Category Archives: Writing

Writing What You Know

Random picture I took in Asakusa (Tokyo).

Have a random picture I took in Asakusa (Tokyo) back in my Japan days.

The picture is tangentially relevant and makes this post look more exciting. Bear with me here.

Really, we all write what we know to a certain extent. We also write what we arguably don’t know. In my case, aside from the internal lives of my characters (emotions, etc.), I’m more often out in the land of things I have not personally experienced.

But sometimes I think about doing something more true-to-life, which is where that picture ties in. I used to live in Japan and sometimes I toy with the idea of writing something set over there, which would be a totally different kind of writing what I know. It would mean drawing on direct experiences more literally, in a way I don’t with my fantasy stuff.

I’ve never done it because, frankly, I find it more daunting than writing something detached from my own life. It feels like there’s more at stake. Because, the thing is, I love Japan. I don’t always like it, but the love is there. And trying to write a story in that context is hard because I get hunt up on details. It’s actually harder than writing about something I only know by research or inference.

One of these days, I’ll probably do a Japan novel. Pull from my memories and experiences and opinions and make something fun out of it. There’s a lot of potential there and I’m sure it’ll happen eventually.

Once I get over my block on writing what I do, in fact, know.

Some Thoughts on Style

Sorry for the absence! I have a really stressful, demanding job and last week was brutal. After hours commitments three days out of five, resulting in a decreased will to live.

On-topic, my prose is somewhat spare. I suspect this is related to my job because the overwhelming majority of what I do is speech writing and my boss’s slogan is “short and to the point.” Speech writing and fiction writing are different animals, but some inclinations carry.

This leaves me with an “active” style. More dialogue and movement than narrative because my instinct is to package information as cleanly as possible. Why use ten words when five will do?

As a reader, I don’t dislike a denser style. My favorite novel (Brideshead Revisited) is very narrative-heavy. But it’s not how I write. I could write paragraph after paragraph of lush prose, but it would be unnatural and self-conscious. It isn’t me.

I’m going to be unromantic here: writing is a craft, not a gift. Some people are natural storytellers, but writing is a skill. You master the mechanics and then, through practice, develop your own style. It’s why I’m so big on the nuts and bolts – you can’t build on a weak foundation.

Being able to put together a story doesn’t mean you can write. It just means you have the potential to be able to write. To bridge the gap, you have to work. And somewhere in there, along the way, you’ll find a voice to go with it.

A Recommendation

Yes, friends, another recommendation! Consider this part of my ongoing quest to help my fellow writers out. Tough love and helpful suggestions, that’s how we do things around here.

Today, for a change of pace, I want to recommend a book that all writers of fiction, but particularly those who want to go indie, should have in their library.

Self-Editing For Fiction Writers. You can get it on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, or wherever books are sold.

Your book really should be seen by at least one other human before publication, but that doesn’t mean you have to send them a hot mess. This is a book by professional editors sharing tips of the trade, with examples and suggestions and guidance for how to approach your book like an editor would.

It’s a great resource. I am an editor and I bought a copy because I love reference books. And you know what? I got some good stuff from it.

Editing both is and is not like writing. Do yourself a favor and study up. Even if your book is already awesome, going back through it with an editor’s eye will make it so much better.

FYI

If you’ve been tempted to buy Scrivener, or a number of other writing-oriented applications, there’s a sale going on right now. Both Scrivener and Aeon Timeline are 20% off till June 14 (there are others, too, but those are the only ones I have any experience with), so for anyone who’s been on the fence, now’s a great time.

I should probably mention, for the unfamiliar, that most of this software was designed for Macs and Aeon Timeline at least is still Mac-only. But Scrivener does have a Windows version, for the PC users among you.

More info here!

Queering Up Genre Fiction

To check it off the list, I’m going to go ahead and explain my stance on writing stories that are rife with LGBT characters without being LGBT fiction. There’s a tendency still to assume, in genre fiction, that everyone is straight by default. Because obviously only straight people have fantasy adventures or become spies. If your main characters aren’t straight, you’re often destined for the LGBT section.

Here’s the thing: life is not defined by who you prefer to sleep with. It’s ridiculous to put a fantasy novel wherein the love story happens to be between two men or two women next to a novel about self-discovery. That makes about as much sense as putting a sci-fi series next to a romance novel.

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