntdie_film_poster.jpgBy learning how to re-purpose dead things, we more easily learn how to take their lives.  Put another way, if you know you can use your darling for something else, it’s going to be much easier for you to simply let go and do what needs to be done.

Goofy metaphors aside, it’s hard to suggest to a client/friend to remove a section of their manuscript.  Even if the section is degrading the whole of their work.  It’s harder still when the section is well-written.  It becomes easier to suggest when you can offer insights as to what they could do with the removed pieces.  Minus the macabre frills, the suggestions above are a few ways they can accomplish this feat.

That’s it for today.  Have you found nefarious ways of re-purposing your darlings?  What kind of weird science have you used?  I’d love to hear about it.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Killing Clichés and Birthing New Ones

We use clichés when we talk.  Why should we be surprised when they worm their way into our writing?  Surprised or not, when you start the process of self-editing your work you best underline those little gems and prepare them for annihilation via repeated backspace smashing.  If the cliché is located in the intro of your book, you can assume any literary agent worth their weight in shattered hopes and dreams will put your work down and move on to the next prospect.

cliches in history.jpg

Don’t take my word for it.  Here are some direct quotes from the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents 2016written by  Chuck Sambuchino.

“Anything  cliché such as ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ will turn me off.  I hate when a narrator or author addresses the reader (i.e., ‘Gentle reader’).” (Jennie Dunham, Dunham Literary)

guide to literary agents.jpg“1) Squinting into the sunlight with a hang-over in a crime novel.  Good grief – been done a million times. 2) A sci-fi novel that spends the first two pages describing the strange landscape.  3) A trite statement (‘Get with the program’ or ‘Houston, we have a problem’ or ‘You go girl’ or ‘Earth to Michael’ or ‘Are we on the same page?’), said by a weenie sales guy, usually in the opening paragraph.  4) A rape scene in a Christian novel, especially in the first chapter.  5) ‘Years later, Monica would look back laugh…’  6) ‘The [adjective] sun rose in the [adjective] [adjective] sky, shedding its [adjective] light across the [adjective] [adjective] [adjective] land.'” (Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary)

That’s probably enough examples.  If not, there are more fury filled offerings listed on pages 66-67.

But hey, screw agents right?  Real authors do what they want!

“Clichés work because we all understand them, but they’re also a little sad because, really?  Can’t you do better?  ‘He ran like the wind?’  Yeah, well, I kicked your nuts like a soccer ball.  You’re a writer.  It’s your job to avoid clichés.  It’s your job to do better than the bare minimum”  (Chuck Wendig, The Kick-Ass Writer, p. 100).

I could pound out more quotes from how-to books and author memoirs, but I will save you the tedium.  Breath it in and accept it, we should avoid clichés.  So what is a way to avoid them?  Here’s a pretty cool concept I found in Writing Tools, written by Roy Peter Clark.

“When tempted by a tired phrase, such as ‘white as snow,’ stop writing.  Take what the practitioners of natural childbirth call a cleansing breath.  Then jot down the old phrase on a piece of paper.  Start scribbling alternatives…” (p. 81). 

Queen_Elizabeth_II_June_2014.jpgThe example Clark provides is this progression: white as snow -> white as Snow White -> snowy white -> gray as city snow -> gray as the London sky -> white as the Queen of England (p. 81).

It’s an interesting way to turn an old phrase into something new and unexpected.  Give it a whirl.  In case you were unsure if you were using a cliché, here is the most gargantuan list of them I have found as of yet.  Another good reference to check out would be Writing Excuses Season 2: Episode 25, Avoiding the Cliche with Tracy Hickman.

That’s it for today.  Got a favorite cliché?  Share it.  Think I am dead wrong and you can use them if you want?  Awesome sauce!  Throw your thoughts into the comment box.  I’m always open to hearing your insights.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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