Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Writing without an outline

Why not use an outline?

When I first started writing, I did use an outline.  Not only did I outline the first book, I outlined the next twenty!  There's some pretty good ideas in them actually.

I started writing the first book, got through a chapter and realized I liked the next character better than the first one, so I did an outline of her story.  Then I started writing that book.  I did a vast outline that would cover it and a lot more first.

By the time I finished chapter three of that book, I had 40,000 words written and realized that each chapter was much too thin and would be more realistic as their own separate books.  So I started over and wrote a new chapter one using the original first chapter as an outline.

That's when I realized that I had lost all interest.  I knew how the story ended so it wasn't fun anymore.  That's the key right there.  If I know how it ends, it's not fun for me to write.

Outline of an ankylosaure

Starting anew

A few years later, I decided to sit down and write in earnest.  There would be no excuses, no stopping, and nothing would get in the way.  The problem was that I couldn't find my original writing.

So after a few days of cussing and being mad, I started with a new story.  I had no idea how anything was going to turn out.  There was just an image in my mind that intrigued me.  I started by describing that image and going from there.

That book was "Rojuun" and the valley where it begins was the image.  From there I wrote whatever seemed interesting at the time.  Whenever I got stuck, I'd try to make something up and move the characters to a new location.  Lo and behold, I was writing a book.

What began to fascinate me was that I had no clue how it was going to end.  Most of the time I didn't even know what was going to happen next.  I found myself excited to get to the next part and see what would happen.

It wasn't all easy.  There were times when I'd just stare blankly at the screen without a clue as to what would happen.  In addition, my least favorite part of writing is scenes where the characters travel and I had a lot of that in the first trilogy.  The next biggest problem was info dumps.  That's when the author dumps a lot of info about the world, characters, cheese . . . whatever is needed to set up the next scene.  I found myself doing that way more than I would like instead of weaving the info into the story.  Book two has a really bad info dump that lasts a couple of chapters right in the middle.  It drives me a little nuts every time I think about it.

But the three books are finished (as of this writing, book three is in edits)  It was fascinating and fun to take that journey with the characters, never knowing what was going to happen next.  I believe that by not knowing what was going to happen next as I was writing, it will add a little more suspense for the reader too.  In fact, I've had a reader tell me so, which was a complete thrill. :)

Now and in the future

I'm writing my fourth book now.  The original three chapters that were really three stories was in a box in my shed and I've found them.  I very much want to write that story so I've started on it.  However, the story is changing.  I started from a new beginning and have given myself permission to write whatever happens next, even if it is completely different.

I've also given up on outlines completely.  I'm going to pick a starting point and write from there.  Each book will be a journey that I will experience just as the reader does.  You'll never know what's going to happen next because I don't.

I'm really looking forward to it. :D

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A parent's decision to homeschool

When to do it.

Homeschooling can be influenced a lot by the situation.  My wife and I swore we would never home school our kids early on. It's a lot of work and neither of us really have the patience for it.  In addition, higher grades teach advanced maths.  My wife has a GED and I have a high school diploma.  Much of the subject material is beyond what we learned in school.  The good news is that online homeschooling is available now and they have teachers and resources to help the students.

However, My fourteen year old son was getting bullied pretty badly in seventh grade.  The school he's in is doing a terrible job of teaching at the moment. The elementary is okay, but the high school is bad and the junior high is an absolute nightmare.  They don't look to be getting any better

He is also a very bright person who takes responsibility for himself, so we decided to give it a try this last year.  It went well for the most part, but twice we discovered that he was goofing off instead of doing his work.  It was hard to overcome and we had to ground him and take away all of his privileges both times.

Even with that, he learned much more in one year than he had from any other at the local school.  In addition, he discovered a passion for writing - to the point where he ditched the classwork in order to write.  *sigh*  He finished the year off with passing grades and will be advancing to the ninth grade.  It will also be an online school as the local high school is getting even worse and the administration hates Tracy and I at this point.

A new reason

This week, our son told us he was gay.  Not only that, he's been getting cyber-bullied by some of the local kids who have said the worst sort of things about him.  In my opinion, it's extraordinary for him to know who he is and be confident in that knowledge at such a young age.  I'm so happy that he knows now and that he's told us.  It will make confronting the obstacles so much easier for him with a strong support system around him.  I will also say that we've had a number of people show amazing support for him, including teachers in the school system and friends who have told us how proud they are of Joe for understanding himself and us as parents for letting him be who he truly is.

This knowledge has made me all that much more happy that we're homeschooling him.  We live in a small rural town and there's a great deal of prejudice against that sort of thing.  With as terrible as our school is at stopping bullying, his life would be hell there.  The school makes ineffective attempts at stopping the bullying, but the administration keeps judging students by the statistics placed in folders hidden away in filing cabinets.  They do not understand, empathize with or want to know the children in their school

Our youngest is going into the second grade.  My wife would love to home school her, but there simply isn't anyway we could do so right now.  She doesn't have the necessary discipline and both my wife and I work during the day.  The elementary isn't as bad as the secondary schools . . . yet.

Where to go

I will say that there are an exceptional number of resources available to the home-schooler where there wasn't in the past. My son was provided with a computer and access to teachers who help. In Colorado, we have The Colorado Online Virtual Academy.  I believe most states also have online schools to help.

I would also recommend keeping the student in extracurricular activities for social interaction and character building. In particular, they should be involved in a physical activity such as sports, martial arts, dance or some such thing. The growth of the body is just as important as the growth of the mind.

Your child has the right to participate in the extracurricular activities at your local school even if you home school them. My son is in band and until recently has taken akido. Look into your local parks and rec as well for other things to do.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Writing by mood and humor in stories


I like to write humor.  A lot of my stories are filled with comedy and my novels have funny banter intertwined through various parts.  Not everyone finds it funny or amusing, but that's okay as long as I'm grinning while I write. ;)

Here's the thing though.  It's not always there.  Right now is one of those times.  I want very much to write funny things, but I can't.  I could try, but it would be forced and whatever I'm trying to joke about would likely come across as lame or even downright offensive.

Even when the comedy is working, it's not consistent.  I can write five straight chapters where everything has a laugh or two then the next three have one or two moments only worth a smirk or groan.  Not only that, the types of humor change at times.  Sometimes it's completely absurd, others it's witty and at times it's thoughtful humor.

My short stories are a great example of this.  The Stories for Demented Children are absurd in every way possible.  A lot of people love them and others absolutely hate them.  "Blue Haired Alien Girlfriend" is a bit juvenile, but it's supposed to be.  It took me back to a time when I was a teenager in the 80's and I really drew from my experiences.  "Test Pilot" is an example of working with running jokes.  'Not my job' is said often as is 'Is it complicated?'

On the other hand, "Don't Ever Change" has no humor in it.  It's very dark and a bit gory.  I didn't even realize I was doing it at the time.  Everyone hates the ending of that one too.  I'll have to fix that one of these days. ;)


The reason this is on my mind at the moment is that I'm writing my fourth novel and through the first three chapters, I have absolutely no humor in it at all.  I've been contemplating it a great deal and there's a part of me that wants to go through and add it. 

The problem is that it's just not there.  I'm in a dark mood in real life at the moment and it feels good to write dark things.  The entire first three chapters are completely on edge and rightfully so.  The reader should be on edge when reading these chapters.  They should worry about what's going to happen.  There's nothing funny about their situation.  It's a desperate, scary life they're living, yet there's so much hope.  The reader will know that it just can't last.

Sometimes I get very serious and introverted, which is the mood I'm in now.  At times there's a reason for it and at other times, there's no reason for it at all.  Right now, I'm just evaluating everything about life,human existence and our place in the universe.  My conclusions are bleak and it's showing in the words that are flowing.

The third book was similar to this for a little while.  Everything became dark, but then I took a little break and came back when things were brighter.  The humor flowed once more and the entire thing brightened up.  It really worked for that book.  The same thing will happen.  At some point, the lightness of being will come back and suddenly everything will look bright again.

So my conclusion in all of this is that I'm totally insane and it's showing up in my writing.  The reader will never know what they're going to get from one chapter or short story to the next.  In all seriousness, the humor can't be forced, but neither can the moody stuff.  I'm finding that it's best if I go with the flow of whatever I'm writing.

I mentioned that writing the dark stuff feels good.  It's hard to explain, but that's the way it is.  The weather so far in this book is overcast and snowing.  The city is evil and danger lurks around every corner.  The building that's safe is an inn that's built of stone with a wall around it, both signs that the surroundings are dangerous.  Another safe place is a manor that looks like a haunted house with ivy, roses and willow trees around it.  Another setting is a dark church with crows.  These are all indicators of my mood.

Writing about these places is like a soothing caress on my soul.  Trying to force humor would be like rubbing a cat backwards right now.   I'm learning every day as I write.  Sometimes the scenery of the journey I'm on fascinates me and that's what I'm going through now.

I always find myself wondering what's going to happen next.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Writing a fantasy novel: How to define time

Do I keep the measure of time the same in a Fantasy novel?

This is a matter that I've considered to great lengths.  I'm building a fantasy world and writing novels within that world.  With fantasy, there are a lot of things to consider, the primary one being magic.  What sort of magic is it?  How does it work?  How powerful or common is it?

