Category Archives: writing

ROW80 writing

Final ROW80 Update of 2014

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RazedHey all.

It’s been an encouraging and crazy year here at Casa de Hansen.

I started out by launching Nice Girl Like You, a short thriller, early in the year. I was still mostly treading water, though, trying to get past the book formerly known as EyeCU.

Then in August, I got pumped up again, motivated to get productive even if it meant short projects.

So I published Spoiled, the first part of a trilogy, and followed up with Rotten. Both were written as Eight Hour Fiction challenges to force me to be productive and not overthink it all.

Then, in something of a miracle, I finally finished writing EyeCU, though in the process to finalize it, I ended up calling it The Woodsman. That’s been a relief. It’s my longest published work to date, weighing in at 88,000+ words.

So in the first nine months of 2014, I went from a writer with only four books out to now being a writer with eight books out. That’s nice.

So how did I wrap up my year (which is not quite over yet)? Let’s check in on my Q4 ROW80 Goals:

1. Finish and publish Razed, my short zombie thriller. No idea how long it’s gonna run, but I’m already over 4,000 words in, so I’m off to a great start. Technically, this won’t be an 8-Hour Fiction book, but my goal is to keep it in that spirit. I definitely want to get it out there in time for Halloween.

As I said back in November, Razed has turned from a short novelette-length tale to a novel-length project. One I didn’t expect to write, but which is turning into a lot of fun.

At this writing, I’m just under 30,000 words, but I took a break to try and finish goal 2 before the year was out.

2. Finish and publish Ripe, the final book in my Spoiled Rotten trilogy. The series, in book two, introduces some important storytelling elements that will have ripple effects throughout my fictional setting of Veritas County and specifically Hope, Wisconsin. I love when my characters surprise me, and they certainly did in Rotten. That’s why I love being more of a pantser … I’m not tied to a plot that was pre-conceived before I ever set pen to paper.

As I write this blog post, it’s become clear that I’ve spun too many plot threads into this tale to wrap it up as an eight-hour fiction challenge title. I currently am on chapter 11, and have my characters assembled for the major showdown all this has been building toward. I’m over 13,000 words and by the time I write the final showdown and the closing action, I expect to be at around 20K, so Ripe will definitely be the longest installment in the trilogy.

It’s a fun project, and I’m still hoping to get it out before the bell tolls 2015. But we’ll see. If I make it, I make it. If it becomes my first title of 2015, that’s fine, too. The important thing at this point is the serve the needs of the story so it resolves in a satisfying way and keeps readers happy.

In 2015, at some point, I’ll probably do something about collecting all three volumes into an almost-novel-length work. But that won’t be my top priority in early 2015.

My top priority, once Ripe is out, is to turn my attention back to Razed.

First, I’m excited about the story I’m telling with Razed. In a distant way, it’s my version of Carrie by Stephen King, though significantly different. (Kinda like Shada was my version of The Body with four girls instead of four boys. Similar, but very different.)

As for what happens to Razed after I finish? Well, I’ve discovered Amazon’s WriteOn, and I’m getting great feedback there that will make it a stronger story by the time it’s “ready.”

And as for when it’s “ready,” it won’t immediately be up on Amazon, because I’ve decided I’ll likely place it in the Kindle Scout program and see if I can break through that way. If so, wonderful! If not, it’ll only delay my usual method of publication by a couple of months.

And while I’m waiting on that, I’ll be working on Seethe (aka Project Texter) and on Project POTUS Sitcom, as well as Ember, so I have plenty of irons in the fire. Maybe 2015 will be an even better year than 2014!

See you then.

ROW80 writing

Didn’t reach goal, but not in a bad way

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Well, at the end of the week, I didn’t reach my goal this week, but not in a bad way.

It wasn’t that there were medical issues with Dad this week that kept me distracted. Also, there was no gloomy shadow over me, making me feel reluctant to write. In fact, I’m really jazzed about my horror novel, EyeCU, and the soon-to-be-released short story, Under Contract.

But in the final analysis, I only wrote about 2,000 words of new progress this past week. Beyond that, I had some hefty responsibilities. First, I’m readying Under Contract for release by reading over beta-reader and editor feedback, revising accordingly, and testing out Serenity Software’s Editor program at the same time. (That program is to writers what I suppose Pintech is to musical types.)

Plus, Saturday night I had to edit two long papers for my wife, who’s in the middle of graduate school in counseling, plus I’ve been busy with my day-job.

Am I saying I’m happy I didn’t reach 6,000 words this past week? Not at all. I’ll get there this week, though, when my plate’s less full. The important thing is, my enthusiasm is up again, and that means a lot. It’s a huge difference maker.

writing

Sunday ROW80 report

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Hey all.

It’s Sunday and I’m here.

Midweek, I wasn’t around much. Health complications with my father that, for now, have settled down again. But I lost a day and a half to making sure he got the care necessary and pulled through all right.

Anyway, week one report?

Number of days I set to write, as a goal: Four.

Number of days I actually wrote (including today): Two.

Number of words I have as a goal to write, on days I write: 1,500 per day.

Number of days I wrote, where I actually met that minimum: Two.

So, I produced a little over 3,000 words this week. Goal was 6,000.

What’s that mean? It means it’s a new week. Start over.

Four days of writing out of the next seven; 1,500 words per day on those days as a minimum. Goal: 6,000 words.

Barring health complications with my Dad, I’ll check in mid-week to let you know how it’s going.

writing

Writing Tips: Overpunctuation and Capitalization

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Possibly my biggest pet peeve occurs when writers of fiction overuse punctuation and capitalization. In a vain attempt to make a scene seem dramatic and possess impact, they do everything they can visually on the page to get their point across.

Whether it’s the use of bold text, italic text, underlined text, and capitalization, or the use of multiple forms of punctuation at the end of the same sentence, too many writers are writing with the maturity of grade-schoolers, depending on visual emphasis of word on the page to get across their point, rather than relying on powerful writing.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

EXAMPLE 1:

“I have BAD news! You have cancer!! YOU HAVE THREE MONTHS, AT BEST!!!!” (Incorrect)

Now, you may think I’m exaggerating with this example, but I’ve seen plenty of fiction that does this sort of thing in even more prevalent form, often several times per page in some manuscripts.

The unfortunate result of all this capitalizing of words, adding of bold and italics effects, and extra exclamation points is that it turns what should be a serious moment in a story comedic. It’s hard to take such passages seriously, precisely because they’re taking the scene too seriously, and in doing so, are relying on the crutch of visual cues on the page to communicate something tragic.

It’s also treating the audience as, well… a bit dumb.

Who reading this blog would not understand that being told you have cancer and perhaps three months to live is a grave and serious matter? I’m guessing most of us would get that without any of the histrionics such effects on the page create.

But see, the core writing isn’t bad at all. Let’s take away all the visual-on-the-page melodrama and look at it again:

EXAMPLE 1:

“I have bad news. You have cancer. You have three months, at best.” (Correct)

Strip away all the all-caps, overpunctuation, capitalization and other text effects, and at the core you have an impressively powerful piece of writing.

Those thirteen words, completely unadorned by any special formatting, get the message across in a serious and life-changing way. This is how a serious-minded doctor would break this sort of bad news to a patient.

And it’s the sort of dialogue that is strong enough to use as the kick-off to a short story, novel, or whatever sort of story one chose to build off of it.

So when I see things like the first version, what I deduce immediately is that I’m seeing the work of an inexperienced writer who lacks confidence in the power of their own writing.

But here’s the core truth: Anyone who writes poorly enough to actually need all that extra decor to communicate the impact of a scene, probably hasn’t written that powerful a scene to begin with. And if they have, they’re not experienced enough to realize it, and understand they don’t need all that visual melodrama on the page.

Now, some people will defend all-caps in instances of shouting. It’s true that this is sometimes used. But even if one chooses to use it, it is more powerful used very sparingly, rather than overdoing it.

For example:

Example 2:

Beth saw her son wobbling along on the cement railing of the bridge. “COLE!” she shouted, sprinting toward him. “DON’T MOVE! I MEAN IT! YOU COULD FALL!!” (Incorrect)

In this example, the writer is more under control in narration, but has overused exclamation points and capitalization. Again, it robs the scene of its potential power and drama. Much more effective would be this, allowing for a little of each effect for maximum impact.

Example 2:

Beth saw her son wobbling along on the cement railing of the bridge. “COLE!” she shouted, sprinting toward him. “Don’t move. I mean it. You could fall.” (Correct)

Some might prefer the first version because they’re used to seeing writers who are lacking confidence write that way. But think about it.

The first and more important word, the one a concerned mom would scream, is her son’s name. Then, she’s sprinting toward him. I doubt sincerely anyone could maintain that kind of volume and panic while also running as fast as she can to save him. We’ve indicated that she’s shouting both by the capitalization of her son’s name, and the exclamation point following it. We’ve also indicated she’s running toward her son.

