Writing questions

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by BrentMc, Nov 11, 2013.

  1. DonIago

    DonIago Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I'm remembering when I tried writing a story without an outline...just a small under 3000 word thing...and wrote myself right into a logistical brick wall.

    I was able to salvage the story, if gutting 2/3 of it and doing some significant restructuring counts as salvaging. :p Ended up keeping the original draft for posterity.
     
  2. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

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    A good book is not written, it's REwritten.
     
  3. JD

    JD Admiral Admiral

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    LOL, I've never heard that before.
     
  4. BrentMc

    BrentMc Commander Red Shirt

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    I wrote a Star Trek story, just for fun, and decided I liked doing it, but I obviously needed to learn a lot about writing. I bought a bunch of books on writing at used stores and read them with a highlighter in hand. I learned a lot and while I read those books I took notes on how it could improve my story. Now I'm pretty much ready to do a major rewrite of that story, but I have a few questions.

    1. My story is set during the final season of DS9 in 2375. I have my own ship and crew, not the DS9 cast. Is there any reason I couldn't have another Founder on a Dominion ship in my story? Was it ever established that the female founder was the only one (besides Odo)?

    2. Does anyone have any advice, or know of resources to help me give the characters, which are of many species, their own voice, way of talking, etc.?
     
  5. Tiberius

    Tiberius Commodore Commodore

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    There were lots of other changelings.

    Cast them, that is, choose who you would get to play them if it was a movie. That way you can imagine how the actor would play them, and it will give you cues to work with when you are writing. I'm working on a story, and one of the characters was looking to be rather cliched. But since I decided that Ron Perlman would play him, he's become a much more real character.
     
  6. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    If you want to give each species a distinct way of talking, it helps to figure out what's distinct about their way of thinking -- how their evolution and history has shaped their worldview and their mindset. Worldbuilding is important. You don't have to put it on the page, not unless it's specifically relevant to the story, but it helps to have it in your mind so you have a foundation to build on. Same with individual characters -- working out their backstories and personal histories can help you figure out what's distinct about how they think and act, even if you don't explain those backstories directly on the page. It's like how actors tend to work up backstories for their characters to help them get a handle on how to play them. Writing is kind of like method acting -- you need to get into your characters' heads, learn to think like them and see the world the way they do.
     
  7. BrentMc

    BrentMc Commander Red Shirt

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    Thank you for the replies. They are very helpful!
     
  8. Overgeeked

    Overgeeked Captain Captain

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    You've mentioned this bit by DWS before. Any chance of a link to it?

    And I'm basically the opposite. Despite being an utter SF nerd, I haven't been able to get past that first section in a single one of Hamilton's books. It's kind of disappointing to know that the editor could/should have cut that bit out entirely and the rest of the story would have lost exactly nothing important. I'd much rather read a novel that actually starts in the first dozen or so pages rather than dawdle for 100 some pages, to say nothing of all that being essentially irrelevant to the rest of the book.
     
  9. Thrawn

    Thrawn Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    It doesn't lose "nothing important", though, that was my point. There's a lot there. If you don't dig his style, fair enough, but if you ever do manage to get to the end of (say) Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained, you will absolutely agree with me that every detail of the beginning came back into play eventually. In particular, there's a loooooong (like 40 pages) and apparently irrelevant sequence in like chapter 4 of the first book that seems totally out of place, but that entire sequence ends up quite unexpectedly recurring and forming a major part of the climax of the novel. He plays a long game, but he doesn't waste words. You may not have that much patience, but you're not reading unnecessary fluff.
     
  10. Overgeeked

    Overgeeked Captain Captain

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    Here's a few questions for the writers, if they're still around and willing to answer a few technical questions.

    Having read through the thread and seen some bits and pieces related to outlining and structure mentioned, I was hoping some of the writers would be willing to go into more depth or respond to some specific question about those topics.

    I've seen a lot about scene and sequel writing, outlining with 60 scenes in mind for novels, and using the teaser-four acts-tag structure common in TV writing for writing novels.

    Are these techniques common to professional writers, either yourselves or other writers you've talked to, or is this stuff coming out of the "make stuff up and sell to wannabe writers" industry?

    If you do use any of these techniques, could you maybe talk about the how's and why's of them working for you?
     
  11. David Mack

    David Mack Writer Commodore

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    It's just the basics of story structure, which have been around for thousands of years. Personally, I plan 80+ scenes for novels, and I use a three-act structure. Act One represents the first quarter of the story; Act Two is the middle half; and the final quarter is Act Three. I usually try to incorporate a midpoint reversal, and I like to apply the Joseph Campbell "hero's journey" elements when they seem appropriate to the work at hand.
     
  12. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    I never used to bother much with structure, but a couple of Shore Leaves ago, I attended a writer's workshop with Dave, Marco Palmieri, and DRGIII, and learning about the three-act structure from them helped me fix a spec novel I'd been working on. I've found it a useful tool for plotting other projects since then.
     
  13. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    That being said, there's no standard template that everyone subscribes to. A lot of this stuff you just sort of pick up through practice and/or instinct so that it's more like muscle memory than deliberately following a recipe, step by step.

    Here's how I really work. I scribble on legal pads for days on end, just sort of brainstorming, until I think I have enough ideas to work with. Then I jot down key scenes, plot twists, characters, bits of dialogue, etc. on index cards, and shuffle the cards into they're more or less in an order that makes. Invariably, this means throwing away a few cards which just don't fit anywhere--or saving them for another book!

    Then and only then, do I sit down at a keyboard and, using my carefully-stacked index cards as a guide, write the actual plot outline.

    (Pro tip: rubber bands are your friends . . . especially if you live in a house with cats. Don't want those index cards to end up all over the floor!)
     
  14. DonIago

    DonIago Vice Admiral Admiral

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    But Greg, surely you've been tempted to put the cards in random order and write a novel based on...

