We made it past episode 7! Now the money starts pouring in! In this episode, we discuss Macguffin, Scribophile and more StackEdit. We talk about Showing not Telling in our craft section, and John spit-takes some beer.
Works in Progress
[0:52] We like to start each episode by checking in on our works in progress. Mike’s show notes listed “I am a failure as a writer” because he hadn’t written anything in the last week. John tried to encourage him that his note added 7 words to his total word count.
Eric sentenced Mike to 50 lashes with a wet noodle.
[1:35] John was stuck on his vagabond story and tried writing an outline from a different character’s viewpoint. He is also going through his Stonelair story for an editorial rewrite.
John tallied his word count for May and found he had written 15,595 words. That averaged more than 500 words a day and was a total surprise.
[2:52] In the month of May, Eric wrote 12,500 words on Road of Fire in 20 minutes a day.
He continues the rewrite of Don’t Wake Up.
Eric had some interesting conversations in writing groups after asking them to critique the first pages of his work.
What’s happening online
[4:03] Thrill Writing is a website by author Fionna Quinn for thriller and mystery writers. She regularly posts on topics these genre writers would research for their stories. There have been posts on the differences between first degree murder and manslaughter, how various weapons work, post traumatic stress disorder, and police investigations.
Mike joked around about offering comments on Eric’s Prince of Pigeon Hill and not wanting to hurt Eric’s feelings. On that topic, Mike provided a post from The Art Of Manliness on How to Give Effective Criticism. One of the tips is the Sandwich Technique: When giving criticism, it’s often effective to sandwich it between two positive statements. It makes the criticism easier to swallow and reminds the receiver that negative feedback is not a personal attack.
In Toastmasters, members give presentations and request feedback.
“It is very unnerving to give a speech and then have people come up and evaluate your speech.”
The sandwich technique makes it easier to listen to the feedback.
John’s wife uses the “plus, plus, minus, plus” technique, where two positive things precede a negative criticism. John has caught on when he hears two positive compliments; he knows the next thing is probably negative feedback.
The conversation turned to the writer’s groups Eric attends. When there are 25 people attending the meeting, the author sits in silence while the other members read his work. Then they discuss what they’ve read while the author listens in silence.
“The writer is not allowed to speak, so people come up with the most bizarre theories or ideas or unique insights. It runs the gambit. “
Eric is a big believer in critiques. He uses sites like Scribophile to give and receive critiques. The drawback is the ability to pick and choose the pieces to critique. In a writer’s group, everyone must critique the writing provided by other attendees. Writers are forced to critique work they may not normally read or may not even like. Eric finds that invaluable:
It really forces me to refine my craft
[8:03] John is still reading The Mote in God’s Eye. He keeps the physical book in his nightstand, so he only reads it every few nights. On the Kindle, he started a new book called The Fifth Man by Randy Ingermanson. (Apologies to Randy as John mispronounced his name in the podcast.)
The Fifth Man is the second book in his Mars series with John B. Olson. Oxygen, the first book, is set on Earth before and in space during the first manned mission to Mars. Now on Mars, The Fifth Man picks up with the team of astronauts on the Red Planet.
Randy Ingermanson is known as the “snowflake guy” for a writing technique he created called The Snowflake Method. Both Oxygen and The Fifth Man have an additional appendix at the back of the book covering the craft aspects of each novel – how he and his co-author wrote each novel using the Snowflake Method and other writing commentary.
[9:52] Mike started Secret World by M.J. Trow. This novel is set in the 1500s and is about Christopher Marlowe who must solve a crime in his family’s home town.
[10:36] While at Portillo’s for lunch last week, Eric was looking at all the tchotchkes on the walls and something above the door caught his eye. On a shelf was a Maltese Falcon.
“[It was] just staring at me. And I just about blew a gasket. I’m like ‘OMG’, I need to have that.”
Eric tried devising a crazy plan to lift the statue from the restaurant. His boss would have none of it.
“My love for owning a Maltese Falcon stems from the Adam Savage video from TED on how he built his own Maltese Falcon. This is OCD exemplified. The detail he gets into is phenomenal. I’ve seen the movie three times, and I was sitting there looking at this bird and it dawned on me: I’ve never read the book.”
Eric is download The Maltese Falcon on its author Dashell Hammett’s birthday, and he’s loving it.
[12:09] Mike likes to find new platforms and apps to try. This time he discovered MacGuffin by Comma Press (The new platform luring readers into short fiction). Similar to Story.am (discussed in Episode 5), MacGuffin allows writers to quickly add stories in text or audio, although the text formatting is relatively limited.
Where MacGuffin shines is in its analytics. The site shows how many people started reading a story and where they stopped reading or listening. Stories are tagged by genre and length so readers can find the types of stories they want to hear.
It would be a good site for poetry or short stories, but Mike didn’t feel like it would do well with longer fiction.
Eric may post a few stories on MacGuffin. He’s not sold on Story.am because he sees strange bounce rates (how quickly a visitor leaves the page) from the stories he posted there. He also would like the ability to post a story’s blurb on the home page rather than it defaulting to the first 250 characters.
John suggested downloading the story engine from Story.am. It is available as a WordPress plugin so it can be used on any website.
[15:35] John went back to Stackedit.io again (discussed in Episode 7). He loves working in Markdown, a way of formatting text using text. The interface is beautiful and he is turning to Stackedit more and more for writing.
I like writing that way, it feels very intuitive.
The only drawback is a lack of syncing between all devices and someplace online. John switches between his desktop and laptop depending on his mood and where he wants to sit while he’s writing. There’s always clunkiness with saving files anywhere else. Mike countered with the benefits of working offline without an internet connection.
[18:04] By the time this episode goes live, #pitmad (Pitch Madness) will have come and gone. #pitmad is a way to pitch your novel to agents on Twitter. It allows tech-savvy agents to avoid their slush pile and lets young agents find good work very quickly. These Twitter hashtag pitches turn a slush pile into a social game while simultaneously creating excitement and comradarie.
Craft – Showing versus Telling
During one of Eric’s writing groups, there was a debate over the beginning of Don’t Wake Up. Some of the writers felt his introduction was telling, others thought the same words were showing. On Reddit, John came across a post where another author ran into the same problem. The poster asked other redditors for ways to improve his writing. The best comment on Showing versus Telling reposted advice from Fight Club author Chuck Palahnuik:
“In six seconds, you’ll hate me. But in six months, you’ll be a better writer. From this point forward—at least for the next half year—you may not use “thought” verbs.”
A partial thought word list: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Forgets, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, Loves, Hates. Also Is and Has.
By eliminating those words, which are nebulous, you are putting the onus of thinking on the reader (which is better) and using the actions of the characters to show what is happening rather than telling the reader what the character is thinking. You can’t “tell” what a character is thinking.
Authors especially like to use these as “thesis statements” to start a paragraph.
“Thinking is abstract. Knowing and believing are intangible. Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing. And loving and hating.”
Eric’s thoughts on Chuck’s advice:
“Now I have to rewrite everything. Everything I do thinks, and it knows that it’s thinking, and it understands that its thinking, and it realizes that it believes that its thinking. So now I’m screwed.”
Another post John discovered recommends dropping all synonyms for “said” (Saidism: 50 shades of said)
“said” is small, unobtrusive, and does the work just fine. Whenever you need your character to say something, consider “said” as a strong candidate.”
If you write really well, even “said” can be avoided. Two ways are to let the dialog carry the meaning, and to let the action indicate the speaker.
Eric mentioned a Wall Street Journal article about Chuck Palahnuik’s envelopes:
So often people will approach me and they’ll be so filled with emotion and we’ll only have a moment to interact. So I will give them a card that’s pre-addressed to me and ask them to forward me a mailing address at which I can send them a gift. The Brother Label Maker allows me to label all those cards. I like to send ephemeral things, like really good candy, soap, candles or incense. I don’t want to send these people just a letter. I want it to be very tangible: smells and sounds and flavors.
Mike asked Eric about dialog in Prince of Pigeon Hill and what Eric’s approach to moving the story along with dialog.
“It’s first person; you’re in the mind of Rudy the main character. The dialog helps the reader get into the mind of the other characters.”
The dialog doesn’t ruin Rudy’s conflict and resolution, but helps move the story along.
“I’m a fan of dialog.”
When Mike first tried NaNoWriMo, he wrote with no dialog at all. He didn’t want to get off track while writing and wrote everything in a third-person point of view without dialog.
In Stonelair and other vignettes John has written, he notices he doesn’t use dialog. It comes out of a fear. When reading some other books, John saw some dialog that was quite unnatural – where a character would explain something in long soliloquy . It isn’t the way people speak; it’s an information dump as dialog. John becomes so afraid to do that, that it turns into not wanting to write dialog at all.
Writing That Pays
[32:31] While trying to find an article on Writing that Pays, there was a bunch of goofing off better left on the editroom floor. BUT, John had a Spit-take in the middle of it, so we left it in.
Earth Island Journal is always looking for compelling and distinctive stories that anticipate environmental concerns before they become pressing problems, stories that scan the horizon for the next big issue.
We pay writers 25 cents/word for shorter dispatches (1,200-1,500 words) and for longer investigative features (2,500-3,000 words). You can expect to earn about1000 for an in-depth feature story.For online reports, the fee ranges from100.
[33:36] Mike’s goal for the next week is “To not be a failure as a writer”. He is going to slap the words down.
[34:01] John has written 8 days in a row, so his goal is to not break the chain of writing.
Eric’s throwdown: It’s June 1, we should lock down writing 500 words every day.