When my work first began to be accepted and published, I quickly learned several surprising facts about the process. Likely the most surprising was that many writers just aren’t into self-editing; something I thought was strictly required.
My first forays into professional writing were as a screenwriter, a discipline which exists in an entirely separate universe, worlds apart from published prose. Submit a completed screenplay with so much as an extra space between words, and the assigned reader – often an intern or entry level assistant of some kind, feels perfectly justified in tossing your work into the can, or hitting delete. Seems unreasonable, even elitist doesn’t it? But there is a brutal Darwinian logic at work, stemming from multiple factors. Most significantly, one page of a properly formatted screenplay is said to equal roughly one minute of screen time. Thus, a finished spec (non-commissioned) script should top out at between ninety and one hundred and twenty pages. Typos, overly descriptive narrative and general sloppiness can queer the formula. Nobody has time for that. Anyone accepting screenplay submissions will not want to account for your mistakes. Your work has to be finished. And perfect. That includes editing.
If you’ve written so much as a mash note, (that’s how we used to refer to sexts, kiddies) you’ll know that not everything you drop on the page should stay there. Nobody gets it right the first time. We can all scan for typos and mistakes, but not every writer can take up the cross of amputating pieces of their children. That’s where professional editors and editing services come in. There are these wonderful souls have no interest in the process of world building from the ground up or stringing together narrative. Their calling is to clean, organize, refine. It’s as much an art as the actual storytelling, and we wouldn’t have decent books without them.
That said – maybe I’m weird. I would rather be the one doing the amputating, if it must be done, than to leave that surgery to someone who could never be as emotionally or energetically invested in my monstrous fetuses as I am. It probably has a lot to do with habits learned as a screenwriter, but maybe also with martial arts and weight training, two activities which require constant personal refinement, self-sacrifice and yes, pain.
In any case, I’m inclined to chip away, to leave as little distraction for beta readers and as little work for editors and publishers as possible; to turn in a complete work. My belief is that a highly polished piece is that much more likely to be accepted, quicker to be published, and even more valuable to a publisher – and thus likely to command a larger purse for you the writer, not even to mention what it does for your reputation as professional, timely and attractive to work with.
Every writer is different, and I can’t pretend to dictate how all writers should conduct their process. Maybe some are so driven to move on to the next project that they simply cannot conjure the focus needed to trudge through a fifth, sixth and seventh draft of nothing more than making cuts and additions. Maybe for some, the story is well and truly done, maxed out, past history – yet still needs an outside hand before being ready for mass consumption. Their cartridge is spent and it’s time to chamber the next round.
Now lest I wax too high and mighty/writerier than thou, I should mention that recent experience has taught me that, as much as I may be driven to self-edit, I’m not always that good at it. My upcoming September release, Red Harvest: Haunted Hollow Chronicles Volume 1, probably made it to the “accept” pile by the very skin of its teeth. My editor, one of God’s own angels flying above a purgatory of self-indulgent keyboard and pen jockeys, sent my manuscript back to me with notes that, despite their diplomatic composition, exposed me as a mediocre compositionist with a few half way decent ideas. I learned a lot from her patient yet deserved annihilation of my sloppy prose. I wish for such an entity to nurture and afflict all you smug story slingers out there, if for no other reason than so that I can read your very best work.
But I also encourage you to self-edit the absolute hell out of your work. After all, if you’ve done your homework you should know everybody needs editing. The better your work is, the more readers it’s likely to reach. Swallow your ego, crush your lassitude and refine that diamond. You might be surprised at how satisfied you can be with your own work when you look at it after a harsh slash session or two.
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Call it simple instinct.
We see a snake or a spider and our initial reaction is revulsion — because we perceive it as a threat. Our ancestors learned the hard way, in countless separate tribes, that some creatures are dangerous, others are not. Few of us fear budgies or warblers for instance and might even find them cute or otherwise pleasant. Yet, most spiders are much smaller than these birds, not to mention completely harmless to us. Still, we have a natural revulsion to them.
There is more to our little eight legged boogieman than we see at first glance. Spiders have eight legs and eight eyes. The number eight has significance in many esoteric belief systems, and we are aware of this too, though at a deeper level. Numbers mean something to us beyond the amount of things they count. Some people even see numbers in terms of gender or even color or taste.
When you put a spider in your story, the reader’s natural fear or negative baggage will arise, and you must take advantage of this. Thus, a spider can represent something related to the number eight. Perhaps your protagonist is an outlaw in a western, riding across the desert to start a new life. He encounters a tarantula and gets a bad feelin’. Well, turns out there’s a posse on his trail; eight hard men, aimin’ to kill.
Let’s take it a step further; our hero brings down his knife, severing one of the spiders’ legs. But it gets away; he either chose not to kill it or simply wasn’t able. Of his pursuers, one is an adversary whom he wounded and should have killed.
This also falls into the realm of both foreshadowing and subtext. But the important thing is — you never spell it out. Some readers might catch it but most won’t — yet their subconscious will, and the reader will have a richer experience. It’s like the barest pinch of a spice in a stew that takes the whole meal from “delicious” and elevates it to “unforgettable!”
This is an entry level example of symbolism, which admittedly, is pretty much where I am. But it’s a start, and if you want your story to work beyond just the gut level -meaning a pure celebration of scares and gross outs and shock factor, which is just as legitimate a form of horror I might add, in the same way that slapstick is just as powerful a form of comedy as the most sophisticated Greek tragicomedy- then it’s not a bad idea to research symbolism.
NEXT TIME: Part 2. Duh.
Tag – I’m it.
Recently I was invited to participate in a blog hop, but didn’t manage to get the blog posted in time. ( I’d blame it on my wife/editor, except that she’s typing this right now and has decided she will accept no blame.) So, here it is…better late than never.
My current project in progress, UNDER WICKED SKY, is an apocalyptic siege story that has to do with a situation in which law and order has essentially begun to break down as global warming becomes a more serious problem. The main character is a veteran of the current middle eastern conflicts, a drifter who just wants to get out of the sun until dark so he crashes a bed and breakfast that has been outfitted with cutting edge comfort technology, thus making it a valuable commodity to certain outside interests, as it were.
My vampire novel THE CRIMSON CALLING is about a tough ex-military chick who is recruited by a cabal of vampires for a coming war with a separate faction which seeks to subjugate mankind. It’s in late drafts and editing with Hobbes End now, with CC being the first of a series that will span several historic eras. We really hope to have that out by October.
Third is THE OUTSIDE MAN, a web series which follows the current Hong Kong trend of martial arts opuses with heavily dramatic elements. It will be shooting in my hometown of Asheville North Carolina with all local cast and crew. We’re aiming for intense fight scenes and emotionally involving characters.
Finally, an illustrated novella titled PIECES OF MIRACLE is in the works. Text is done, and the illustrator, Audrey Lynn Brennan, is finishing the illustrations–that is, when she’s not taking care of her beautiful newborn! It’s a disturbing, E.C. Comics-esque tale of an unsolved crime, a girl on the cusp of adulthood with very special abilities, and a nightmarish creature.
All art is the result of its creator’s experiences as filtered through their personalities, and in general, my experiences are unique to me. For me, magic is very real, though I don’t view it in a traditional sense. It’s an elusive, complex and fickle element, over which mankind has long since lost any real control or understanding. When I say magic, I mean the mysterious, the spiritual, the unexplained, The Unknowable. Therefore, even when I’m writing something very much grounded in the rock-solid reality upon which we all more or less agree, there is still a deep underlying sense of magic–which is madness, which is truth.
3. Why Do I Write What I Do?
I’m really struggling with this question, if mostly because the most honest answer has become cliche’. I love horror and that’s my main fixation obviously, but I try to do more than that, in terms of both genre and the confines of horror itself. So the answer is that I write horror because it seems very real to me, very immediate and very intimate because its characters are living (or dying, or killing) in a heightened state of awareness, which is what fear boils down to, after all. Paradoxically, our attempts to present something “real” -gritty dramas or TV reality shows- seem false, forced, even pointless at times. If we are not trying to peer past the veil then what are we trying to accomplish?
The idea or concept usually comes at some inopportune time, drawing my mind away from more mundane but unavoidable matters, then I have to force myself to remember just its most basic elements, bare bones plot and whatever has formed in regards to the main character, until I can get somewhere and write down or email myself the concept. It might languish there for months or years. especially during a period like now when I’m busy finishing other projects.
As for getting down to business, it’s not really an interesting process. I have a night job that allows me a lot of free time so I sit down, turn on some music, and write every night for a few hours. The music can be anything from metal -anybody who knows me will tell you I’m a devout metalhead- to dark ambient or horror soundtracks. The fact that I’m writing at night is helpful; I can always step out and get a little taste of the dark.
