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BookClubEditor
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Questions for Marta

Do you have a question for Marta, not related to any of the discussion topics or writing exercises? Reply to this message to start the conversation!
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vmm918
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Re: Questions for Marta

I have a question about organization...particularly about organizing the storyline, chapters, as one writes. How do you tend to do this? Outline story first? Build main characters and let them interact? Have a goal or end scene and work toward it?
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dude
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Re: Questions for Marta

I have tried writing books and I just can't get past the first few pages. I have lots of ideas I just don't know how to use them. Any Suggestions would help.
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WriterJim
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Re: Questions for Marta

Hello Marta:

I'm at a stage in my career where I've written a lot of sf stories, gotten some encouragement from editors in their rejections, but haven't broken through to publication in the major markets I'm looking to get involved with. (Since my goal is to get into professional markets, paying SFWA rates, I don't submit to any others.)

I know that every writer's problems are different, but can you give me some insight into what often keeps writers from breaking through that final barrier to publication? Thank you.
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Yzzil
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Re: Questions for Marta

I would like to write a book, I have alot of ideas about what I want to write about. Who the characters are, and even what will happen in the book. But I can't seem to get the first chapter of the story just right. Can you give me any tips for a really good first chapter?
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Lyeshea
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Re: Questions for Marta

[ Edited ]
Hey dude,

I'm not Marta, and I'm not published. But I'm finally getting in the groove of finishing my stories, so I can throw out a few suggestions.

Have you tried outlining? It doesn't have to be anything fancy, but sometimes, it helps to have a more concrete idea of where you're going. So, you know the idea, and then you know the conflict, and how that brings you to the end, and what that end will be. I find I get too penned in if I have to detailed of an outline, but some people swear by super complex outlines where they know every scene that they're going to write before they write it. Find what works for you, but when you start a story it helps if you know what the end of that story is even if you don't know how to get there.

Also, for me at least, deadlines are the way to go for actually reaching the end of the story. I've stumbled into the world of WriMos (check out nanowrimo.org for more info) and its been the best thing for finishing stories for me. The idea is you have one month to get out a rotten first draft. It doesn't have to be great, but you have the bare bones beginning middle and end and can go back and edit it later. I guess this goes for Yzzil too, but sometimes, it's best to not worry about having everything perfect and just get it out there. You can always fix it later, but if you spend too much time worrying about it being perfect on your first go, you can get all caught up in making that bit perfect and then not get anywhere else with the story. For me, there's a reason that the first draft is called a *rough* draft. Mine are very very rough.

I'm adding this in here, making this even longer. But I just had a metaphor pop into myt head and I'm back. So, on the whole rough draft thing, writing is a form of creation. An art. Right? So let's look at other kinds of art. I paint a bit and I like to draw. I don't start out by just whipping out the brushes and the paints, and throw down a beautiful painting on the first shot.

I make a sketch first, usually starting with basic shapes and stick people. That's like the outline, it can be very vague so long as I know what it means, its fine. It could look like random scribbles to anyone else, but I know what I'm getting at with it. The only important thing is that it makes sense to me. Then I elaborate that sketch, start getting past the basic shapes and getting some of the details there. This sketch that's becoming less than the bare bones, but isn't perfect is like my rough draft. Getting the idea out there in a form that other people could recognize. Then, I transfer that to whatever I'm painting on and I paint, adding color, filling in the details, I take my time with it. This is your revisions, your second, third and however many more drafts that there are.

And I know someone once said, consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, but it's also a great tool. If you want to write a book, you've got to sit down and make yourself write on a regular basis. I found out that if I just sit down to write every day, I actually can. It might be horrible. I might churn out 6000 words in one day and 70 the next. But if I sit down and try to spend at least 15 minutes (or get out at least 500 words) every day, then I actually get things written and they might be rotten, but they're actual stories and they can be improved in the rewrite. That consistency is what's helping me get my stories finished.

Also, Holly Lisle has a nice article "How to Finish A Novel,". You might want to check out her suggestions.


Wow, that's a long post. If anyone disagrees with me, or has other points of view, I'm not saying this is the be all end all, just my opinions and what has worked for me. Please, challenge me on what I've said. I'd love to learn and I think that conversation and debate is the best way to do it.

Message Edited by Lyeshea on 01-31-200711:57 AM

Message Edited by Lyeshea on 01-31-200701:29 PM

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caroline88
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Re: Questions for Marta

Hello Lyeshea,

I enjoyed reading your metaphor of the stick figure in your sketch. My first novel (Nano 2006) is full of "stick figures". I started without an outline, had a bit of a plot but I tossed it after two sentences and out popped an entirely different one. The story is unfinished and I expect it will remain so because I fell out of love.

