My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

That Year We Forgot Blog's Birthday

The breath I took with my hand on the doorknob could never be deep enough.

I ignored the "Go Away" and "Knock First" signs, and stepped in, at first thinking that I would flick the lights on, but then deciding that the pastel rainbow thrown off by the line of lava lamps was kind of nice. Blog was lying in bed listening to headphones and facing away from the door.
"You didn't knock," Blog said.

"I know," I said. I went over and sat on the edge of the bed. Blog shifted further over and showed me more of its back.

"I'm sorry," I said.


"I could tell you what was going on, but you know what's going on. There's no excuse."

I'm not sure how, but the silence got worse. Longer. Silenter.

"I forgot your birthday," I said. The words themselves somehow hung in the air, making the whole thing real.

Blog turned, still looking upset, but finally looking at me.

"I didn't get you anything. I completely forgot."

"Yeah," Blog nodded.

"You know why, right?" I asked.

"Yeah," Blog said. "It's not like it's a bad reason. I felt bad for caring."

"No no no," I said. "No, I still should have remembered. You're four now! FOUR. I mean we've been doing this for a tenth of my life. A TENTH of my life."

Blog couldn't help but smile a little at that. I saw a tiny glimmer of the hopes and dreams flashed through that smile, and all the impish demands for unreasonable accolades over the years.

I put my hand next to Blog, still not sure if contact was okay. "It's going to be a tough year."

"I know," Blog said.

"We might not hit too many milestones," I said. "We got like 1600 because of that First Sentences thing for some reason, but that was the first real post I wrote in like two months that wasn't just a personal update."

"We hit the goal that matters, Chris," Blog said.

"We did?" I racked my brain. Two million page views? 60,000 in a single month? Five thousand in a day? What was it?

"You never quit," Blog said. "Sixteen hours a day in the hospital, and I still had a post up just about every damned day. You think I don't know what that was costing you?"

I laughed. Not a real laugh. More one of those sharp sighs of disbelief.  "You're way too wise for four. You understand this, right?"

"Eh, I still think I'm going to be a famous blog some day," Blog said. "How wise can I be?"

"You know..." I said, and my voice cracked. I pressed it down and took a deep breath and pressed it down again. "There's a chance..."

"I know," Blog said.

"...and I don't think there's any way I could keep writing through that."

"I know," Blog said.

"At least for a while," I finished. "At least on you. Maybe emo poems or...." I stopped because I couldn't press it down any more.

"Burn that bridge when we come to it," Blog said. "In the meantime, come ON. Have you met Sonic Gal? She makes other fighters look like pacifists. If she has to reach into her own chest to pull that lymphoma out, I'm pretty sure she will."

"As long as she can punch her way through the problem somehow," I laughed.

"Right?" Blog said.

As the laughter died, the silence shifted inexorably towards awkward.

"So...uh....I ordered a cake," I said. "Do you want some totally late birthday cake?"

Blog turned and looked at me. Stared really. For a long moment.

"Who do you think you're even talking to? Fuck yes, I want cake!"

"Come on into the kitchen," I said. "I don't want you getting crumbs in the bed."

"Also let's do the 2 million thing before I reach half a decade. That's really not so much to ask! Use guilt trips for page views. You could play the cancer card on your readers. We can totally do this...."

Happy Birthday Writing About Writing

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Best Single Arc Series

What is the best single arc series?

Even as you pop over and vote on our Best Magic System poll, let us move ahead on our extremely late February poll so that we can try to catch up to a poll each month.
We do a lot of "Best Series" polls here at Writing About Writing, but today we're going to look at a very specific kind of series. Many "series" tell several stories in a single world. Series like Dresden or Discworld. But some series are really a single story spanning multiple books.

While one or all of the books (especially the first one in many cases) might stand alone, the series itself is really a single work.

What is the BEST series that is really a multi-book single story?

The Rules

1- As always, I leave definitions up to your best judgement because I'd rather be inclusive. If you feel that Harry Potter counts as a single work, even though clearly each of its stories (especially the first three) are stand alone works, I am not going to quibble over the nomination. If there is a specific run of three books in Discworld that you feel tells a SINGLE cohesive story, you can nominate that. But the point here isn't to bend the rules to get a series you like on the poll, (we do plenty of polls–there will be other chances to shout out your faves); the point here is to really nominate the best multi-book single story.

2- You may nominate two (2) series. (Remember that I am a horrid and unyielding power hungry monster* here at Writing About Writing. To encourage reading and reading comprehension I will NOT take any authors beyond your second nomination.) If you nominate more than two books, I will only take your first two and consider any beyond that to be pre-seconds for a future nomination.

