Tag Archives: advice

Give yourself permission—thoughts on advice

Give Yourself Permission

It seems like every few months on Twitter there’s a pile-on, as one author dispenses what they feel is critical advice in the career of writing. Then, a multitude of other writers push back. It’s due to the nature of social media that the tones of these interactions tend to be combative; as such, the results are rarely positive, for both the dialog within the community and for human interaction in general. Indeed, the way advice is shared also plays into its impact. “Thou Shalls” aren’t generally well-received outside of the sanctuary. But this isn’t about our collective tone on Twitter. I want to talk about advice, its giving and receiving. 

Advice is a tricky thing. When it comes from someone we admire, we tend to key into it more. We’ll listen and reflect, perhaps even embrace it. Yet, upon receiving advice from an unknown, or someone you actively dislike, the reactions tend to flare in the opposite direction—regardless of what’s being said. Likewise, it’s not uncommon to want to share advice and help others avoid the mistakes and pitfalls we’ve faced ourselves.

Yet, for some reason, occasional opinions often blossom within the zeitgeist and they become commonly accepted rules. Current trends with dialog tags have gone this direction. Not a week goes past without someone echoing Stephen King’s famous “the road to hell is paved with adverbs,” advice that King himself rarely follows. And a few weeks ago, literary agent DongWon Song made a keen observation on a common adage among genre writers: “Start with the action!”

It’s a refrain I’m sure you’ve heard before, and it’s been repeated for many years. It’s crept into books on writing, I’ve heard my fellow authors mention it on panels, I’ve seen reviewers praise it, and some readers have come to expect it. New authors hear advice like this from someone they admire and then try to force their story into its narrow confines. That can lead to frustration; it’s disheartening when your story doesn’t want to “start with the action.”

It’s not that the advice itself is terrible. It’s the spirit in which it’s presented which implies that there is no other way. The disorientation DongWon mentions is the result of a story being forced. For some books, it might be perfectly acceptable to start with action. But every story is different. Every story has its own agenda. Often, breakout novels succeed because they shirk trends. They do something different and in doing so they stand out. And what are the trends, if not the agreed-upon rules for that particular moment in time?

If you’re new to writing, take heart. There are no hard-and-fast rules for how your story needs to be told. Even language and grammar are malleable. (Collective gasp from the English majors.) Approach writing advice as if you were shopping. Glean what inspires. Ignore what holds you back. No matter how it’s presented, advice is nothing more than someone sharing what worked for them. Let your story dictate its own rules. If starting with action is the right path, then follow it. If that sentence needs an adverb, then use one. Throw an expressive dialog tag into the mix! Give yourself permission to write your story the way it needs to be told. You’ll write a better story and be a happier author.

No Rules!

Andre Norton

As For Courage and Will

“As for courage and will – we cannot measure how much of each lies within us, we can only trust there will be sufficient to carry through trials which may lie ahead.”

Andre Norton


FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT:  AP Images


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

William Faulkner

Read Read Read

“Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”

William Faulkner


The more I read, the more apparent it becomes to me how well-read an individual writer happens to be when I read them. It’s hard to pin down exactly, more of a general feeling that carries through the work as a whole. It makes me want to push myself to read beyond my own proclivities and focus on reading more/wider/broader.

Also and unintentionally, this is the second December in a row where I’ve shared a Faulkner quote. (Here’s what I shared last year.) Maybe this is becoming a tradition?

ECCC, St. Patrick's Day, Public Transportation, and You

ECCC, St. Patrick’s Day, Public Transportation, and You

Emerald City Comic Con is this weekend in Seattle, and I will be in attendance alongside upwards of 90k other people. It should be a good time. (If you see me, say hello. I’m the big guy in all black—no not that one, or that one, or that one, no… I’m the other one.)

It is also Saint Patrick’s Day on Sunday which means there will be two other events bringing even more people downtown. That can make the city core a little chaotic at times. Since I live and work in Seattle, I figured I’d offer up some advice for those coming in from out of town. (This was born from a twitter thread, but having this all in one place will be handy.)

The con begins tomorrow and runs through Sunday at the Washington State Convention Center and surrounds just a few blocks up Pike St. from Westlake Park. Thursday and Friday should be fine (though the Friday night commute might be a little hairy.) Saturday and Sunday will be busy. Along with the typical beer-drinking St. Patrick’s Day revelers two themed-events are happening over the weekend.


Saturday:

The Irish Heritage Club’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade is on Saturday at 12:30. It starts at James St. and 4th Ave. and heads north where it ends at Westlake Park. Here’s the route.


Sunday:

The 35th Annual Saint Patrick’s Day Dash is on Sunday and runs from 6:30-12:00. It starts at Seattle Central runs down 4th Ave, turns around and spring and comes back. Here’s the route.