The writing went as follows. Woman asks for help. A few thousand words later, I figured out what her problem was. The man plays shining knight but he is clueless as to how to solve the problem. I add more details to the situation and then I am trapped in a corner of the room with wet floor between me and the door. Metaphorically speaking.
But I do not consider it a failure. It was fun to do, a few sentences were good, the characters were slowly coming to life and some paragraphs were absolutely brilliant. The kind that makes your heart sing.

It was not scifi and I have never read a scifi book, I think.

A few general questions:

- do I need to explain everything that happens?
- does the story need to be "physics proofed"? Can I be vague? Can I alter some of the laws of Physics in my story?

Caroline
Belief in your mission, greet life with a cheer
There's big work to do, and that's why you are here
~ Caroline
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marta_randall
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Getting started


dude wrote:
I have tried writing books and I just can't get past the first few pages. I have lots of ideas I just don't know how to use them. Any Suggestions would help.




Be of good cheer, Dude, because you're not alone. Starting a story can be bewildering and intimidating.

We're going to talk a lot about how to turn ideas into stories. For now, though, try this: pick just one idea, and try to see how it would affect people (remembering that stories are about people and how they cope with situations). For example, if your idea was about a giant meteor about to hit the earth, you might think about how one person would react to this news. What would s/he do? Run out and spend money? Try to gather family so that they could be together at the end? Rush to build a spaceship to get out of harm's way? When you think about ideas this way, what you are trying to do is see those ideas down on an individual level - because that's where the stories are.

Play around with this a little, and see if perhaps it can help point you in the right direction. But as I said, we're going to talk about this quite a lot, so don't worry if nothing pops into mind immediately. We've got lots of time.
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marta_randall
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organization


vmm918 wrote:
I have a question about organization...particularly about organizing the storyline, chapters, as one writes. How do you tend to do this? Outline story first? Build main characters and let them interact? Have a goal or end scene and work toward it?




vmm918, I wish I could give you a simple answer to this question, but if I did I'd be misleading you. The truth is that there are as many kinds of organization as there are writers. I know writers who just dive off the cliff and write, and ignore questions of structure etc. until the first draft is finished. I know writers who don't set finger to keyboard until the entire story is laid out neatly in their minds. I know a writer who writes bits of outline on index cards and pins them to a clothesline, and rearranges them as the mood strikes.

The answer really depends on what works best for you. Just as an example, I tend not to outline when I start a story. I have a situation and characters and I write to see how these elements interact. Often, I have an idea (usually a vague one) of what the ending is like. If the story starts to slow down, I tend to go back to see if I can find where the problem is. If I get into real trouble, I outline because the outline can tell me where I put in something that didn't need to be there, or where I left something out. But I have to say that I have sold stories that were written entirely off the cuff, and I have sold stories that were outlined to within an inch of their lives.

I say, don't sweat it. Your major job in first draft is just to get the story told -- you can always change the organization and structure in subsequent drafts. If it feels better to outline, then do so -- if outlining gets boring, start writing narrative. If you prefer to write narrative, go for it! If things get sticky, you can always turn to outlining as a tool.
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marta_randall
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breaking into print


WriterJim wrote:
Hello Marta:

I'm at a stage in my career where I've written a lot of sf stories, gotten some encouragement from editors in their rejections, but haven't broken through to publication in the major markets I'm looking to get involved with. (Since my goal is to get into professional markets, paying SFWA rates, I don't submit to any others.)

I know that every writer's problems are different, but can you give me some insight into what often keeps writers from breaking through that final barrier to publication? Thank you.




The SF market has grown very complex over the past decades; the number of scripts submitted to any particular market is huge and it's difficult to distinguish yourself from the pack.

I do have one suggestion, though: don't turn your back on many of the smaller markets, even the ones that don't pay SFWA rates. If one of them publishes your story, then you have a publication credit that you can list on a cover letter to one of the more "mainstream" publications -- and that helps you stand out from the crowd. In addition, the Internet has led to a number of good, critically-acclaimed web publications -- being published in one of those looks very good on your pub list, even if they don't pay top rates.

So be flexible in your submission choices and remember that every publication credit helps.
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marta_randall
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starting books


Yzzil wrote:
I would like to write a book, I have alot of ideas about what I want to write about. Who the characters are, and even what will happen in the book. But I can't seem to get the first chapter of the story just right. Can you give me any tips for a really good first chapter?