Some dark serendipity plopped a young Patrick C. Greene in front of a series of ever stranger films-and experiences-in his formative years, leading to a unique viewpoint. His odd interests have led to pursuits in film acting, paranormal investigation, martial arts, quantum physics, bizarre folklore and eastern philosophy. These elements flavor his screenplays and fiction works, often leading to strange and unexpected detours designed to keep viewers and readers on their toes.
Literary influences range from Poe to Clive Barker to John Keel to a certain best selling Bangorian. Suspense, irony, and outrageously surreal circumstances test the characters who populate his work, taking them and the reader on a grandly bizarre journey into the furthest realms of darkness. The uneasy notion that reality itself is not only relative but indeed elastic- is the hallmark of Greene’s writing.
Living in the rural periphery of Asheville North Carolina with his wife, youngest son and an ever-growing army of cats, Greene still enjoys acting and fight choreography, and trains in martial arts when he’s not giving birth to demons via his pen and keyboard.
In addition to his novel PROGENY, and the short story collection DARK DESTINIES, Greene has several FILM projects in the works, and just finished writing his second novel – THE CRIMSON CALLING -the first in the action-adventure vampire trilogy, The Sanguinarian Council.
Welcome to Books, Babes, and the Business
We will be celebrating women in fiction the entire month of February.
We will host a guest blogger each day, then on February 28th from 1-3 pm EST you can join us on Facebook for a big party! We’ll have virtual refreshments, hilarious games, and REAL PRIZES! Don’t miss it! Invite your friends!
A co-worker casually asked me what my current writing project was. Foreseeing an extended, rambling discourse littered with bumbling, incoherent summaries of my many irons in the fire, I saved myself some awkwardness and my co-worker some boredom by tossing out “Well, I’m kinda between projects right now.”
Truth is, I’m never between projects, and I doubt many of my fellow writers, if they’re serious, could say they are either.
Before writing my novel PROGENY, I concentrated my writing efforts on screenwriting and the occasional short story. In the world of screenwriting, assuming you’re able to get past the initial obstacles that are in place to weed out those poor deluded souls who unfortunately lack the talent, discipline, or knowledge to complete a polished screenplay, the writer is not necessarily the Last Word on the story’s direction, themes, characters, setting, title, etc. Many screenwriters spend the bulk of their careers working from someone else’s idea or treatment.
Those who manage to get their spec (for ‘speculation’, meaning the script is totally original, written with the hopes that a producer will be interested in the script itself, as opposed to just wanting to hire the writer) past the other submitters and readers (there are people working for the production companies, often unpaid interns, whose main function is to read scripts and separate the wheat from the chaff) will then receive ‘notes,’ which basically address the elements of the script that aren’t agreeable to the potential producer and/or director.
Sometimes, the changes being requested have to do with budget, location, or casting possibilities. Other times, there is no discernible reason.
All this is to say that screenwriters will often find themselves working on several projects at once. Those ‘notes’ come in out of the blue, often after you’ve given up on that particular lead. Suddenly you’re burning the midnight oil to meet a new deadline, forcing aside whatever else you might have been working on.
I tend to fall into a certain groove with a project. Once I start a screenplay or story, I immerse much of myself into that world, viewing the world through its specific “rules,” if you will. The feel, the general atmosphere may almost always be more or less dark, but in varying shades, from one project to another. To suddenly leave behind one world and jump back into another is disconcerting at best.
But after a while, ya just gotta be a pro and go with it.
I’ve known authors who work on a sort of stream-of-consciousness basis, starting projects as the inspiration hits them. This results in the juggling of several stories at once. For me, the initial story idea goes into a notebook or email to myself, and gets revisited depending on how intensely it haunts me as the project at hand comes to a close. But I can see the advantage of taking a break from one project to have some fun with a less serious, less “urgent” work.
Nowadays, I lean toward treating screenwriting as a pastime almost, while painting more ambitious landscapes on the canvas of prose. More accurately, that is the position of my current cycle. Screenplay formatting actually makes for a great first draft for pure prose, which is why I’m converting the tales that comprise “Twisted Fates,” the omnibus script currently in development at SaintSinner Entertainment, into short stories. I enjoy reading a book and then comparing it to its film adaptation, and vice versa, so I figure there are others of like mind. Two of those stories are currently available; “Nightbound” in the vampire anthology WRAPPED IN RED, and “Fate by Firelight” in DARK DESTINIES. The third, GUARDIAN OF THE ORCHARD, is currently in the hands of my editor.
So, having just turned in the latest draft of Fates to the producers at SaintSinner, I’ve also submitted and am awaiting response from a publisher on my second novel “The Crimson Calling,” (which is also the first of a trilogy.) That means (hopefully) revision notes on that one in the near future. Then there’s a film project I can’t yet discuss, commissioned by foreign producers, also my locally produced web series “The Outside Man”, my submission for the coming WRAPPED IN WHITE ghost anthology, and any number of short story ideas hammering their way out of my skull.
So, with apologies for my li’l white lie, I laugh at the notion of being “between projects,” hoping quite frankly, that I never am.
Allison M. Dickson, best-selling author of the new horror novel STRINGS, is here to chat with us today. Welcome Allison!
GUEST BLOG from Allison M. Dickson
This post coincides with the stare of National Novel Writing Month, the annual November marathon of creative abandon that will result (hopefully, for many) in a completed work of long fiction. I have done this every year since 2008, except I changed things up a little last year. In early October, I had this little book in mind called STRINGS, which was an extension of my short story “The Good Girls.” It was burning so hot in my brain and begging to be written that I decided I couldn’t wait for NaNoWriMo, so I was going to do TWO NaNoWriMos that year instead. Yes, that meant writing STRINGS in October and then start another book in November. MADNESS, I tell you! Especially for someone who is only moderately prolific. If I finish two books a year, I’m doing great for myself.
Well… it didn’t quite work out like I’d hoped. Writing STRINGS was a very dark and challenging thing. It was an obsession. It made me bleed. I had managed to write something like 65,000 words (13,000 additional words were comprised of the short story that I’d started with) in 26 days, and by the time I finished that first draft, I felt like I’d run a double marathon across a bed of hot coals. I didn’t have it in me to start anything again for a while after that, and to be honest it’s been a challenge to get another novel finished ever since then!
Now here I am about to do it again. I am diving back into the world of STRINGS, only this time I’m doing it properly and starting November 1st. I figure maybe my problems getting another book finished revolve around my need to delve back into this world. It’s a bit obsessive. It’s like touching a live wire but being titillated by the shock. Maybe just maybe I’ll have most of a completed first draft of THE MOON GONE DARK by November 30th. I’m very much looking forward to getting started on it. With the current buzz surrounding the book, and with the memory of my most recent STRINGS edit still fresh in my head, the energy just feels right. And I have many lofty ideas in my mind for how I want things to go for the current characters, as well as some new players I want to introduce. I want this story to be bigger than the original. Much bigger. Which is probably why I don’t anticipate finishing it IN November, but we’ll see what happens. If it’s anything at all like the first experience was, it will sink in its teeth like a crocodile and whip me back and forth until its had its fill, leaving me a busted up heap. I’ll likely be sleeping with my face in gravy on Thanksgiving. But that’s well worth it if it makes people react the way they seem to be reacting right now to the first book.
Even though I don’t foresee this being quite as visceral as STRINGS, I promise not to pull any punches. To get into the mood, I’m going to embrace the cloudy and rainy late fall weather we’ve been having lately. I’m going to be listening to a lot of dark and moody music and watching some gritty movies. I may even pick up HAUNTED by Chuck Palahniuk for a little more depraved literary inspiration. Either way, a shadow is getting ready to fall across my heart again. I’ll see you all again in the light on the other side.
Bio: Allison M. Dickson lives in Dayton, Ohio with her husband and two kids, and she has been writing since she could hold pencil to paper. It’s only in recent years that she started treating the craft as a career. After earning a few small publishing credits, she started selling her short stories online, where she gained a decent following with short stories, including her bestselling titles “Dust” and “Vermin.” She soon caught the attention of author and visionary Vincent Hobbes, and her relationship with Hobbes End Publishing solidified with her two contributions to the second volume of The Endlands, and finally with the publication of her visceral thriller novel, STRINGS, in October of 2013. Additionally, Hobbes End will be releasing her dystopian science-fiction epic, THE LAST SUPPER, in spring of 2014. When she isn’t writing, she can be found every Thursday on the podcast Creative Commoners, a show she co-hosts with her partners in crime, Chris Armstrong and Corey Bishop.