3- You may (and should) second as many nominations of others as you wish. No series will be going on to our poll that doesn't get at least one second.

4- The series must be done. Otherwise we don't know if it's got an ending that really lives up to "the best single arc."  So, for example, no Song of Ice and Fire.

5- Please put your nominations here. I will take books nominated as comments to this post on other social media; however, they may not get the seconds you need because no one will see them.

6- PLEASE NOTE: If we end up with an unwieldy number of nominations, the first split I will make will be the science-fiction, fantasy divide. If you feel your series is in any way genre bending or ambiguous, please include which way you would to see it go should the split occur. Otherwise I'll use my best judgement.  And while I don't anticipate any series that aren't either one or the other, if they do show up, I'll do my best.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

How Do I Write a First Sentence? (Mailbox)

That monocle is not fooling anyone!
How can I write a perfect first sentence?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer one each week. I have a LOT of backlogged questions right now, but I will try to eventually get to all of them.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. I may give myself a few slow balls right over the plate as I warm back up into a regular blogging schedule here.]

Li writes: 

I'm having a lot of trouble with this [referring to the image to the right about opening sentences -Chris]

Stephen writes: 

I could really use some help coming up with the first sentence.  

Angela asks: 

Do you have any first-sentence wisdom you could lay on us? I know they set the whole tone of the novel, so I just sit there, frozen

My reply:

First of all, let me thank everyone for their patience with the generally fluffy content on the blog these last six weeks while I dealt with Sonic Gal's cancer diagnosis. Now that we're out of the "ZOMG Cancer!" emergency, hospital, 24/7, doctors tag teaming us (and not in the fun way), nurses at 4am, really shitty meatloaf and that-jello-with-the-fruit-suspended-in-it phase, and moving into the long (but more predictable) chemotherapy phase (which involves hair loss and existential angst but a blessed absence of nurses Sonic Gal finds ridiculously hot telling her that they'll be the ones changing her bed pan), The Brain has been able to do things like schedule childcare for The Contrarian and set back up a little bit of my old writing time. So while I can't promise that things will go back to their pre-medical mystery splendor (at least for at least five months or so), we should be able to put a bit more on the table. Forgive me if I answer a few softballs while I get back into the swing of things.

But let's get on to first sentences. 

Look at your typical advice about first lines: They must be surprising. They must grab the reader. They must be vivid. They must establish your unique voice. They must be true, clear, amusing...they must contain the entirety of the novel. They are the "handshake with the reader." 80% of readers will decide whether to continue based on your first line. Everything you are as a human being and all your worldly artistic ambitions are riding on this sentence.

"No pressure n00bs" -LeGuin probably

Oh is that all?

And look what you're up against!  “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” “My name is Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered.” "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice." "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."  "Mother died today."  I mean...DAMN, right?

Let me give you the best advice I possibly can about your first sentence.


Seriously, I'm not kidding. Stop worrying about it. Skip it. Start with your second sentence. Start with your second paragraph. Start with your second CHAPTER.

There is absolutely no earthly reason in any of the buttholes of the Greek pantheon that the first sentence you write should be The First Sentence™ of your written work. First of all, if you're just sitting down to a blank page, you don't really know what your story is about. You might have some ideas, but the process of writing is messy. Your story is going to change. (I know. I know. Not YOUR story. But just for shits and giggles, play along with this concept that every creative person in the whole world has been trying to tell you that the process is messy.) You may find new themes emerge. You may find your main character isn't important but that minor character is who the story is really about. You may decide to start your story at chapter three and skip that impossible-to-digest solid twenty page bowel movement of exposition you tried to cram into chapters one and two. You may find the idea that brings your whole story together in one beautiful symbol.

I mean who knows what's going to change.

But there's no way your first sentence can reflect all those changes until you've written the damned thing. And if you're trying to shoehorn in something you thought was brilliant before all that other shit changed, it's going to feel forced and awkward. Like that weird joke that your friend tried to tell that didn't REALLY have to do with the conversation, but they were so excited about telling it that they kept trying to work it in. ("Your conversation about high priced dog kennels reminds me of this one time I was eating designer cheese in Dubai....")

The first piece of advice I give my college students who are writing essays when they're hung up on their introduction or thesis statement is to write their paper first, and then figure out what they wanted to say. As they wind into their conclusion most of them have a much better sense of what they're trying to say, and can go back and write a killer introduction. The same thing applies here. Okay, that's not true at all. Actually, the first bit of advice I give them is to learn what a fucking comma splice is and stop using "I feel" in formal academic essays, but shortly after that we get to the introduction/conclusion thing.