Yzzil, there are as many good first chapters as there are good books. Try this as a piece of research: take three books that you like a lot, and examine their opening chapters. Do they start slowly, or do they dump the reader into the middle of the action? Are they full of description or background or character? Are they heavy on dialog, or on narrative? As you do this, you will start to discover not only what makes for a good opening chapter, but more importantly, what makes a good opening chapter for you.
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book_worm
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Re: Questions for Marta

This isn't really a question but I just realized that I lean toward writing more Fantasy (supernatural) than Science Fiction, and until just recently I thought Science Fiction and Fantasy were the same, but now I realized that they arn't at all.

My question is I still want to learn how to improve my writing abilities but I don't write Science Fiction, and since there are not any "Writing Fantasy" clubs should I still stay and try to learn even though it isn't my desired genre?
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marta_randall
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Writing SF and writing fantasy


book_worm wrote:
My question is I still want to learn how to improve my writing abilities but I don't write Science Fiction, and since there are not any "Writing Fantasy" clubs should I still stay and try to learn even though it isn't my desired genre?


Good question, Bookworm. The brief answer is: yes, stick around, because the basics of writing science fiction and the basics of writing fantasy are similar.

In both we deal with created worlds -- that is, story settings that are different from the day-to-day world in which we live. This is true even of stories that take place in our "real world" because the rules of the invented world are different enough to allow for (for example) a separate fantastical world under the subways of London (as in Neil Gaiman's NEVERWHERE) or strange aliens in the woods (for example, David Gerrold's story "The Strange Disappearance of David Gerrold" from the June issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction). Because the rules are different, both the SF and the fantasy writer need to deal with issues like internal consistency; extrapolating from your original idea; how to present the invented setting in a way that readers will believe; how setting affects your characters ... all the stuff that we're going to be talking with in the course of this workshop.

Of course there are areas where the two genres differ -- when we get to those, make sure to bring up your questions and ideas, so that we can cover them. So do stick around -- I think you'll find the information here useful.
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marta_randall
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Re: Questions for Marta

Lyshea, you make some very good points. The bottom line for all of us is flexibility: we look for suggestions, try different ways of approaching the act of writing, find different answers for different stories, and keep learning every inch of the way. It is one of the reasons that I keep writing: the process of learning how to do this is endless, and always new, and always exciting.
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galenem
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Re: Questions for Marta

Ms Randall,
This a general question about the club, not the content. I read the intro to the Norton Book of Science Fiction and The Handler and tried to answer your quesiton about the SF element. Now I see that there are two more questions and a writing assignment. Are these supposed to be completed daily or as we can ??? If daily, I will have to stop feeding my daughter, the dogs, going to work, cooking, dishes...Please advise!!
Thanks
Gale
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marta_randall
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Re: Questions for Marta



galenem wrote:
Ms Randall,
This a general question about the club, not the content. I read the intro to the Norton Book of Science Fiction and The Handler and tried to answer your quesiton about the SF element. Now I see that there are two more questions and a writing assignment. Are these supposed to be completed daily or as we can ??? If daily, I will have to stop feeding my daughter, the dogs, going to work, cooking, dishes...Please advise!!
Thanks
Gale




Not to worry, Gale. The course is designed so that you can take it at your own pace. Do the various sections as you find the time -- I surely don't want to be the cause of any hungry kids!
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book_worm
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Re: Questions for Marta

[ Edited ]
I have a question about this forum. It seems that there is an editing timer, because some of the things that I have posted a bit ago I can't edit them anymore. Is there some nifty trick that will let me edit old posts?

Also (and this is about the writing exercises, sorry to be breaking the rules), once I've done the writing exercise - gave a paragraph or so on what my story is going to be about - can I then post an excerpt of some of what I have written on the story so I can get feedback on my writing ability? Or is that going to be in a different writing exercise?

Thanks in advance! :smileyhappy:

Message Edited by book_worm on 02-09-200712:44 PM

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marta_randall
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Re: Questions for Marta

Apparently there is a time limit on editing posts, so if you need to add or change something you posted, why not post a second time?

I believe that you can post your writing exercises by creating a New Message (there's a button for that near the top of the page): post your writing in the message box.

Hope this helps.
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book_worm
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Re: Questions for Marta

Thanks, that did help.

But what I was wondering is that since I finished my writing exercise and posted it, I now want to add an excerpt from the story for people to critique for me, so are you saying that I should make a whole new message? Or should I just post the story excerpt in the same one as my writing exercise? Sorry for the confusion :smileytongue:
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marta_randall
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Re: Questions for Marta

How about a whole new message? Otherwise, folk might miss it.
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