The reader will figure out she’s probably still speaking loud enough to be heard. They’ll intuit her concern. They don’t need to be hit over the head by the writer. And that’s the net result of making the rest of what she says all-capped and followed by exclamation points.

A character can shout at another character without the writer shouting off the page at the reader.

AND THAT’S WHAT ALL THIS STUFF DOES!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Write smart.

writing

Writing Tips: When “OK” isn’t okay

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This might be a bit controversial, because not all dictionaries and style manuals agree, so some folks might think I’m a diabolo (or an el diablo) for taking a stance, but someone has to field these issues and questions.

When is OK not okay?

There are at least three ways I know of to represent the word “okay.”

The standard word is “okay,” fully spelled out, and only capitalized if it appears at the beginning of a sentence.

The emerging standard that the AP Stylebook and other “shortcut-happy” dictionaries and style manuals now seem to be beginning to prefer is the visual shortcut represented as “OK.”

I’m not a fan of OK unless I’m addressing a package bound for Oklahoma. And yet there’s a swell of support for it, as even some dictionaries are now calling it the “preferred form.” Weird. Given that it’s two capital letters, it feels more like an abbreviation to me than an actual word.

Finally, there’s the archaic “O.K.,” the predecessor to “OK.” A word shedding its abbreviation periods is always a good thing. It’s part of the evolution of language.

But okay’s origins are murky at best.

Some claim it came to us form the Choctaw Indians. Others cite West African origins. Another theory claims it is derived from Greek, Lakota, Scottish, and even Bostonian origins. The Bostonian predecessor theory is that it’s an abbreviation of a very early form of “Oll Korrect.” Yikes!

Even so, let me state emphatically that I prefer to see the word “okay” used most of the time. Why? Because if you un-capitalize the word, what you get is “ok” which just looks bad on the page.

The exception? In narrative, when a character SEES the word written on something, if the person writing it used “OK,” then OK is okay by me.

Write smart.

writing

Writing tip: Visual shortcuts

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Too many writers today are using what I call “visual shortcuts” in their writing.

What’s a visual shortcut? Largely, it’s what happens when a writer inserts numerals into the text, instead of the words they represent.

For example: “$289? Are you crazy?” (Incorrect)

That’s a “visual shortcut.” This example violates good writing standards in every possible way. First, it’s used in dialog; people speak in words, not number and symbols. Second, it’s used at the start of a sentence, and even the short-cut-loving AP Libel and Stylebook says that’s a no-no.

And never use the AP for fiction or book publishing in general. It’s like bringing an axe to a chainsaw competition. The appropriate tool for fiction and book publishing in general is the Chicago Manual of Style, which eschews most shortcuts in writing, and has been the book publishing standard for generations.

The correct way to write the example sentence? Here:

“Two-hundred and eight nine dollars? Are you crazy?” (Correct)

Another example of a visual shortcut is using abbreviations in prose fiction.

Example 2: “Meet me out at Hwy. 203 at 10:15 p.m.” (Incorrect.)

Wrong, wrong, wrong. First, using “Hwy.” is all wrong. Again, this isn’t journalism and you’re not trying to save column inches. It’s fiction-writing and you must represent the words people utter in your dialog.

Second, 10:15 should be written out, and p.m. is a bit formal. In fact, the whole time bit isn’t a good reflection on how people speak.

This would be much better.

Example 2: “Meet me out at highway two-oh-three, at a quarter past ten.” (best)

A bit more relaxed version, but still acceptable, would be:

Example 2: “Meet me out at Highway 203, at a quarter past ten.” (better than original, though not ideal.)

The point comes up, though, “What about phone numbers? Surely 555-819-2939 is better than writing all that out.”

Here’s the point I could make about long numbers like a character’s fictional phone number, driver’s license or social security number….

Does it REALLY add anything to the story to include it? Is that long number key to plot point, or using it just trivial?

Unless a key plot point rests on such a long number, why include it? If it’s trivial, if it doesn’t move the story forward, there are alternative ways to deal with it.

For example:

Example 3: The woman on the other end of the line asked for my phone number again. “555-555-5555,” I said. (Incorrect.)

Example 3: The woman on the other end of the line asked for my phone number again. I repeated it for her. (Best.)

And what if the number IS key to a plot point? Try having the main character look at it in narrative first, where a visual representation feels less out of place than in dialog.

Example 3: The woman on the other end of the line asked for my phone number again. I looked at the matchbook where I’d scribbled it down, 555-555-5555, and repeated it to her. (Acceptable, and better than having a character speak in numerals.)