    Oh wait, Peter David already did that with Q-Squared. :p
     
  15. KRAD

    KRAD Keith R.A. DeCandido Admiral

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    I'm closer to Greg's template than Dave's, as I tend to just sit down and figure out the story. Except I don't use index cards (the only time I ever write by hand is when I'm absolutely forced to -- I hate writing by hand as a) it's uncomfortable, b) it's too damn slow [I type 150 words per minute], and c) my handwriting sucks so it's hard to transcribe it), I keep it in my head until I have time to sit with it at the computer and jot it all down. I also tend, when plotting, to work out a lot of details in the process of writing.

    But I have never, in almost 50 novels, thought in terms of act structure. That doesn't mean it's bad or that you shouldn't use it -- quite the opposite, as Christopher nicely demonstrated -- it's just not how I'm wired.

    And that's the thing: there are no right answers. The answer to pretty much every question about writing is "it depends." And you ask any ten writers about process, you get twelve different answers.... :)
     
  16. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    I've found that when I go back and look at things I wrote without any conscious consideration of act structure, they sometimes do fall into the three-act structure anyway, so I guess it's just sort of something you pick up by osmosis. For instance, there's a plot twist I put into Only Superhuman that works as the end of the second act, but when I came up with it, I wasn't thinking in terms of acts, just recognizing that something was needed at that point to escalate the stakes and reveal a crucial secret that would start leading up to the climax.

    So as long as you have a feel for what a story needs, you don't have to think formally in terms of structure. It's just a guideline, more a general description of how stories tend to work than the thing that makes them work. But I've found in recent years that it can be a useful tool, that it can provide clarity when I'm struggling with a plot.


    As for keeping ideas in my head, I've had too much of a tendency over the years to come up with something neat, then forget it by the time I got to a keyboard, and lose time trying to reconstruct something close to it. In the past couple of years, I've benefitted a lot from using the voice recorder in my mobile phone to dictate notes and sometimes actual dialogue, so that I don't forget them.
     
  17. Masiral

    Masiral Captain Captain

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    ^That's an issue I had with National Novel Writing Month. I'd come up with some good dialogue, or a character name, as I was lying in bed. Then I'd have to get up and quickly jot it down before I could go to sleep.
     
  18. BrentMc

    BrentMc Commander Red Shirt

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    I was looking back at this thread and saw this post again. I found the files in the yahoo group SNW writers. You have to be logged into yahoo and be a member, but I'll just post them here for everyone.

    Dean's Hints Part One


    Writing for Strange New Worlds and Beyond
    Shore Leave 26, 2004

    When the Strange New Worlds competition first got underway, a message board in the AOL Star Trek section was set up for Dean Wesley Smith. Dean soon found himself being asked the same questions about writing over and over again. He realized there were a lot of Trek fans who wanted to write for Trek, but did not understand the business of writing. He began posting what came to be known as “Dean’s Hints,” his tips on writing for the beginner who was serious about writing. The hints were in no particular order, driven more by questions he was asked or common errors he saw in manuscripts submitted to SNW than any sense of organization. The hints primarily focused on writing for SNW, but could be applied to all areas of fiction writing.
    In 1999 Dean revised and updated his hints, reflecting the sorts of problems he was seeing in submitted manuscripts and answering more of the questions he was being asked. Again, there was no particular order and several repetitions because the same issues crop up fairly regularly as new writers work to develop their craft. These hints are also valid for writing in any field. A version of this second list of hints was published in SNWIII.
    The original AOL moderator of that board, whose screen name was "NetTrekker," dropped into obscurity shortly thereafter and has been living modestly ever since as Dayton Ward. However, before he disappeared, Dayton compiled both sets of hints pretty much the way Dean first posted them. Here below are the two original lists of "Dean's Hints" plus some examples of why he rejects stories and a bare-bones outline illustrating the structure of a story, all cribbed from Dayton without his knowledge or consent. Following these guidelines won’t guarantee you a slot in Strange New Worlds, but it will help you avoid the sorts of mistakes that get stories rejected by editors all over the world.


    The Original Hints

    Hint #1: "No Talking Heads."
    "Really??"
    "Yes, really."
    "Talking heads" is a term used by writers to describe two characters talking, with no idea in the story where, when, or what, the characters are doing. To a reader, this gives the feeling of just two voices in a pitch dark room. Many, many of the stories I'm reading start with talking heads. (Not a fatal mistake, but hard for me to get past in some instances.) Setting and sensory details, such as smell, temperature, location, and actions usually start stories to ground the readers as to where a character who is going to talk is located.
    Hint #2: Never Start a Story With a Character Bored.
    This is being done a lot on the Voyager stories. Is that because so many people are bored with Voyager as a series? I don't know. It might be because so many people think that a trip like the one Voyager is on would be boring. But in a story, this kind of start tells a reader that the story will be boring, too. Not a good thing to do in an opening that you want to hook in readers. Never open a story with a character bored.
    Hint #3: Do you want me to read it or have it defused?
    Never put a manuscript into a fairly large box and tape it closed without a return address on the outside. And if the box rattles, that is even worse. This was a fatal mistake for some poor writer during the first contest).this time. I tossed the box in the garbage and the last I hard, no garbage had been blown up. I have always made it a policy to never open a box that rattles that doesn't have a return address on it. <g>
    For manuscripts, all you need is a single large envelope. Nothing more. And the envelope does not need to be taped shut with tons of tape, either. <g>
    Hint #4: Yes, the art is pretty. Keep it.
    No need to send nifty art with stories. I've enjoyed some of it, but it doesn't help. Only the words on the paper are what I look at. <g>
    (Sending art was not a fatal mistake. <g>)

    Hint #5: The White Stuff.
    Plain white paper is best on these poor eyes. (colored paper was not a fatal mistake except in one instance. The type was so light and the paper so bright, I couldn't read it. And I honestly tried.)

    Hint #6: It's an Envelope, Not a Football Player.
    Don't over-tape envelopes. I've had to open thousands of these. I have more papercuts than I can count from struggling with massive taped envelopes. I had one story that was taped inside of SIX different envelopes. And taped good, both ends covered of all six envelopes. I was so angry at the author for the lost ten minutes it took me to get into the thing that I had to put the manuscript aside and read the story later to give it a far
    shot.
    Hint #7: Don't Send Postcards.
    Don't send postcards (to be returned to you from the editor(s)). They are a pain to editors, only make writers worry, and cost you money on top of that. They also mean nothing. Many editors I know don't even open the envelopes until they read the story. And also, at many magazines, mail rooms open the envelopes and just leave everything with the manuscript because they don't read cover letters. So more times than not, postcards like that just get mailed back at the same time as the story does. So forget them. As many of you have noted in these contests, they only cause worry and don't mean a thing.
    Hint #8: Paperclips Are Our Friends.
    Paperclips are good on stories. I love paperclips. <g>
    Hint #9: "....and....ACTION!"
    Unlike many of the episodes on television, short stories need to start with the character in some sort of problem. It doesn't have to be the main problem of the story, but the character must be doing something. Don't open a story with the crew just sitting around. Some famous writer once said "Open in the middle of the gunfight and then don't tell the reader where you are." (Can't remember who said that, but sometimes that works. <g>) Better than characters talking about their routine day. <g>
    Hint #10: Um.....blecccchh.
    Yes, I know we all start the day by waking up. But don't start stories with a character waking up and going to the bathroom. See hint #9 above. <g>
    Hint #11: No Said Bookisms!
    A "said-bookism" is when an author uses another word instead of the word "said." For example:

    "This dust always gets me, "he sneezed
    or
    "I really am alone," he soliloquized.

    After about three or four of these in a manuscript, I start laughing and forget about the story, and that is not a good thing to have an editor do. Just use the word "said." And note were the comma goes. <g>

    For those of you who were wondering, this is a deadly mistake.

    Hint #12: Never start your story with a character waking up.
    Yes, I understand that is where we all start our days, but it is very hard to do right in a story. (Right meaning interesting.) And almost always lends itself to rejection of the story. Unless there is one "great reason" why the story should start that way, I know, almost 100% of the time, that the story started in the wrong place. And thus, without reading much farther, I can toss the story into the reject pile.
    Fact of life, folks. People start by waking up. Stories don't. (Yes, I know there are exceptions, and the first time I heard this rule, I sat right down and wrote a story that worked, and sold, with the character waking up at the beginning. But it was the correct place to start the story and the only place it could start. <g>)
    Hint #13: Characters should speak in character.
    Use the right language for the character speaking.

    Example: Captain Kirk said, "I'm just a little bit uptight today."

    Enough said. <g>

    Hint #14: No talking heads in the opening of stories.
    I know we talked about this one before, but as I'm going through the stories to send them back (almost all ready to mail, by the way) I would guess that at least two out of five stories open with talking heads.
    Okay, "talking heads" is when the writer just starts off with dialogue and nothing more. In essence, just two heads in a white space, talking.
    Example of opening this way:

    "Hi, Jim," Pete said.
    Hi, Pete," Jim said.
    "Too bad about that game last night," Pete said.
    "Yeah, too bad," Jim said.

    And so on and so on. Where are these guys? What do they look like? What are they talking about and why should the reader care? All of those questions have to be answered in the opening of the story before the reader can handle that exchange above. Best rule of thumb: Put all five senses on the first page, seen from one character's point of view. Hard to do, trust me. But at least then the reader (and the editor) would be grounded in your story. After the reader is grounded in location and problem of the story, then there can be all the talking a writer wants. And it wouldn't be talking heads.
    So unless you have to, don't open your story with one character talking to another unless you are really good at working in description of the characters, the setting, and the problem at hand, while they are talking.
    Hint #15: Sentences Follow Each Other.
    Every sentence needs to follow the one before it in some logical manner, unless there is a scene or time break.
    Bad example of what NOT TO DO:

    The Borg ship sped at them. Janeway glanced at Paris and smiled. Tuvok sprawled on his bed, asleep.

    You folks would be amazed at how many stories I got that started with details like that above. One sentence not having anything to do with the sentence in front of it. It was clear to me in most cases that the writer knew what they were thinking and writing about, but he/she just forgot to get it on the paper. This problem happens a great deal.
    Hint #16: Watch out for repeated words.
    Now this sounds really basic, but you folks would be surprised at how many manuscripts I'm looking at as I stuff them in envelopes to send back have repeated words all over the first page.
    Example:

    Suddenly Picard felt the impact.
    Riker was tossed to the floor suddenly, rolling.
    The shot from the Borg ship had suddenly caught them all by surprise.

    And so on. In one story today I counted the same word repeated six times in ten lines. That sure doesn't make me want to turn the page. A great way of finding this problem is read your story out loud to yourself. Your ear will pick up the repeated words where your eyes will skip over them.
    Note: it is just fine to repeat the word "said" over and over, since all readers never see that word when it is used correctly.
    Hint #17: Avoid "Walk-Thrus"
    Don't just walk your characters through scenes. And in most cases, walk-through scenes are not needed and very, very deadly to a story in the opening page or so.
    Example of a walk-through scene:

    John opened the door to bright sunshine. Good. He hated rain. He stepped outside and closed the door, making sure it was latched. Then he turned to face the sunshine, letting it warm his face. He stepped off the porch and walked slowly down the sidewalk toward his car. At the car, he dug out his keys and opened the door. Then he crawled in behind the steering wheel and stuck the keys in the ignition. He turned the keys. The car started. Good. Sunshine and a car that starts. He put the car into drive and looked over his left shoulder to make sure the street was clear. AND SO ON....

    Clean all that out of stories, folks. Again, reading out loud will tell your ear when you're slowing the pacing of a story down by walking through a scene. Note: All writers walk through scenes in first drafts as we try to figure out where a character should go next. Sort of like the brain marking time as it works. But professional writers cut those scenes out in second drafts. <g>
    Hint #18: Writing Character Dialogue 1
    Paragraph every time a new speaker is speaking.

    Example of wrong way:

    John said, "Do that." "Why?" Pete asked. "Because it's the right way," John said."

    Example of correct way.

    John said, "Do that."
    "Why?" Pete asked.
    "Because it's the right way."
    Hint #19: Proper use of Person and Tense
    Use third person, past tense, when writing a story.
    Okay, a few words here. Yes, first person stories work just fine, and half of the Captain's Table book I just turned in was first person. And yes, it is possible to write stories that work in present tense. So don't go quoting a billion examples at me. <g>
    However, doing stories right takes a bunch of skills, as is being pointed out in this topic. First person stories take even more skills, and first person, present tense stories are damn near impossible to pull off. And don't even talk to me about second person stories. So my suggestion, and this rule, is that you stick with third person, past tense, in stories until you've written a few hundred of them.
    Here are examples, for those of you confused.

    THIRD PERSON, PAST TENSE.
    John laughed. He found the scene funny.

    THIRD PERSON, PRESENT TENSE
    John laughs. He finds the scene funny.

    FIRST PERSON, PAST TENSE
    I laughed. I found the scene funny.

    FIRST PERSON, PRESENT TENSE
    I laugh. I find the scene funny.

    (and just for kicks)
    SECOND PERSON, PAST TENSE
    You laughed. You found the scene funny.

    SECOND PERSON, PRESENT TENSE
    You laugh. You find the scene funny.

    Hope that makes it clear. And just to stop the post that says, "Doesn't first person make the story seem more immediate to the reader." The answer is NO! Actually, in most instances, unless handled by a master, first person puts distance between your character and your reader.

    Hint #20: PRACTICE!
    For some reason writers think they don't have to practice, but like any other artist, they do. And the more practice, combined with the desire to learn and get better, brings better writing and story telling. When John said he wrote the same story three different ways to see which was better, he was basically practicing, tuning his craft and the story at the same time.
    If there are any hints here that you take in, take this one in. It is THE MOST IMPORTANT one.
    Practice.
    Hint #21: Get inside your character's head.
    Climb inside your character's head right from the first line and stay in there, only seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling what they can feel. If you do this right, then your story will become real to the readers.

    Exercises:

    1) Write a paragraph from the point of view of a person being held face down in the dirt.

    2) Write a paragraph with the same person being held face down in the dirt in the winter.

    3) In the summer.

    4) In the spring.

    5) In the fall.

    Rule: You can never use the words summer, winter, spring or fall. The reader needs to know the season just from the details seen and felt by the person being held face-down in the dirt. Only one paragraph each.

    This is just a practice thing. I'm not sure where this exercise came from, but Kevin Anderson told it to Kristine Rusch when they were going to school together. It's a great one.

    [Susan Shwartz added her thoughts on this subject with:]
    I'm convinced that one point of view is my preference for a short story for two reasons:

    1. You have to focus on character development and character -voice- (making the language sound uniquely like that character and no other) for only one character. The more characters you speak through, the more you have to switch character voice, and if you're at the very beginning of learning your skills, this is going to get in the way of your narrative.

    2. A short story with a unique point of view is going to have greater intensity than a short story with two points of view . And you need intensity, especially in a short story.

    You can get intensity with omniscient point of view (where, at some point or other, you dip into lots of characters' consciousnesses), but you really do need more space to develop it. And even so, if you're doing that, when you're in one character's head, STAY there till it's time to do a scene or paragraph break, and only then, switch.
    Hint #22: Don't Get *Too* Close to Your Work
    No writer (especially beginning writers) knows their own work. We all do our best, with as many drafts as we need, then it is up to the EDITOR to decide if the story or novel is up to publishable standards. What most beginning writers do is get into that excuse (and it is an excuse) of I've got to make this story perfect before I send it out. And the new writer wouldn't know a perfect short story if it reached off the page and smacked him. Most pro writers wouldn't ever claim they sent out a perfect short story or novel. There is no such thing. So holding onto something for two months before "making it right" is just fear of mailing. Forget that stuff, let it sit over night, rewrite it, and mail it.
    Another reason for this sort of harsh tone: I've seen beginning writer after beginning writer do a fantastic first or second draft on a story, then go on to rewrite and rewrite, having no clue that while they think they are "polishing" their story, they are, in fact, taking all the energy out of the story, making it dull and lifeless from being pounded on too hard. Write the story, trust the process, mail the story, and let me do my job.
    Then write the next one and mail it. And so on.
    Hint #23: Characters Must Fail!
    Things must get worse.
    Okay, I know we all love these Trek characters, but the basic nature of fiction is conflict. And sometimes you have to hurt the ones you love to do the right thing. <g>
    When a story opens, we have a character, in a setting, with a problem. Character tries to solve the problem and FAILS, making the situation worse. (Or the character can succeed, but the problem gets worse by the success.) Repeat as needed for length. This is critical, and the failing point of many new writers. In the real world, we have a problem, the best thing that can happen is a quick and easy fix. But in fiction, this quick fix is a bad thing. It means there is no story.
    An exercise: Stick the sign "Things Get Worse" over your television and then start a tape of any Trek episode or movie. Note at once the "problem" (might not be the main problem, but some character will have some problem. Often every character has a problem or two). With every attempt to solve a problem, repeat out loud, "Things Get Worse" and then watch how they do. You will be amazed how that simple saying drives the plots of most of our modern fiction, right down to the final big attempt to solve the problem (called a climax) and then the final fix of the problem. Then, in your own stories for SNW #3, or for the regular fiction markets, make it really hard on your characters, make them suffer a little, make things get worse. It might just make me read all the way to the end. <g>
    Hint #24: While you're waiting....
    How to wait...now that most of you are out there waiting for the results of year #2 of SNW to be announced, I've got a hint on how to wait. Simple. Write the next story. Focus all your attention on that new story and write and finish it. Then when you mail it to an editor, start again. You do this and you'll be surprised how the time goes by, and also how much more work you get done. <g>
    Better than waiting.
    Hint #25: Publishing Is Slow
    Get used to it.
    Publishing moves at the speed of a glacier. And if you think you can speed it up, forget it. As a new writer, I thought that there just wasn't anything for an editor to do but read my manuscript, give it lots of thought, then write me a long letter. Of course, as an editor and publisher, I soon discovered the ugly truth. Reading manuscripts is just about the last thing an editor does in his or her job. So, remember these general rules about the speed of publishing.

    One: It always takes longer to buy a story or novel then reject it. (A million reasons for this.)

    Two: Never, ever write a rude note or letter to an editor about your story or the time they are taking with it. The publishing world is a very small place and editors do not have the time to work with jerks.

    Three: Never complain about the time it is taking an editor. Simply ask nicely about a manuscript if you feel it has been six months too long. Not one moment sooner.

    Four: Remember EVERYTHING about publishing is slow, including purchase and payments. You folks at SNW are spoiled, actually. You sell a story the first week of December and see it in print in May. Wow! That is light speed for publishing.

    Let me put this very clearly another way. It has always been a joke in New York (and one agent had a standing money bet) that an author can write a novel faster than a publisher can cut a check. (I've actually done this many, many times over my years.) It is a fact. Always remember that. Everything in publishing is slow. Expect it and save yourself a lot of pain and worry.
    Hint #26: Follow a Market's Established Guidelines
    Get and follow the guidelines of a publisher, magazine or contest. I know, I know, that sounds so basic. But I would guess that at least one in ten of the stories I am sending back did not follow the guidelines of this contest. For example, I just got done stuffing into an envelope a 35-40 THOUSAND word story. Of course I didn't read it, but I did have to stuff it back into the envelope. <g> If you are submitting your own stories to a magazine, write them and ask for a copy of their guidelines if you don't have a copy of the magazine in front of you. It might be the difference between acceptance and rejection in how you present your story. And it will also, many times, keep you from sending a story to a completely wrong market.
    Hint #27: Set Writing Goals....Now.
    The only two things a writer can control is first, the quality of his fiction, and secondly, the quantity. As Ray Bradbury has said numbers of times, quality comes from quantity. In other words, writers must practice and practice, just like any other artist. So, it is helpful to set up yearly, monthly, weekly and daily goals of quantity to get the quality into your writing. Ray suggests to new writers to do what he did: Set a goal to write and mail one short story a week for five years. Kris and I tell writers to do that for two years. But trust me, very few people can do that, which is why we have very few writers as good as Ray Bradbury. But there are other goals just as worthwhile. But how to fit those goals into a real life? That's the problem.
    I suggest a quick look at your own life, being honest as to how much time you have. Then set a goal that seems just slightly out of reach. For example, almost everyone can find a half hour per day, five days per week. If you can type at all, that should be enough to get you one finished (and mailed) short story per month. And trust me, after twelve stories in the mail to editors (including one or two or three to me next contest <g>) you will be a better writer. And next year at this time, you can set a higher goal.
    Be warned. Always set goals you have control over. I've heard many new writers set a goal such as "I want to be published by the end of the year." First that shows a complete lack of knowledge of the publishing industry, and secondly, is out of the writer's control. That way leads to madness. <g> Set the goal you can control, and with work, get to. For those of you who want to be writers selling me stories, I'd suggest at least the one story per month. And if you hope to be a pro fiction writer, go after the one per week as Ray suggested. But either way, set a goal for 1999 and then hit it. Good luck.

    The New List of Hints

    New Hint #1: If you're gonna do it...do it right.
    Use manuscript format. This can be found in just about any writer's book or Writer's Digest yearbook or Fiction Writer's Market. It makes your stories look professional.

    New Hint #2: Rules is rules....follow dem rules.
    Stay within the guidelines (of the contest or magazine). In this contest, the limits were 7,500 words. The longest so far was a story of almost 50,000 words, with the statement in the cover letter, "I know this is a little over your guidelines length, but it is so good, I know you'll want to publish it."
    Nope. Didn't even glance at it.

    New Hint #3: Where am I?
    As a reader (and editor) I need to know where I am when a story opens. And what's going on. So far, I've rejected the most stories simply because the writer forgot to put that information in. I kid you not. Most of the time I call this "talking heads." Remember those old hints. Reread them. Talking heads is when the author starts the story like this:

    "Captain, they're attacking!"
    "Return fire!" the Captain ordered.
    (and so on and so on for pages.)

    Most of the time it is clear the author knew where his characters were, but just forgot to tell us, the readers. In other words, SETTING! More on that later in other hints.

    New Hint #4: Cover letters.
    In response to the cover letter question, the answer is simple: They are not needed. But I like it when there is one.
    What goes in a cover letter when you are a new writer. To this contest, something friendly. Nothing else is needed unless you have a credential to put in. Make sure everything is spelled correctly in the cover letter, unlike these posts of mine. <g>
    I am sort of amazed, to be honest, how many of the last few year's winners didn't include cover letters, or even say, "Hi, Dean, thanks for buying my story last year."
    Anyhow, cover letters not needed, but nice.

    (Note: Dean is referring to cover letters with regards to this contest. Professional markets will usually expect some kind of cover letter, especially if you're submitting to them for the first time. Some markets require cover letters as part of the submission process. Easy rule of thumb: CHECK THE GUIDELINES FOR THE MARKET YOU ARE PLANNING TO SUBMIT TO!)

    New Hint #5: Get the Editor to Read Your Stuff!
    Understand how editors read manuscripts. (Or, a subtitle would be: I DIDN'T GET TO THAT REALLY COOL IDEA ON PAGE THREE.)
    Here's how I read each and every story that comes into this contest, rejected ones and ones in the anthology.
    I open the envelope and pull out the story. What I get first is a sense of the package. Is the story in manuscript format? White paper? Cover letter? So on. I get a bunch of notebooks in this contest. Don't do that with regular editors at magazines. And cardboard is not needed. Just the story in an envelope, manuscript formatted, on white paper.
    Without really looking at the cover letter or the name, I start to read the story.
    When I find my eyes jumping ahead, (meaning the story isn't holding me) I flip to the third or 4th page in to see if the opening is just bad, but the writing gets better. It never does, but I always do this one last check. At that point, I reject the story.
    However, if I start reading and suddenly surface from the manuscript about page five and realize I'm reading, I finish the story and usually put the story in my second read pile for consideration later. Sometimes, at that point I make a note to myself about my first impressions on the story.
    So, with that all said, you should know that many, many times, I stop reading before the bottom of the first page. Sorry, but if the writing isn't up to the level I need, it serves no purpose for me to continue reading. So this hint is simple: Make your first page really sing. Get the editor reading.

    New Hint #6: DON'T OVER WRITE.
    In other words, don't make your first page a candidate for the Bulwar Lytton contest for bad writing. I've gotten a number of stories that were so over-written on the first page, I was laughing by the bottom of the page, and not because it was supposed to be funny.
    For example, one story has a character walking into a room, feeling the entire room with his eyes, breathing in every line. Okay??? I have no idea how a human would feel and breathe a room with his eyes??? Just a little over written there. <g>

    New Hint #7: Dialogue Do's and Don'ts
    Okay, three basic writing mistakes. About three or four of these close together on the first page of a manuscript and I reject it. But these always make me realize I'm reading a manuscript instead of a story.

    1) "Spock thought to himself." Ummmm, let me see, unless there is a telepath around, who else is he thinking to???

    2) Using retorted, interjected, bounced, and so on as speach modifiers. For example, "we will surely fail," retorted the lanky Vulcan. or... "I can't," she bounced back. Arghhh...just use the word said or answered or asked.

    3) When two people speak, a paragraph is needed for each speaker. You can't have a question by one person and an answer by another in the same paragraph. Too hard to follow.

    New Hint #8: ACTION!!!
    Start the story where the story starts, in action, with interested characters.

    I can't tell you how many stories I have rejected this time that started the story in one point and time, then after a paragraph or so, said, "A month later..."
    That means you started the story in the wrong spot folks.
    Start the story in the middle of action. A story never starts when a character wakes up, even though all our days start that way. (exception: a character wakes up with a gun in their face...)
    And never start the story with your characters bored. The editor is also bored and then rejects the manuscript.

    New Hint #9: Do your homework....
    READ THE FIRST TWO [now SEVEN] VOLUMES. Then write something new. I'm getting story after story that is almost EXACTLY like stories in the first two volumes of this contest. Of course I'm not going to buy them, no matter how well written. It shocks me that so many people would send me stories and not read the first two volumes of this anthology. It would seem like the most basic of research. But it is clear many have not done the homework.

    New Hint #10: Openings I
    ORIGINAL TREK... Most stories I'm getting open with "Captain's Log..." Now, go back and read the post about talking heads. This sort of thing is the worst example of a talking head ever invented. But for some reason, since they did it so much in the original Trek, writers want to do it in their stories. And open with it. To me, it's like opening with Spock's Brain.
    Back to hint #9. Does any story in the first two books in the Original Trek sections open with "Captain's Log..."? Nope.
    I'm not saying you can't do this, but if you do open your story with a log entry, you had better make it one really, really good log entry. And very, very interesting.

    New Hint #11: Openings II
    Openings on Deep Space Nine. I didn't have this problem last year, for obvious reasons, but this year I'm finding most of the DS9 stories open with a character really, really sad. And the reason...??? because Sisko is gone, because Worf is gone...and so on and so on. Opening a story with a character being really, really sad, is usually, really, really dull. I'm not saying it can't be done, but if you're going to do it, make the
    sadness really, really interesting.

    New Hint #12: Openings III
    Openings on Voyager: Just like last year, I'm getting the same type of opening in story after story. They either open with the crew being very bored. Or the story opens with the crew in a meeting. Both are very, very boring to readers. Again, it can be done, but do it really, really well. And did any Voyager story in the first two anthologies open in a meeting, or with characters bored? Nope.
    Also, since I didn't mention Next Gen, this meeting opening is also a problem there. Just not as bad as Voyager.
    Make your openings interesting. I'm reading thousands of stories. You have to catch my attention with something besides a really cool notebook and a picture of your dog.

    New Hint #13: Proper Format
    INDENT AND PARAGRAPH your manuscripts.
    More people than I can count think that putting a return at the end of a line is a paragraph, without putting an indent of five spaces or so.
    Some people put extra spaces between each paragraph like [a message board] post. That is also wrong, but easier to read at least.

    New Hint #14: More On Openings
    Okay, this is another Trek contest only hint, for those of you interested in trying this contest again. Remember this next spring and summer.
    Don't open your story by exactly retelling something from a movie or an episode. I've seen every one of them, more than once in most cases. And the instant a writer starts retelling an event from an episode or story, I skip ahead looking for what the original idea is. This is not a good thing for me to do. Trust me.
    Now, granted, a few stories in the first few anthologies did this slightly. But very slightly. So like the other opening hints, unless you can do this really, really well, don't do it.

    New Hint #15: Still More On Openings
    Okay, another "how to not start a story" hint.
    Every author sees a bunch of information that just "needs" to be in the story for the story to work. So most new writers (and I did this a great deal myself early on) just start a story by dumping all that needed information into the story. This is the worst way to start a story.
    How this shows up is this: In Trek, a Captain's Log. Or as with the last hint, starting by retelling part of an episode. Or by giving pages of details about a civilization, or about an event. On these manuscripts, the real story usually starts somewhere between page 3 and page 6, depending on the amount of information the author thought needed to be in there.
    They are always boring starts. I'd say out of every five manuscripts I'm rejecting on first read, this is the problem, in one form or another, with three of them.

    New Hint #16: Yep, Another Hint About Openings
    Hint: Don't open with a boring opening.
    Now I know, here, among all of you, that sounds really stupid for me to say. But on this first read I'm finding lots of stories just have really dull openings. The writing might be fine, the characters captured just fine, but the story is dull.
    As I have said many, many times, I give every story exactly the same chance as every other story. That in mind, what do YOU have to do to make me read your story? Out of all the thousands in the mail tubs around me??? Orange paper and a nifty drawing of Kirk won't do it. Trust me. <g>
    Write a wam-bam, catch my attention opening, that's how. And then follow it with just as good a second page, and so on.
    But a Captain, sitting in chair, staring at the stars going by, being bored, is not what I would consider a wam-bam opening. When you finish a story, stand back and look at the opening. Does the story, the conflict start on page one, sentence one, word one? If not, you're doing something wrong.

