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Guy Anthony De Marco
13 March 2017 @ 06:12 am

How can you tell when a clock is really tense?

When it’s all wound up.


Creating tension by using some form of a limit is one of the easiest methods to ratchet up the tension in any manuscript, from novel to play to movie script. When many newer authors first hear about adding in a “ticking clock”, they immediately think of a suspense movie where the hero has to defuse the bomb before the time reaches zero. While this is a very common trope, it goes beyond that limited scope.


What’s a Ticking Clock?


A ticking clock is an example of something that is constrained and must be dealt with, lest the characters have to deal with serious (and often dire) consequences if they fail. The entire plot can be constructed around the ticking clock, or it can be something smaller, such as a scene, where the protagonists have to get something done immediately.


In honor of Carrie Fisher’s passing recently, I’ve been re-watching Star Wars. They have a whole slew of ticking clocks embedded within the script. For example, Han, Chewie, and Luke have to rescue Leia from the Death Star’s prison block because she is scheduled for execution. The ticking clock is the time limit they have to rescue her, and the consequence of failure is the character will be killed. Another example is Luke and Leia running away from the guards and getting trapped by the missing walkway. Under fire, Luke closes the door and blasts the controls, not thinking that they probably control the retracted walkway. The Stormtroopers are trying to open the door — that’s the ticking clock. Luke and Leia have to escape, or else they’ll be shot — that’s the consequence of failure. The audience was sitting on the edges of their movie theatre chairs in 1977, wondering if they’d make it. That’s tension.


Got Any Examples Without Using a Clock?


Sure! How about the old black and white movie “House on Haunted Hill” with Vincent Price? There are two versions of a ticking clock in that movie. There’s the usual version we talked about (the characters have to survive the night in a haunted house) plus the characters are getting killed off one by one. That’s a countdown where we’re wondering who the killer is — he or she must be with the house guests. Will we find out before they run out of living people? Is the killer even human?


I Write (Insert Genre Here). Can I Use a Ticking Clock?


The ticking clock method of generating tension in a story can be used anywhere in fiction. Here’s some more examples:



  • Western: Sandra has to ride the last stagecoach to Cheyenne Wells to see her mortally wounded cavalry husband and tell him that she’s pregnant. The stagecoach is overcrowded and the occupants are dying one at a time. (Three clocks: a time limit for Sandra to reach her husband, else he dies without knowing he will be a father; the passengers are dying one by one so who is the killer; and the killer must be done before the stage reaches Cheyenne Wells.)

  • Romance: Barb has to get to the church on time to prevent the wedding of the childhood sweetheart she’s still in love with to a manipulative, evil woman. (Clocks: Prevent the wedding; Barb telling him that she is in love with him before he’s married.)

  • Science Fiction: A captain has to get to a planetary system in a disputed sector to rescue a plague research team because the local sun will go nova. Unfortunately, someone drops a vial and catches the plague. (Clocks: Get to the planet to save the team before the sun goes boom; will they be able to find a cure for the plague before they all die; can they deal with any enemies they meet on the way to the planet quickly enough to save the team.)

  • Fantasy: Gnorl has enough magic to do three more powerful spells. Can he and Kahzoo, his ever-drunk swordfighting friend, save the princess before she is forced to marry the evil Prince Mal of Serenity? (Clocks: Limit of three spells; can Kahzoo stay sober long enough to fight; can they save the princess before Gnorl is out of power and Kahzoo’s liver goes supernova; prevent the wedding.)


Setting up a ticking clock is a particularly good way for beginning writers to add tension to their stories. Most writers are familiar with the general idea and they’ve probably seen enough of them in the movie theatres.


The most important things to setting up a ticking clock/limited something scenario are:



  • Something must actually be limited or constrained. Time is the most used example, but anything can be used as long as it is clear that there are a certain number and no more.

  • The consequences of failing to complete the task must be severe. The audience must be concerned that the threatened character(s) or things (like a planet) will be irrecoverably damaged, hurt, or lost entirely.

  • Never give the protagonists a reprieve. Keep the pressure on — in fact, ramp it up more as they go. Maybe the wedding is moved up a day or the plague ship is running out of fuel so they’ll have to land in a populated area to get some.

  • Give the audience something when/if the protagonists do finish the task successfully. The heroine gets a kiss from her true love; the ship’s doctor gets promoted for finding the cure; the lady riding the stagecoach figures out who the killer is and stabs him through the heart with a hatpin. There should be some form of emotional release.


Look at the time! Get back to writing!

 
 
Guy Anthony De Marco
06 March 2017 @ 07:11 am

Like most of the authors I know, I’m not a naturally organized person. Sometimes it’s a struggle to force myself to get the major plot points or non-fiction chapters mapped out before I start on a new project. After installing a giant electronic whiteboard I picked up on CraigsList, I was able to see the value of the visual cues and mind-mapping when hashing out a new project.


When it comes to my writing laptop, appropriately named “Novel Factory”, I tended to start writing and just dump everything into the My Documents folder. When I set a project aside for a while, I sometimes have a problem locating where I put the documents, notes, and/or pictures. That’s why I created an organized area for projects.


The first step was to create a home for my projects. This is a set of nested folders so I know where things are located. In My Documents (I use Windows for this example), I have a folder called !Master Project Files. I place an exclamation point at the beginning of this folder name to make sure it appears at the top of the listing.


I have enough projects where I had to add in a layer between the Master folder and the project names.


Here is my main overall folder structure:



  • !Master Project Files

    • Fiction

      • Science Fiction

      • Cyberpunk

      • Fantasy

      • Horror

      • Western

      • Graphic Novels



    • Non-Fiction

      • Cookbooks

      • Author’s Handbook Series

      • One-Offs



    • Poetry

      • !Poem Superstore

      • Chapbooks



    • Collections

      • !Short Story Superstore



    • Anthologies

      • Original (Add in Submissions and Contracts folders to each Project)

      • For Other Publishers (Add in Submissions and Contracts folders to each Project)






The “Superstores” are short stories and poems that have been published elsewhere or are original unpublished works that are available to put into a new collection or chapbook. When I complete a short work or poem, I make sure to put a copy in the Superstores.


For each project, I copy the below generic project folder structure and rename it to the title of my new project. Inside some of these folders are appropriate files. For example, in the Word folder, I have a generic Word document set up with my preferences (font, margins, etc.), whereas in the Research folders I have a simple text document ready to accept notes and URLs. In the Final folders, I have documents that have my set publishing templates for interiors and covers. Note that I have a folder called Graveyard. I never throw away (delete) anything. If I cut something, such as a scene or a whole story arc out of a book, I paste it to text documents and place them in the graveyard. I can use these later on to develop short stories, to generate ideas for a series, or to use the words for marketing. Sometimes I file off the serial numbers and reuse them in other books.


Here’s my individual project folder structure:



  • Project Name (Rename Me)

    • Manuscript

      • Word

      • Text

      • Scrivener



    • Images

      • Cover Ideas

      • Characters

      • Places

      • Objects



    • Research

      • Concepts

      • Scientific



    • Characters

    • Tropes

    • Marketing

      • Ideas

      • Ads

      • SWOT



    • Final

      • Print

        • Interior

        • Cover



      • eBook

        • Interior

        • Cover



      • Audio

        • Notes

        • Script





    • Graveyard




When I have a new project, I copy the “Project Name” folder and its contents and place it in the appropriate genre master folder. Then I rename it to the book title. Now I can find all of my information for any project in one location (three, if you count the backup on my server and the copy linked and auto-uploaded to my commercial Dropbox account.)


Hopefully this will inspire you to create a better organized virtual home for your darlings.




NEW!

Go to my downloads tab or use this direct link to snag a folder structure already done for you. Just virus scan it (everyone should always scan things, since you never know who’s been poking around in a public server) and then unzip it to where you keep your documents. It’s a freebie giveaway to help you get started. If you’d like to thank me, please review one of my books.

 
 
Guy Anthony De Marco

Everyone knows it is easy to write novels and short stories. All you need is a pencil and some form of paper or a computer. That’s the only requirements to become a famous and rich author.