There are other things to consider, like whether or not humans are the only race, or do you throw more in?  Many writers add elves, dwarves and other Tolkienesque style races in.  At first I was going to add those, but decided to go with all human instead.  That changed when I added the Rojuun as a race.  But in doing so, I tried to make them largely unique, not following any of the normal fantasy stereotypes.

Plants and animals have to be considered.  If you make everything in your world brand new, you use up all the words describing those things.  I decided to keep a lot of the same trees and animals that are found on Earth.  I add extra flowers, but keep a lot of what's on Earth too.  The way I make it a fantasy world is by adjusting things, and adding supernatural creatures.  I have emo bunnies (surprise, surprise) carnivorous fairies, dragons, dryads, Mother Trees and things like that.  Also, the flowers are a great deal more powerful and sentient, which came about with the creation of Liselle as the Flower Child.

Currency, architecture, level of technology and how much magic replaces science are all important considerations too, but this blog isn't about those things.  It's about time.

These are many questions I've asked myself:  how many months should a year have, how is the month measured, especially since I have two moons, how many weeks and days in the month?  How many hours in the day?  Do they even have hours?  What about minutes and seconds?  How do they tell time?  How did people measure time before technology?  Does anybody really know what time it is?

Deciding what elements to add
At first I didn't want to stop writing to spend who knows how many hours figuring out a system.  I did briefly look at other books to see how they did it, but nothing jumped out at me that I was desperate to use.  At the time, I stuck with normal time because I wasn't about to interrupt the flow of words that was coming.  Writing can be very hard sometimes, especially when you're first starting.  I didn't succeed until I set aside all the distractions and just plowed through the first draft of the story.

The time came to make a decision and I finally decided to just stick primarily with standard measurements, though I made some adjustments.  There are twelve months in the year, BUT I don't actually talk about it in the story.  I've written three novels and have started the fourth in the world of Ryallon, and not once have I said what month it is.  All of my descriptions have been by season instead.

In the first trilogy, Book 1 started in early spring and ran through to early summer.  Book 2 went from early summer to late summer.  Book 3 went from early fall to late fall.  I eventually had to do a timeline of everything that happened to make sure I wasn't messing it up.  I also had to figure out the phases of the two moons in the world.  Luckily I didn't seem to mess anything up too badly.

The book I'm currently writing occurs years earlier than the other trilogy.  Originally I was going to start it in the middle of summer, but as I was writing I realized that it was snowing, so I switched the season to late fall.  Writing is like that sometimes; the scene or the characters decide what they're doing without really telling you.  It happens with weather too.  I've learned to go with the flow.  The writing is much more natural and fun that way.

The months have four weeks of seven days, making them twenty-eight days long.  I haven't told the reader that either, but use the knowledge for myself.  I haven't named any of the months or days either and have no clue what they're going to be called.  Part of the problem is that when I do, I have to tell the readers and explain why everything is named that way.  It's more important to me to describe things like magic and location as well as tell the story.  Actually, the story is the most important part, obviously.

I figure different civilizations in the world will have different calendars too.  Humanity has been that way, why not a fantasy world?  But I can leave that until necessary or interesting.

Then we get to hours and minutes.  I do not define seconds, instead calling them moments.  Seconds seem like a modern concept and they don't really fit in my image.  I've decided to keep hours and minutes because the reader can relate to them.  When writing, especially sci-fi and fantasy, it's important to give the reader stable information that they can relate to.  It helps them come to terms with the fantastic.

I'm finding that sometimes the information that's not told to the reader is just as fascinating as what is told.  The reader will fill in the missing information with what they already know.  As I write more, I learn what is and isn't important to describe.  It's really interesting to me, honestly.

So, the final result is that while I have years, months, weeks, hours, minutes and moments, to the reader, I only define seasons and times of day: morning, afternoon, evening, sunset, sunrise, early night, late night, early morning, noon, before sunrise . . . etc.  At no time have I told them what year it is, what month it is, what day it is or exactly what time it is on the clock.  When I realized this, I found it amazing.  I like it too.

My characters know what time it is though.  I've had them tell each other that they would meet in an hour or that something would happen in a few minutes.  The words were necessary for them to communicate to each other.  Even with that, they were talking to each other, not the reader.  It's a subtle distinction.

In finishing, I'd like to state that these are not rules and guidelines on how to do things.  Every writer is different and finds systems that work for them.  I talk about how I do things so that other writers can see how someone else does things and maybe get an idea.  I also do it so that my readers can get insight as what I am thinking when I write. (I caution them against delving to deeply into my thoughts because it's scary in there)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Emo Bunny that Should, A Story for Demented Children

What's up with the emo bunnies?!

People stare at me as though I'm odd when I start talking about emo bunnies.  Those who know me well just sigh and nod.  So where did the emo bunnies come from?

Well, it started with Guitar Hero III.  That's probably not what you expected, but it's true.  There's a song by AFI on there called Miss Murder.  I loved playing that song, so I went on youtube and checked out their music.  I now own 3 of their CDs. :)

Anyway; near the end of the video a woman, who I'm guessing is Miss Murder, is carrying a rabbit and puts it in the middle of a bunch of other rabbits.  I turned to my teenage daughter Jessica and asked, "What's up with all the rabbits?"

She responded in a very cute emo voice, "They're emo bunnies!"

Soooooo . . . I started talking about emo bunnies.  They accepted me as their imaginary friend.  I probably don't exist in reality, but they like pretending I'm there.

Emo bunnies tend to be depressed.  They don't talk much and when they do, it's usually about gloomy days or what color of hair dye to use.  They need lots of hugs and cuddles.  I know this for certain because my wife and kids bought me a bunny for father's day last year.  I named it Emo, of course.  I have a picture of her on the cover of the story.

How the story came to be

I write short stories and give them away for free as a promotion for the novels that I sale.  It's been extremely effective and has led to about 80% of the books I've sold.  Before this story, I had written three others that were doing pretty well and wanted to come up with something different.

The idea to write about an emo bunny came to me so I sat at my computer trying to think of what to put down.  My stuffed emo bunny came in a coffin, so I decided that Emo's home would be a coffin. :D

My stuffed Emo bunny, complete with coffin. :)

So I took Emo into the forest and wondered what would happen next.  Sometimes ideas come easily, other times not so much.  At the time, I was listening to Emilie Autumn, who is my favorite musician.  I will warn you now that her music is a bit . . . discordant, insane, disturbing . . .  Umm . . . She describes her own music this way: "Sounds like the best cup of English Breakfast spiked with cyanide and smashed on your antique wallpaper..."

You have been warned.

So I decided to add Emilie Autumn as a guest character, not really thinking much of it.  I asked her permission on twitter at the time, but never received a response.  I decided to leave the mention in.  If she ever reads it and asks me to take it out, I'll do so.

Then I sent Emo into the forest to mope in misery, but that doesn't make a very interesting story.  So, I decided to add a twisted little plot where the Easter Bunny is kidnapping forest creatures to do his labor.  And this is why I've never read the story to my 7 yr old who still believes the Easter Bunny is good. :D  My other two are demented and wise to the ways of fuzzy woodland creatures pushing candy to unsuspecting children.

Then I was stuck as to where to go from there.  An Emo Bunny would never risk life and limb to save anyone.  They would let the victims suffer and lament about how terrible it all was.  That's when I added the Plague Rats, which is what fans of Emilie Autumn call themselves.  It really fit with the . . . insane theme of the story, so I went with it.

I've had a lot of reviews telling me that my short stories end too abruptly and this is one of those stories.  I freely admit that I suck at endings, but I've looked at it numerous times and still like how I ended that one with Emo going back to the coffin and hiding.  It seemed appropriate to me.  I am working on endings in general though to improve.

As far as whether or not there will be any more stories like this, I plan on writing more Stories for Demented Children, but I don't know if I'll write anything else about Emo.  We'll see if inspiration hits me. :)

Another picture of Emo:

Friday, June 3, 2011

Dreamer - A poem


I wrote this poem a few years ago when staring out at the sky as I have a tendancy to do.  Someone asked my why I never talked much and stared into space all the time.
This is why. :)


Dreamer, the poem


Beautiful and wondrous thoughts
Ideas never before imagined
Worlds that never existed
Amazing people living unbelievable lives

A young boy sitting in a classroom stares out the window.
A young girl swinging on a swing stares past the sky
A man having coffee and a cigarette stares at nothing
A woman sitting at her computer stares beyond the screen

The young boy is a brave knight fighting danger
They young girl is a damsel in distress waiting for her hero
The man is prince charming searching for his true love
The woman is a princess in a far away land

Fighting fire breathing dragons
Matching wits with the devil
Flying to new and strange worlds
Falling in love

Times long gone
Times yet to come
Times that never were or ever will be
Places where time doesn’t exist

Beautiful sights that have yet to be seen
Beautiful sights that want desperately to be seen
Music that is loved by all
Music that will be loved by all

Gorgeous paintings
Noble statues
Wonderful poetry
Uplifting songs

This is what the dreamer sees
Oh, they know reality is there
They just don’t care
Reality can be so very dull and boring

Let the dreamer be
Or even ask them to share those dreams
You may be amazed.
Perhaps you are in someone’s dream this very moment

Copyright 2008 John H. Carroll