    New Hint #17: Why So Tense?
    Hint: Present tense does not work for about 999 out of 100 stories, and takes great skill to pull off. Use it for a short story somewhere after you've sold your 20th novel. And if you don't know what present tense is, get some basic books and learn it. Can't teach you here. This is a pro-level board.
    (Hint...I type this now. Present tense, first person. The hardest to make work.)

    New Hint #18: Hiding Information
    Hint: Never hide information. Ever.
    As new writers who are readers, we think that hiding information is how to create tension. It isn't. Every good movie, for example, will come right out and tell you the ending sometime in the first ten minutes. Always. You, as a viewer, just don't know you've been told.
    For example: The Sixth Sense tells you exactly how the movie ends right up front. You, as a viewer, just think it means something else. That's good writing.
    Hiding information is never, every good writing. I just read one story tonight that was very well written, good plot, and it pulled me all the way to the end. The author seemed to think it would be a good thing to not tell me who the viewpoint character was. Sigh. Nope.

    New Hint #19: Be Careful With Words
    Hint: Words are very powerful things. Be careful in a story how you use them. For example, tonight, while reading, I suddenly found myself yawning over a story that was fairly well written. I glanced down at the first line and there was the word "yawning" in the first line.

    New Hint #20: Get to the POINT!
    Wow, going through so many stories, I'm realizing that writers don't get to the point. I've been noticing that story after story the writing is letting me go and I flip ahead muttering, what was the point of this? One story, the author's writing held me all the way to the last word and I finished and said, "What the hell was the point of that story?"

    New Hint #21: Strong Openings
    I'm going to try to say this in a different way.
    You must catch a reader's attention and then hold it. But first you must catch it. And out of all the thousands of stories I'm reading, that's what most writers fail to do. They fail to catch my attention.
    The new writer thinking goes like this: "I've got this really cool idea. The editor's going to love this when he gets to it. It all starts one day when the Voyager crew is in normal routine. (Or with a Captain's Log in Original Trek. Or in Next Gen, with some unknown enemy we don't care about attacking the ship, or in Deep Space Nine a fight breaks out in Quarks, and again the reader doesn't care.) Then I'll work up to this really nifty idea."
    Nope. I know for a fact there are hundreds of really original ideas in these stories I just didn't get to because the writer didn't do the first most important thing to getting a story sold and read. The writer didn't catch my attention. So, for your own stories or next year, start right off, on the first line, with the really nifty idea, then use it in a story.

    New Hint #22: Don't Use Other People's Stuff
    Using someone else's copywritten material (except Star Trek in this case) is a fatal error and will get the story rejected instantly, no matter how good the story is.

    New Hint #23: Leave Me Alone
    I have always heard, and it worked for me with my wife before Kris (who was not a writer) that the only way to get family to leave you alone is sit down at some point, when you are not writing, and talk to them about how important the writing is, and how important it is to not be disturbed. Set up rules when they can and when they can't. And then ENFORCE those rules.
    Kris and I have very strict rules about each other's office. We don't go in the others office, EVER, without asking permission. Even when the other is not at home. Our offices are private spaces and we had a number of discussions about what would work before we even set this up.
    For those of you who can find a cheap, used computer (any classified section of any newspaper) it might be a good idea to get your own computer JUST for your writing, and not allow anyone else to use it or even turn it on. That might get the point across, also.
    And finally, take your own writing very seriously. If you do that, your family will also.

    New Hint #24: Unsolicited, Smunsolicited.
    Okay, so a market says, "No unsolicited manuscripts." What does that mean?
    Exactly what it says.
    So do you, as a writer with a story you think might fit, just give up? Most do, which is just fine. But say you're one of the smart ones who's going to make a living at this business. And you know the simple trick on getting around this tiny blockade. What is that?
    Get your manuscript solicited.
    How do you do that? Write Playboy a query letter, with an SASE, giving a quick (less than a paragraph) summary of your story and the genre it fits, your publishing credits, if any, and ASK THEM if they would like to see it. If they say "Yes." you have now gotten a solicited manuscript.
    That simple.

    How stories get rejected.
    Okay, folks, I'm going to take twenty stories (which I just picked out of the rejection pile at random) and tell you generally why I rejected the story.
    I will not give exact details about any story in this group. Why I am doing this is to give you all an insight into how an editor reads and looks at stories.

    Story #1: Repeated something done in an episode for the first two pages, not very well.
    Story #2: Started Captain's Log (strike one), went from Captain's log into boring routine of ship
    through the middle of the second page where I stopped reading.
    Story #3: Talking heads. Not a clue as to where I was in the story.
    Story #4: Good writing, made it to about page seven before the story got dull and I skipped
    ahead.
    Story #5: "As-you-know" information dump to start, with flowery language.
    Story #6: Interesting short-short, but they used real people's names in the story inside the Trek
    universe. Nope.
    Story #7: Two characters, sitting, thinking, very sad...ughh
    Story #8: First person story. No setting at all. Language trying to be cute.
    Story #9: Two pages of background fill before the story even pretended to get started.
    Story #10: Good writing. Made it all the way to the end in my second read pile. Nothing
    happened in the story.
    Story #11: The story was written as if it were a summary of a bigger story. Very vague
    language.
    Story #12: Beyond boring opening. A guy, thinking to himself, about how good he is, with
    nothing happening.
    Story #13: Boring opening again. Nothing happens but a character stands around.
    Story #14: Good writing, good story, made it all the way to my second read pile before I read it
    a second time, then came back to it the next day and still couldn't remember what it
    was about. Still can't as I glance at it again. <g>
    Story #15: Another great second read pile story, that changes the character in a way that can't be
    done in the universe. I was bummed when I got to the end of this one and couldn't buy it.
    Story #16: Good writing that bogged down about page six and made me skip ahead.
    Story #17: A sentence to start the story that was wrong, and over half a page long. I honestly
    tried reading it twice. (the sentence)<g>
    Story #18: A first person/second person attempt that almost worked. I'd bet the next time this
    writer tries this technique, it will work for the writer.
    Story #19: A second read pile story that on rereading just didn't move very fast. It was as if the
    writer had put in about twice too much detail for the story that needed to be told. But
    good writing.
    Story #20: No paragraphs (strike one). Word in first line misspelled that I noticed (strike two),
    and nothing happened by halfway down the page.

    That's it. Twenty reasons why twenty stories were rejected this year.
    Seven Point Plot
    This was provided to me by Dustan Moon via an e-mail circle I am part of at the moment. To the best of my knowledge, he got these tips from a Writer's Conference he attended.

    Okay, recipe for the seven point plot:

    1. A character

    2. In a setting

    3. With a problem

    4. Character must TRY to solve problem

    5. Must FAIL (and the result is THINGS GET WORSE)

    6. Climax--the conclusion of the try/fail cycles. The tsunami of all the smaller squalls. Character either fails miserably (tragedy) or succeeds wonderfully (comedy).

    7. Validation. This is the line in old fairy tales "And they all lived happily (or miserably) ever after." One of the best examples of a validation scene is in STAR WARS where Han and Luke get medals pinned to their chests at the end of the movie for saving the Federation. Life goes on, and hopefully the character is wiser for the experience.

    AJ Budrys says you need to run three try/fails before the climax. He also has a lot more to say on the subject, and has a great book called WRITING TO THE POINT.
     
  19. BrentMc

    BrentMc Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2006
    Location:
    California U.S.A.
    Dean's Hints part 2

    More Notes from Dean (May, 2005)

    <1) What are the top 3 mistakes you see in submissions for Strange New Worlds? >

    Mistake #1. The story starts slow and dull. On the shows, there was often "scene setters" below decks, or some such thing. I short stories, you can't do those and keep me or anyone else interested. If your characters walk to a turbo lift, ride to the bridge, and then have things explode, you have started in the wrong place. Start in the explosion.

    Mistake #2. No setting. For some reason, beginning writers think that just because you say the word "bridge" you have setting. Nope. You must put in setting, you must ground the reader in smells, tastes, feelings, emotions, and sounds. Not just sight. If you don't use all five senses through a character's eyes every two pages, go back in and add it.

    Mistake #3. Not Trek. This is a long ways behind the first two, but I would say the third most common reason I reject a story is that it doesn't feel like Trek, or the characters don't act like Trek. If you have trouble with this question, you need to become more of a fan. <g>

    <2) What are the top 3 things that really give a submission an advantage when being judged for publication in Strange New Worlds?>

    Top thing. Slam-bang grabber of an opening, followed by a really cool story that doesn't let me stop reading until the last word. You do that and I'll buy it every time. ("Million Year Mission" is an example of a very well-written "gosh-wow" story for Trek.)

    Second thing. Thick, rich setting written well, that illustrates a character emotion and problem, all right up front, followed by a great story that doesn't let me stop reading. ("Ribbon For Rosie" is an example of a character story that is pure Trek.)

    Third Thing. This one is well behind the first two, but a good, clean manuscript, in manuscript format, with good-sized font (meaning about 250 words a page), and dark ink. That really helps a tired old editor's eyes. But you do all that and put a dull opening on a boring story and I still won't buy it. <g> So do #3 and write a story that fits into #1 or #2. Then you have done everything you can do.



    Dean on the Odds (June, 2005)

    Okay, for some reason out there, there are people who think that getting into Strange New Worlds is like a big craps game, with certain odds on certain bets. Well, I've been saying this for nine years now, and I'm going to say it again.

    There are no odds, no quotas, nothing.

    I just pick what I think are the best stories and put them together and then mail them to New York, and then the fine editors in New York change a few and they mail the stories to Hollywood, and the fine people in charge of Star Trek there change a few and then the book comes out.

    That simple. But, for those of you stuck on this "odds" thing, let me do a Jeff Foxworthy like riff here and over the next few days as I think of other things.

    "The odds are, you might sell to Strange New Worlds if..."

    That's the riff. Here we go.

    1) The odds are, you might sell to Strange New Worlds if you write me a really great Star Trek short story with a slam-bang great opening.

    2) The odds are, you might sell to Strange New Worlds if you put a lot of rich, thick setting into your stories, with all five senses worked in smoothly through a character's point of view.

    3) The odds are, you might sell to Strange New Worlds if you don't start your story a long way from the action of the story and then walk to the action, but instead start inside a character's head and that character has a real problem.

    4) The odds are, you might sell to Strange New Worlds if you send me more than one story, maybe even three or four or five, because you are all beginning writers and you don't know when you have written a good story and when a story has missed, so writing more than one makes you a better writer and you might hit on something.

    5) The odds are, you might sell to Strange New Worlds if you follow the rules in the back of volume #8 very carefully.

    6) The odds are, you might sell to Strange New Worlds if you write a story that is about something you love about Trek, or something you hate about Trek and your story has your passion in it, seen through a character's eyes.

    7) The odds are, you might sell to Strange New Worlds if when you finish a story, you spell check it and mail it and write the next story, without rewriting the first one to death.

    8) The odds are, you might sell to Strange New Worlds if you have been writing a lot of your own stories over the last year, meaning dozens and dozens, because that means you have been practicing and are getting better at your craft and your fiction is getting closer to a sellable level.

    9) The odds are, you might sell to Strange New Worlds if you stop thinking of publishing as a game of odds and just work on taking the responsibility for your own craft and understand that when a story doesn't sell, it didn't fit for one reason or another, a reason never having to do with odds, but more likely having to do with the fact that you didn't do one of the eight listed above.

    Deadline is October 1st. Get to work, folks.

    Cheers
     
  20. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    I remember a published SNW story that violated the rule about not overusing the same word. "Yeoman Figgs" in SNW V is only 14 pages long but uses the word "velour" eight times.