OK, you can stop laughing now.


If you’re seriously considering starting a full-time writing career, there are several seemingly unrelated things you will need to know.


Don’t Quit Your Day Job


Seriously, don’t. Getting a regular paycheck is important for paying your bills and luxuries like heat, shelter, and food. If you have medical insurence, that’s something you have to seriously consider losing, especially if you have a family.


Start writing on the side and keep going to work at your day job. You may find that writing sucks, that nobody wants to publish you, or that you just don’t understand why those million dollar checks haven’t arrived. Only quit your reliable but boring day job when you can consistently bring in more than enough to pay the bills and your significant other (if any) agrees. Sock away some of that money for the stretches when the royalty checks are not coming in on time or the publisher goes bankrupt. It happens, and sometimes it’s a disaster when a big one like Dorchester digs its own grave and takes your manuscript with it.


You Have to Develop Those Social Skills


Many writers are introverts. I would guesstimate that it’s more like 80% based on the authors I know personally. To get ahead in the writing field, you’ll have to work on interacting with real (not fictional) characters of all sorts. Yes, it’s possible to live in a walled-off room and write novels that make your estate extremely wealthy, but then again it’s also possible that Milla Jovovich would divorce her current husband and marry you. Theoretically in the realm of possibility in a mathematical sense, but not very likely to happen unless you happen to own a ship called the Heart of Gold with an Infinite Probability Drive.


Nobody Hates You, So Don’t Eat Worms


At some point, you’re going to have to deal with two unpleasant things. The first is rejection. It will happen. Some editor who lucked into several Hugo awards rejects your 680,004 word epic fantasy vampire zombie romance in a post-apocalyptic world. It’s obvious said editor has no clue how valuable your manuscript is after they rejected it without reading even the first page. That’s the last time you send in a submission to Asimov’s.


Normally, an editor rejects a story and NOT you personally. There are exceptions, of course. Maybe you cornered them in a bathroom stall and berated their lack of good taste in epic fantasy vampire zombie romances, or perhaps you threw a glass of (cheap) beer at their face during a convention panel on etiquette. As long as you act professionally and with courtesy, the story you sent in probably fell into one of the following categories:



  • They just didn’t like the story. Hey, it happens. This is a subjective profession, so what is rejected offhand is snapped up by another editor and it wins a Bram Stoker Award(tm). Thank them for their time and move on. Send your story to another venue and (most importantly) get back to writing.

  • The story was fantastic, but they already accepted a epic fantasy vampire zombie romance co-written short story from James Patterson and William Shatner.

  • The story was fantastic, but it did not fit well with the other stories purchased.

  • The story was good, but it wasn’t up to the quality of the other accepted stories.

  • The story was awful, poorly conceived, and written in crayon on 4ft x 8ft plywood slabs.

  • You didn’t follow the posted guidelines. (Wrong genre, terrible formatting with Comic Sans on dark green paper or plywood slabs)


Again, it’s nothing personal. It was a business decision, not a social one. Send it back out to the next venue or do some tweaking and send it out again.


Dealing with Online Characters


The unfortunate thing about being social with people you don’t know in person is you never know what you’re going to get. Most are nice, decent folks. Some are not, and that tiny minority will make your head explode — if you let them.


You need to grow a thick skin as a writer. What some random bozo who you will never actually meet says is not important. Don’t let it occupy your time. You have writing to do, after all. Chuckle, then block them as best as you can. Some will be persistent, trying to get a rise out of you. Do not engage the trolls, lest ye become one of them.


Learn How To Market Yourself


Marketing is a mishmash of exotic fringe science and voodoo-inspired black magic with a dash of hot sauce tossed in for good measure. You’re going to have to get the basics down eventually, so you might as well get some of the learning underway early in your career. There are lots of books, websites, and YouTube videos to look at. My suggestion is to ask a writer or two that you know personally how they market or brand themselves, or if they can recommend a book or three on the subject. You could always take a course at a local community college so you can SWOT with the best of them. (Go look up what SWOT means. Yes, it’s a marketing term.)


Some advice will be worth more than others. Your Uncle Horace did sell nine copies of his boulder erotica, but his ideas aren’t up to par with someone like James Patterson. Keep things in perspective and follow your own instincts.


Nothing Beats BICHOK


In the end, you need to have your Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard to become a writer. Your book won’t write itself, unless you’re paying someone to ghostwrite it for you. Celebrities hire ghostwriters all the time. Odds are that you’re not rich enough to hire someone to crank out an 80,000 word novel with the level of quality you need. Ergo, that means you need to work at it. A lot. Expect to crank out thousands of words that will get tossed out in the editing phase. Sometimes you’ll get to the end of a novel and realize that you’ve improved so much that the beginning has to be rewritten.


It’s ok. So are the tears.


If you think you’re ready to dive in, then fair winds and following seas for your new career.

 
 
Guy Anthony De Marco
30 January 2017 @ 08:23 am

Back in the late 1970’s, I played Advanced Dungeons and Dragons two or three nights a week. Wait, I should correct that. I worked at AD&D because I was always the Dungeon Master. I had to come up with new quests, places, characters, and even creatures. All of my players had access to copies of the hardcover books like the Monster Manual. The problem with that was even if a party had never seen a Bugbear before, they all magically knew how to defeat one and knew the ballpark of its statistics.


Eventually I had to come up with lots of unique dark creatures for my players to fight. I always enjoyed when I described something weird yet totally outside their experience. Their characters then had to react in a realistic manner, which elevated gameplay. Later on, I would use the concepts I developed when writing stories.


Dark creatures, like villains, need to have a method of sustenance – even if it’s a supernatural method. They also need reasons for evolving, waste management, etc. Many times I kept creatures neutral, with a capability to be either a benefit or a burden, depending on how the characters interact with the unknown beast.


As an example, I had a rare creature called a dunnasae (pronounced “dunna-say”). They dwell in damp caverns at least one mile underground. At first glance, they appear to be thick oil slicks on the walls. They eat primarily silicon, and that’s what they’re doing on the wall. Dunnasae can be peeled off and saved in glass containers for up to one week, wherein they digest their way out of the bottle.


Dunnasae appear to be rather innocuous creatures, about a foot in diameter. They do not talk as far as anyone can tell. They move very slowly, and do not fight back if attacked, although they will do their best to eat any metallic weapons used against them. Fire kills them rather quickly – and it is always a good idea to have an idea of what their weaknesses are before bringing them into a story.


So, what good are stupid oily sheets that cling to walls, you may ask? They do have one interesting property – they live in multiple dimensions. If one comes in contact with a human, it will instantly merge with their tissue. They can swim rather quickly to any portion of the human. It will tend to sink to the soles of the feet, wherein it will feast on the dirt and sand the human walks on.


As I mentioned – it is a multidimensional beast. The main benefit of merging with a dunnasae is it can act as a living portable hole, storing any non-organic material up to five cubic meters. As long as the host allows the creature to eat (and having a small pouch of sand comes in real handy), it will respond to human thought and instantly appear at any portion of the body when directed. The beast can make any stored item emerge from anywhere the host wishes, like a sword “magically” erupting from one’s hand or an eight-foot metal quarterstaff bursting from one’s colon, if the the user wants to impress everyone around them.


As with all things, there must be a risk involved for having such a useful creature. The first one is in order to remove the dunnasae, you must will it to a part of your body and then proceed to burn that body part off. The second is that you must never put organic material into the dunnasae, as it will learn that you are organic and will try and absorb you. This event will drive it crazy and force your body parts to attack things around them (and each other). Organic extends to rope, leather, rations, etc. Wooden scabbards or sword hilts are also not allowed.


I’ve used these creatures in a couple of short stories. One of the darkest ones involved tricking a character into placing organic material inside their dunnasae’s storage space. The rest of the story had the main character getting slowly digested from the inside out and having fits of uncontrolled random violent movements as she set off to get vengeance. It was a quirky tale and was published in a ‘zine around 1983.


If you’re a gamer and you write dark works, sometimes it’s a fun idea to combine your talents from both fields. Just make sure your unique dark creatures are well-rounded and explained thoroughly before deploying them on the unsuspecting public.

 
 
Guy Anthony De Marco
23 January 2017 @ 08:28 am

A Flash Fiction Story:




Milk


They finally cornered him, his creamy mustache still visible. “You owe us for twelve bottles!”


The thief’s eyes surveyed the dank alleyway looking for an escape route. “I didn’t take them, I’m lactose intolerant!”


The oldest sister, breathless from running while carrying a lead pipe, said, “We know. We tracked your gaseous trail since dawn.”





Tips for Writing Flash Fiction


Fictorians – Flash Fiction Tips


Writing flash fiction is a lot like writing poetry. Because of the word limitations, one must take their time discovering concepts and language that speaks beyond the text on the page. Sometimes the selected words must pull double- or triple-duty to get as much information across to the reader.


Here are some tips for writing effective flash fiction.


Consider writing poetry.

Poetry focuses on the same concepts and construction of flash fiction. In particular, learning how to write using recognized poetic forms like sonnets, pantoums, and sestinas can help train you to write conservatively and with precision. Even something as simple as a limerick or a haiku can be surprisingly difficult for a writer to construct effectively.


As one writes poetry, they expand their language skills and vocabulary. Understanding the different subtle definitions of a word can help one write with an overt initial reading with rippling undertones. This skill can help an author to evolve beyond writing a story that happens to be really short.


Find writing challenges.

There are several writing prompt websites such as Fish of Gold and Writing.com’s Daily Flash Fiction Challenge. Google can help to connect you to more. Forcing your brain to write with a specific concept or object in mind can both help you to focus and to open your mind to non-typical stories. These will also help to expand your skills and, at times, can even get you a publication credit.


Educate yourself with story construction lessons.

There are plenty of story construction articles and books to assist you with truly understanding how a story is built. Understanding the high-level concepts of story building can help you to write flash fiction (and longer projects.) Take the time to learn the tropes of the different genres, including ones you do not necessarily read on a regular basis. Suggested books include Story Engineering by Larry Brooks or one of the Writer’s Digest series. If you have the time, try one of Open University’s free courses on writing.


Practice makes better.

Practice doesn’t make you perfect, but it certainly does help you to improve. The more you focus on writing, the better you will become as a writer. The work you produce should be edited and sent out like the rest of your writing. You won’t get rich writing flash fiction, but you can occasionally make a few bucks and progress in your professionalism skills.


By the way, what is flash fiction?

There are several definitions and variants of what is considered flash fiction. Some venues believe flash is 300 words or less, while most consider 1,000 or less to be valid. Here are some common variants:



  • 1,000 words or less: Flash Fiction

  • 750-500 words: Sudden or Immediate Fiction

  • 300 words or less: Micro Fiction

  • 100 words exactly: Drabble

  • 55 words exactly: Double-nickel Fiction

  • 50 words exactly: Dribble

 
 
 
Guy Anthony De Marco
22 January 2017 @ 07:38 pm

IAMTW LogoSince it’s a new year, I thought I would introduce you to the professional organization for media tie-in works. While not as well-known as the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), the Horror Writers Association (HWA), or Mystery Writers of America (MWA), the IAMTW is filled with many recognizable names who are members of those other organizations.


Media tie-in writing has been around for ages. Within the past 35 years, it has expanded beyond adapting movies and plays to include games (both desktop RPGs and video games) and expanding the original universes of movies.


At one time several decades ago, if an author accepted a contract to adapt an original movie to book format, it was looked upon by many professionals in the field as an unrecoverable mistake. Once an author wrote a tie-in work, they were considered hacks and looked down upon.


These days, there is a more welcoming aura when media tie-in writers are concerned. Some of the old guard may still have issues, but with the way the writing industry is flailing around, a solid book contract is a positive thing. Movies, books, games, and even music albums are being converted to other forms of entertainment. A good example is the drummer of the band Rush, Neil Peart. He wrote the lyrics for the Clockwork Angels album and collaborated with science fiction author Kevin J. Anderson to write a book based on the concepts.


Writing media tie-in works is tougher than writing a novel from scratch. If one writes a book beyond a movie adaption, such as Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, one has to take a lot of restrictions into account before plotting and writing the work. Those restrictions may include making sure the established characters act properly and that your story line does not impact upcoming installments of future movies. Keeping the expanded universe straight is a tough gig, especially after years of multiple authors writing novels. If you make a mistake, the otaku-type fans will be the first to let you know.


Eventually, there were enough professionals writing tie-in works that authors Lee Goldberg and Max Allan Collins founded IAMTW. The organization consists of writing pros who have been contracted to write licensed tie-in works for a professional rate. Fan fiction does not count towards membership.


Benefits of membership include articles and contact information of interest to authors looking to write more tie-in works. IAMTW also hosts the Scribe Awards, which acknowledge and celebrate excellence in licensed tie-in writing—novels based on TV shows, movies, and games. Award categories include best original novel, best speculative fiction novel, best adaption, best audio play, best short fiction, and best YA novel. The awards are determined by a juried committee and anyone can submit their work.


For more information about IAMTW, visit their website at http://iamtw.org.

 
 
Guy Anthony De Marco
22 January 2017 @ 07:38 pm

Muse,


Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change due to getting published or accepted by an editor;


Courage to focus on the next publication deadline;


and Wisdom to write down those changes so when it goes to a reprint market I can add that kick-butt line.

Tags: ,
 
 
Guy Anthony De Marco
22 January 2017 @ 07:29 pm

IAMTW LogoSince it’s a new year, I thought I would introduce you to the professional organization for media tie-in works. While not as well-known as the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), the Horror Writers Association (HWA), or Mystery Writers of America (MWA), the IAMTW is filled with many recognizable names who are members of those other organizations.


Media tie-in writing has been around for ages. Within the past 35 years, it has expanded beyond adapting movies and plays to include games (both desktop RPGs and video games) and expanding the original universes of movies.


At one time several decades ago, if an author accepted a contract to adapt an original movie to book format, it was looked upon by many professionals in the field as an unrecoverable mistake. Once an author wrote a tie-in work, they were considered hacks and looked down upon.


These days, there is a more welcoming aura when media tie-in writers are concerned. Some of the old guard may still have issues, but with the way the writing industry is flailing around, a solid book contract is a positive thing. Movies, books, games, and even music albums are being converted to other forms of entertainment. A good example is the drummer of the band Rush, Neil Peart. He wrote the lyrics for the Clockwork Angels album and collaborated with science fiction author Kevin J. Anderson to write a book based on the concepts.


Writing media tie-in works is tougher than writing a novel from scratch. If one writes a book beyond a movie adaption, such as Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, one has to take a lot of restrictions into account before plotting and writing the work. Those restrictions may include making sure the established characters act properly and that your story line does not impact upcoming installments of future movies. Keeping the expanded universe straight is a tough gig, especially after years of multiple authors writing novels. If you make a mistake, the otaku-type fans will be the first to let you know.


Eventually, there were enough professionals writing tie-in works that authors Lee Goldberg and Max Allan Collins founded IAMTW. The organization consists of writing pros who have been contracted to write licensed tie-in works for a professional rate. Fan fiction does not count towards membership.


Benefits of membership include articles and contact information of interest to authors looking to write more tie-in works. IAMTW also hosts the Scribe Awards, which acknowledge and celebrate excellence in licensed tie-in writing—novels based on TV shows, movies, and games. Award categories include best original novel, best speculative fiction novel, best adaption, best audio play, best short fiction, and best YA novel. The awards are determined by a juried committee and anyone can submit their work.


For more information about IAMTW, visit their website at http://iamtw.org.

 
 
Guy Anthony De Marco
22 January 2017 @ 07:28 pm

Muse,


Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change due to getting published or accepted by an editor;


Courage to focus on the next publication deadline;


and Wisdom to write down those changes so when it goes to a reprint market I can add that kick-butt line.

Tags: ,
 
 
Guy Anthony De Marco
22 January 2017 @ 07:28 pm

Saw this on Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s website. Reminded me of Kevin J. Anderson’s Popcorn Theory of Writing Success. Enjoy!