Here’s another reason why I call them “visual” shortcuts. Because they look terrible when used in dialog, but often the same information works just fine in narrative, non-dialogue instances. That’s because in narrative, your character is describing what he or she SEES. If they look at a road sign, they don’t see “highway two-oh-three,” they SEE “Hwy. 203” on that sign.

While one doesn’t ever want to overdo it with visual shortcuts, keep this rule in mind:

If it’s dialog, spell it out, because people speak in words, not numbers, symbols and abbreviations.

If it’s narrative, represent it as they are seeing it.

And always always ask yourself, “Is this trivia, or is it critical to the plot?”

If it’s trivia, cut it. It’s a lot easier to write “I gave her my number,” than it is to write out a ten-digit phone number… that’s fictional anyway.

Write smart.

Reviews writing

Much midweek update ado about nothing … or not much

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In a few ways, I feel blessed.

I am prone to some allergies, but not too many and usually not too severe. I do have a few that are particularly nasty… mosquito bites is one, which can sometimes bring me to the brink of going anaphylactic, for example. And a slightly-less-severe one to mushrooms. But for the most part, I avoid what I avoid out of preference, not necessity.

My wife’s not quite as fortunate. She has more allergies, and most of them have a high sensitivity level and a high level of reactive effect. So whether I’m blogging about allergies in Austin TX, Portland OR, or Minneapolis MN, the content is usually the same: oops, someone wasn’t careful and we had a bad experience at place X.

A couple weeks ago, that was the case on our date night. We went to a local Pizza Schmizza that was advertising the availability of gluten-free crusts at their location. It was new to them and they hadn’t been trained well. The short of it is, the pizza was cross-contaminated and my wife got sores and a rash from it that took days to go away.

I decided to call corporate since we had already left the restaurant by the time we noticed her reaction. Corporate was down in Salem, and while it was a bit of a challenge to find a number for them, I was pleased that they returned my call from the very top level of the company, listened to our concerns, and acted on them the same day by contacting the local franchisee/owner. That person also called and heard us out. He validated our observations and explained his plan to take corrective training actions.

On the phone, I remained calm, helpful and concerned, rather than angry, irate, and threatening. And you know what? Courtesy sometimes elicits a better response.

When the folks I spoke to understood I wasn’t looking for a free pizza coupon, but just wanted to alert them to the concern; when they understood that my intent was to help them improve what they were doing to make the experience safer for others who visit, and not just trying to raise a ruckus or get someone fired, they were remarkably open to our comments and concerns.

Imagine that. Manners still work, even in 2012! What a nice experience to alleviate an unfortunate dining out episode. Well done, Pizza Schmizza. Very professional folks, they are!

Oh, yeah… as for ROW80g goals, not much new to report. This time. So I thought I’d regale you with this pleasant tale, instead.

ROW80 writing

It’s not Sunday anymore, but…

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I realize as I post this, it’s not Sunday anymore, but I found some wee-hours time to post, so here I am.

It’s time to just come out and admit this much: I haven’t been a very faithful participant in ROW 80 Round 1-2012. I’ve posted an update in less than half of the posting times, and often just to report that I haven’t been doing a bunch for various (though legitimate) reasons.

This has not been my most productive stretch of time. It hasn’t been my most productive Round of ROW80. The nice thing is, sometimes life is like that and ROW80 doesn’t punish you for it. The main person missing out on the accountability and productivity is… well, me.

At this point, it’s worth reviewing my goals for Round 1:

1. Work on either EMBER or EyeCU six days per week, excluding the Sabbath (sundown Friday through sundown Saturday).

I haven’t been working on EMBER or EyeCU six days per week. Throw in the goofy stuff under my pseudonym, and I’m still not writing as frequently as I ought.

To restrict the discussion to EMBER and EyeCU, I’ve left EMBER virtually untouched in 2012 because my creative energy has been more invested in EyeCU. And on EyeCU, I’m still under 10,000 words.

Sure, there have been reasons for this many times, but boil away all of that and this is where I currently stand on a progress basis. No wonder my sales on MOST LIKELY and SHADA are stagnant; they are unlikely to bounce back until I finish something new and get active in promoting stuff again.

2. Produce a minimum of 1,500 words of new progress on either project, or combined, per working day.

On the days I’ve written, I’ve done 1,500 words and more most of the time. Other times, I’ll start writing too late in the evening and find myself falling asleep mid-sentence. On nights like that, I write maybe 500 to 750 words. Other nights I just collapse in bed, grateful to get some reading done on my Kindle.

The winter blahs? Maybe. Stress and health concerns and such? That, too. The results are the same no matter what the reason is, though. Not enough productivity.

3. Finish at least one of these projects by the end of the Round, and send it off to beta readers.

Nope, of course not. Not with how things have been going on goals 1 and 2.

I do intend to get back on the upswing. I’d like to finish this round strong. I’d like to make sure that Round 2-2012 is far more productive. But honestly? One never knows what the future will bring.

So what I’ll focus on for now is the positive: I’m closing in on the first 10,000 word mark on EyeCU. And the goofy, short fiction stuff is selling. That’s something, at least.

ROW80 writing

Slowly out of the muck

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Slowly, I have begun pulling my writing efforts out of the muck. Progress has been halting, in fits and starts, for a while now. It seems like every time I finally get a chance to sit down and do some real significant writing, I’m either too tired, feeling ill, or too distracted and unfocused to get much done.

My stories aren’t the problem. My focus, and perhaps my lack of rest, have been bigger culprits.

I think I’m narrowing down some causes for this and dealing with them one at a time. Which is good because only through a lot more writing will I achieve them goals I want to reach, from taking my wife and father on a dinner-train to Mount Hood this summer, to cashmere gifts for her, and even, more long-term, a house instead of an apartment here in Oregon. I won’t reach any of those goals without getting the work done.

First, I’ve been having lower back pain for a while now. I finally stumbled across an effective pain relief method for that beyond what I’d already tried; instead of taking two Advil, I’m not taking one Advil and one Tylenol, together. It seems to help. Today I went from being almost too stiff and in pain to tie my shoes, to being able to do that old gym class exercise, cherry-pickers, which is all about bending at the waist.

So, with a method to reduce my lower back discomfort, the other thing I need to do will take a bit longer and cost a bit more: I believe I have developed sleep apnea, and have probably had it for some time now. It will take a while to afford a check-up, sleep study and official diagnosis, as well as buying the CPAP appliances necessary to treat it… but once I do, perhaps I won’t be quite so overtired so often.

Of course, weight loss will help a lot of this, and that’s another goal.

But even with a less-painful lower back, I already feel more up for writing tonight. Hoping it lasts.

writing

Inertia

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I’m starting to make a little money at this writing thing.

It’s not a lot. Certainly not enough to live on, not yet. But… a little money. There are actually changes to my numbers when I check KDP, most of the time.

That’s cool.

What’s not cool? The reaction I’m experiencing. As excited as the sales make me, I find myself become a bit complacent. More hesitant to write, rather than more eager.

It’s weird. It makes no sense. It makes me wonder if I should be looking into retirement communities I can’t afford. Since clearly there’s a part of me that just isn’t motivated.

Fortunately, these moods aren’t lasting long. Once I actually force myself to fire up the word processor, I get into it again and enjoy writing the next project.

But this pull toward inertia is… troublesome.

writing

The big decision

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Every time I sit down to work on EMBER, I face a big decision. Do I sink more time into EMBER, which will take a few months to complete, or do I let myself sidetrack into some short fiction that I can put up a lot quicker, expanding my offerings more swiftly, so that I have more things to offer readers?

We all understand that whether you’re browsing books on Amazon or browsing maternity clothes at babiesnbellies.com, the more products you have to offer, the better chance you have of making a sale. Right now, my published works consists of two titles. I have three or four short projects I could put out quickly, and get to where I need to be a lot faster.

But would the EMBER COLE series suffer as a result? SHADA is Book 1 in that series, and if I divert into a few short fiction projects before I put out EMBER, the second book in the series, I could frustrate readers. It’s a constant juggling act. I need to be cloned.

ROW80 writing

Another Sunday update

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Well, I keep being too busy to post mid-week updates, so that’s gotta be a good thing somehow, right? Seems to be. The big news since my last update is that I finally have SHADA out in trade paperback. As much as my livelihood depends on the steady sales of my novels in electronic book form, the truth is there is still a nice market for print books, so it’s always a thrill when I get one of those out.

It takes longer, of course, but always helps me catch some previously-missed mistakes, and I take that opportunity to brush up the eBook version as well, with the same corrections. But now that’s all done and my full energies can be redirected to the follow-up to SHADA, EMBER.

Speaking of EMBER, I tried leaping ahead and making new progress, but it was slow-going and awkward, so I leaped back to the middle to finish the updating process. I know my characters so much better now than I did the first time through. That’s where writing SHADA helped a lot. But I’ll be in fresh progress territory soon enough.

That’s all for now