All trying to get it right the first time does is paralyze you into not writing. It's performance anxiety. You sit at the screen in a blind sort of panic because it has to be perfect. You know it won't be perfect, and so you rack your brain in a Sisyphean quest for words.

This paralysis is at the heart of 99% of what people call writer's block.

I don't want to trivialize how frustrating and real this paralysis ("writer's block") can be. I really don't. But fundamentally most writer's block (especially the "first line" kind) is a lack of respect for the process. You're sitting down and thinking that you have to get it right.

You don't have to get it right.

You're sitting down thinking your sentence has to be surprising, grabby, vivid, amusing, true, and clear, and that is what's holding you back.

It doesn't.

Let me say that again: IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THAT STUFF.

Not yet anyway. There's no WAY this is going to be your first sentence by the time you're looking for an agent or trying to shop it around or publishing it. Fuggidaboutit. You will change it. You will revise it. And you just gotta trust me that you have to respect that part of the process. You have three or four drafts and a dozen revisions before you have to think of your first sentence in some sort of "handshake the reader" kind of way, and by then you'll probably have a much better idea how to do it, what you want to say, what your voice is in the piece, and how to make it clearly introduce the story.

When you sit there frozen because your first sentence isn't perfect, it is absolutely frustrating and real and I don't want to diminish how painful it can be, but it's happening because you're not having faith that it's okay to write crap. It's performance anxiety when you haven't done the rehearsal and don't know your lines. It's the curtain opening up on a Madison Square Garden audience, and you don't even know the name of the play yet. And unless you're Ian McKellen or James Earl Jones, you're going to freeze up. For a writer, the rehearsals and line readings and tech week all happen in the rough drafts and revisions.

Chris is a Hottie McHotterson -James Earl Jones probably
He's hottie times infinity plus another infinity -Ian McKellen surely
Totes magotes- James Earl Jones almost certainly
That means being willing–nay having FAITH–to write your crappy, flawed, predictable, forgettable, false, and muddled first sentence, that you will go back and fix later.

Write ANY sentence. Any sentence at all. Fuck, if you want, use a randomly generated sentence for all it's going to matter to your final product. See what sort of juices it gets flowing to try and make that the start of your story. Just get your ass writing and stop trying to be perfect. You could even try to write a hilariously bad first sentence.

But you're never going to reach perfect, and you can't even come close on your first attempt.

You have to kill that inner perfectionist with fire, because no artist can work with that asshole looking over their shoulder. (Okay maybe don't kill them with fire. You'll need them later to sniff at your work when you need to revise the third draft. But definitely wound them for the duration or put them in the Pit of Despair™and suck the life out of them until they're mostly dead.)

Artists have to have permission to fuck up. (The good shit happens when you're making mistakes anyway.) Destroy the impetus to write something on the first shot that will never change. That's exactly what's making you sit there like a statue called The Blocked Writer™, eating coal and crapping diamonds because you're so anxious about how to get it just right. Let go of your literal and hypothetical sphincter, and produce some crap!

Once you've written your story then all that advice about how to make a first sentence that kicks ass will be so much easier. You will be more able to see what your story is and what will reflect your voice and how to be clear and grab your reader's attention.

If you're blessed with first sentence mojo, maybe you can come up with them and they don't change or don't change much throughout the life of your story. For all the rest of us mortals down here on Earth our story's first sentence–the real one that we end up going with–should probably actually be one of the last ones we write.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Best Magic System (Final Round)

What is the best system of magic in fiction?  

Our final round is live!  

Our poll is ten names. Culled through semifinals from 20 names that you offered though our write in nominations. Each of you will be given three (3) votes. Please remember that there is no "ranking" system for votes so each vote you cast beyond the first will "dilute" the power of all the others. You should vote for as few as you can bear to.

This poll will only run until Feb 18th. After that our desperately late February poll will be going up.

The poll itself is on the lower left of the side menus–just below the "About the Author."

Since I can't really stop shenanigans, I welcome all the shenanigans. The main one is of course that Polldaddy tracks your IP for a week so you could vote from multiple computers or vote again after a week, but people have also enlisted friends, family, and even author forums or Facebook communities to join in the fun.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Best Magic System (Poll Results Semifinal 2)

Next week we have lots of poll stuff that'll be going up, including our February poll nominations and our final round of the Best Magic Poll.

So here are the results from the second semifinal round of the Best Magic poll. Everything from His Dark Materials and up will be going on to the final round. Look for that tomorrow!

Thank you to so very many for voting.