That combo is going to draw a lot of people in green downtown. If you’re driving in, expect a bit more traffic than usual, and know that parking will be harder to find. Your best bet is a garage which can be expensive, but they’re convenient as long as they’re not full. Two main garages service the WSCC, and you can find pricing here. You can expect similar prices at other garages nearby. Those will fill up fast.

There is, of course, another option…


Transit:

Your best bet in my opinion, if you’re driving into the city from out of town, is to take the Sound Transit Link Light Rail—parking will be cheaper near stations outside of downtown, and it’s a single line. so it’s impossible to get lost. Convenient and cheap!

There is a stop directly under Westlake Park called Westlake Station and an exit for 5th and Pine (follow the signs) it’ll lead you past Nordstroms and deposit you on the other side of both the revelers and race. From there its only a few blocks to the convention center.

Plus with a Day Pass (about $5), you can skip the long lines for food around the con and ride up to Capitol Hill or down to the Chinatown-International District where you’ll find much better food than anything downtown and quieter crowds.


Hopefully, a few people will find this advice helpful. Whatever you do, I always recommend giving yourself more time when events overlap. Personally, I plan on taking the light rail every day—it should make things nice and smooth.

Have a question? Leave a comment below or shoot me an email, I’ll do my best to answer any questions.

I’m looking forward to hanging out this weekend. Hopefully, I’ll see you at ECCC.

Writing Appealing Action and Wondrous Worldbuilding

How I Layer Worldbuilding Within Action

Over the last few days, some friends in an online writing group and I have been discussing worldbuilding in our writing. Long time readers will know that worldbuilding is something of a passion for me and my own worldbuilding in The Bell Forging Cycle often draws compliments. So whenever there is an opportunity to chat about creating and exploring secondary worlds I’ll gladly join in.

One question came up and I thought it was interesting: can a writer maintain the breakneck pace of an action story and still worldbuild? As a writer who has written three action-oriented novels, I believe the answer is yes. I figured a quick post would be the perfect way to go a step further and explain how I maintain pace and still write a plot-forward scene that expands a world. Show don’t tell, right? To demonstrate I threw together a quick scene, you can read it in all of its trope-filled glory below.


My opponent was Ver, a kudär, one of the desert dwellers. He wore the leathers of a Stalwart, cut from the backs of the enormous lizards that reside deep in the shifting dunes. His was a caste accustomed to war, violence, and bloody hand-to-hand fighting. That didn’t bode well.

Ver beat his chest and threw a handful of dust in the air above his tattooed head. Around us, the crowd chanted, “VER! VER! VER!” in a steady throbbing rhythm.

I rolled my neck; feeling it pop, and shook my arms to keep them loose. I wondered if I looked nervous. A damned kudär, here, of all places. They tended to stick to the fringes, away from population centers. Kudär didn’t usually fight in sanctioned matches. I’d need to change strategies; perhaps I could—

The gong thummed, cutting off my thoughts. No time.

“Fight!”


So, let’s break it down. Here’s what I am doing in that tiny 143-word scene to expand the worldbuilding without interrupting the pace.

  • I’m establishing the action immediately. A fight is about to go down. Just calling out an opponent introduces the tension. The pace is set, let’s keep it up.
  • Relevance matters. Don’t throw in random details that don’t serve the scene. Keep your reader focused on what is happening in the moment.
  • I begin to hint at some interesting stuff without getting bogged down in details. Everything is focused on the fight and then rolls from there. This is key. As my friend Jim has said, think of worldbuilding as a spice. Like any good chef, you don’t want to over season. Give just enough to enliven the imagination without derailing. Should any of these ideas become critical to the plot, they can get revisited. But for now, keep them lean, so the action keeps moving. But there’s a lot there, consider:
    • The kudär. Who are apparently some sort of desert people?
    • They hunt giant lizards for leather.
    • Apparently, the kudär people operate under some kind of caste system.
    • Ver is a “Stalwart, ” and apparently that means he’s accustomed to fighting.
    • The kudär tend to avoid population centers. It’s rare to see one. Our narrator is surprised, this changes his strategy.
    • This match is somehow “sanctioned.” Which opens up a lot of questions. By whom? Why? What for?
  • I also threw in some personal rituals. Ver slaps his chest and throws dust like Lebron. I find little details like these important. Readers like personal connections. I feel like they go further in establishing character than most writers realize. Everyone has nervous tics or habitual fidgets. Play ’em up.

Seasoning worldbuilding elements throughout your story can help to expand the world. And you can do insert them anywhere. The trick is to layer in your deeper world, while you avoid reveling in it unless necessary. Reveling in detail is often where one finds the dreaded info dump. Remember: in the end, all things must serve the plot.

How about you? How do you enhance worldbuilding in your own work? What tricks do you use? Leave a comment and let us know!


Interested in my other articles on worldbuilding? Check out any of the links below.


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →