Writing

Using Tiddlywiki for World Building

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Scrivener is fantastic for outlining, planning and writing your novel or short story. However, I did discover while writing the first draft of my fantasy novella that all the names of places and characters got overwhelming. I needed something to tie it all together better, something interactive even, like a wiki.

After a quick Google search, I came across a few articles talking about personal wikis and the one that appealed most to me was Tiddlywiki. It's super simple and the entire program is written in a single HTML document. After downloading the "software," the best browser to use with it is Firefox as there is a TiddlyFox plugin that works seamlessly with Tiddlywiki.

Once you load the file into your local browser, it's easy to start adding items to your wiki. However, I do recommend watching a few short tutorial videos on YouTube from Francis Meetze that will make starting out even easier. To start, I entered place and character names that I had already created before I began writing into the wiki. Then, while writing my first draft and new places and characters came up, I added those to the wiki and linked them to each other via common characteristics such as place, race, etc.

During my first draft, I left the descriptions in each wiki as short and quick as possible, almost more like a reference than a detailed description. As I edit my first draft, I plan on filling in the details in each wiki so that when all is said and done, I have a thorough and interactive personal wiki of my fantasy world (once the series is complete, I can put the entire thing on this website as a reference). I anticipate it will come in handy even more during the writing and editing of subsequent books in the planned series.

Anyone else out there using Tiddlywiki for their world building?

David

Anxiety and Writing

I think almost all writers experience writing anxiety as they face the blank page, but that's not the kind of anxiety I'm talking about. I'm talking about ANXIETY, the not-quite panic attack, but still immobilizing feeling that takes over both mind and body. Triggered by some personal issues a couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with Anxiety, which was a welcome diagnosis at the time, and I was able to cope with it through some lifestyle changes, therapy, and meditative techniques.

I have had a handle on it for a long time until the night before I was due to finish the first draft of my fantasy novella. I woke up in the middle of the night with the familiar panic attack symptoms. Fortunately, I was able to quell the attack before it became acute. But when I woke up in the morning, I had that undercurrent of nervousness that is hard to explain to anyone who has never experienced it before. It makes you want to just sit on the couch and drown out the world. When I got up to make breakfast, I even got the sour feeling in my cheeks like right before vomiting, but I didn't feel nauseous. Basically, I was a mess.

The only thing that could have triggered it, in my opinion, was the impending completion of my first draft of my novella. I would have thought finishing the draft would evoke feelings of euphoria and excitement, not nervousness and a sense of dread. But I think it's because I have been deriding myself for so long for starting and stopping so many things without finishing them that the fact that I was actually about to accomplish something I set out to do put my emotions in a spiritual clothing dryer.

It still doesn't make sense to me, but all I know is, that as I sat down to finish those last 2,500 words, my anxiety level declined. And when I finished the first draft later that day, I felt much better. I did celebrate somewhat, but then that was quickly replaced by all these ideas that came flooding in for the rewrite. Such is the writer's life. A work is never done until it's out the door.

David

Back After an Absence

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have the tendency to ebb and flow with my interests. Writing, photography, filmmaking, etc. The thing is, I know this about myself and it's something that I can't stand about myself. I guess the positives from it mean that I get to experience many different things at a pretty high level (as I always do a deep dive in my interests until I burn out). But all I've ever wanted to do was be an expert at something and spend years doing one thing really well–or at least strive to excel.

How many blogs in various genre's have I started and stopped? How many domain names have I registered only to let lapse a year later? The interest in writing faded and photography came back full force this past spring, now I'm back into writing again. I had even let this domain expire. Luckily, I saved a backup of this blog otherwise I would be starting all over again. I just have to find a way to stick with things even when my heart isn't in it. If I can just bridge the gaps between interest, and treat writing like a job, then all will be right with the world. At least my world.

That being said, I'm now part way through writing a fantasy novella. This is my fourth go around with this story and this world. This time, I just want to get the first draft done and then spend a good deal of time editing. Right now, the plan is to make it a five-part series, all Novellas. I have five POV characters in this first one, which is a lot for a Novella, but I'm looking at them more like serials or TV episodes. Not sure if it will work or not, but that's the grand plan at the moment.

Here's to writing!

David

Short Story: Buffalo Run

Finally it is ready for release, my new short story titled "Buffalo Run." It's a story set in Yosemite Valley in a dystopian future (don't worry, no teenagers!). The idea came while going through stream of consciousness exercises for my screenwriting class earlier in the year. The exercise started off by finding a picture in Pinterest and then setting a timer for ten minutes. At the start of the clock we were instructed to write using the picture as a starting point without stopping and without editing. It's meant to develop the creative side of your brain. What flowed from a picture of half dome was a random story about two women running a marathon in Yosemite Valley amongst genetically modified buffalo that craved human flesh. It was not quite something I usually write about but the story stuck with me after the class was over and I decided to write it as a short story. I had it edited by Elisabeth Kaufman over at Writing Refinery and proofread by Jessica Nelson at Rare Bird Editing. I had my daughter illustrate the cover as I wanted a vector art type of look for it. I put it up at Amazon for $0.99. As a gift to my readers, I wanted to put up a complimentary pdf version here on the web site. I hope you enjoy it. If the mood strikes you, perhaps you could leave a review on Amazon?

David

Writing Strong, Likable Female Characters is Tough

David Mullin

I have grown up around strong women my entire life. My mother is and always was a firecracker, never afraid to speak her mind to any and all who got in her way. My sister was also strong but in a quieter way. She is one of the sweetest persons I've ever known but she still has strong convictions and stands up when pushed too far. My wife is also an incredibly strong, independent woman and we have raised my two daughters to never shy away from being themselves. So why is it when I write strong female protagonists that I can't make them likable?

Earlier this year, I completed a screenplay with a strong female protagonist who lost her father and mother at birth and was raised by foster parents. It turned out her grandfather had declined to take custody of her and the story was about her journey to find her grandfather and the relationship that they then create. The universal feedback I received was that no one liked the main character. In the spring I wrote a short story about two women running for their lives from genetically modified killer buffalo (soon to be released on this site for free) and the feedback I received from beta readers was that they liked the story but didn't like the main female character. WTF?

The answer is somewhat obvious but also is found in societal perceptions, in my opinion. The obvious part of the answer is that I'm a man, and no matter how many women I've been around my entire life, I'm still a male with a male ego and male perceptions of what's strong and what's weak. Another answer, separate from my two main points, is in the writing itself. In writing these strong female protagonists, I jumped right into them being aggressive, both verbally and physically, without showing the reason for the reader to be rooting for them in the first place. The societal point revolves around the often heard argument that a strong willed woman in the work place is called a bitch while a man exhibiting the exact same behavior is called aggressive. Man or woman, I think that perception is strongly ingrained in all of us. No matter how much we want there to be the same standard, I don't think we're quite there yet internally.

While I wrote my female protagonists to be swashbuckler types, having them act physically and verbally aggressive seems to put people off. When a male character is shown acting aggressively without any other information, most people just say, "Oh, what a typical guy." But if I do the same with an aggressive female character, a lot of people would say, "Man, what a bitch."The problem with being male and writing a female is that we tend to think of strength in terms of fighting back in one way or another. We can overlook strength of fortitude or the greatest female strength, IMHO, of just pushing on through pain and sorrow without complaint. Those are types of strength stronger than any physical altercation and I need to remember that in my writing.

I'm not sure what the percentages are when it comes to which issue has the largest effect on the likability of my characters, be it the poor writing, the fact that I'm a man, or our society's built-in gender perceptions, but something is wrong and I need to work on fixing it. Obviously, there have been great female protagonists written by men (i.e. Ripley in Aliens, Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, etc.), they just happen to be way better writer's than I am at the moment. It's been a frustrating but fascinating struggle and it will only serve to make me a better writer. Still, I hope that I can get across the characters that I see in my head. Characters with empathy and compassion toward others but who also don't take shit from anyone and can take care of themselves and those they love.

David

Call for Short Story Beta Readers

My short story is ready to send out to beta readers and I'm looking for a handful of people who might be interested. As a content warning, there is graphic violence and language used in the story, so if that's not your cup of tea, this probably isn't the story for you.The story is about 7,800 words long and is set in a dystopian future (no teenagers though!). I'm looking for people to read the story and then perhaps connect via Skype or Phone for a thirty minute question and answer session.If you're interested in being a beta reader for this story, contact me and I will add you to the list.

Thanks!

David

Is it Okay to Stop Writing Your Novel?

David Mullin

I had planned to be finished writing the damn thing before the end of June. But then High School graduation of my oldest daughter happened and Summer began and everything went to shit. Those aren't excuses, though, because when I'm in the middle of writing a book, I stick to it, no matter what. Not with my fantasy novel, however. I climbed up to 69,000 words and called it a day. But why? And was that a smart thing to do?

This has been a weird year for me so far. Everything I've written feels like its just practice. And that's fine. There's nothing wrong with lots of practice, but at some point, you've got to produce some quality work. As I was transitioning from screenwriting to novel writing, I wrote a short story that I had edited by the wonderful Elisabeth Kaufman over at Writing Refinery and I'm in the middle of revising that sucker. I hope to release it on my website before the end of the month. Other than that, I haven't really produced anything worth showing to anyone.The first novel I started was a fantasy novel. A first in the genre for me. My wife actually reads more fantasy than I do, but I'm a fan of the genre and thought I'd give it a try. At the same time, I used it as test case for outlining a novel–which I covered in a previous post–which also caused some of the problem. I tried and tried to adhere to my outline but I found myself fighting against it so much that I found my story just drifting and going nowhere. I decided to put it in a drawer for the summer.

I wasn't too worried about stopping the novel before it was finished because I have finished three novels in the past, so I know that I have what it takes to complete a novel. Believe me, if it were my first novel, I wouldn't have stopped it for anything. It is vital as a first time novelist to complete your manuscript. Good, great, or complete shit, it doesn't matter. Finish the damn thing to prove to yourself that you can do it. The world is full of started novels.

Last week, I decided to print out the first 90 pages of my fantasy work and I read it. It started off pretty good, but there were a few chapters in there that were just total shit. That's okay, it's a first draft and there's supposed to be a lot of shit in there. But I still wasn't sure whether I wanted to put the effort into steering the story in a more solid direction. So I decided to let my wife read those 90 pages expecting her to completely agree with my dire assessment. To my surprise, she liked the story and the characters and requested to read the rest of what I had written. Today, I printed out the rest of the 330 page incomplete manuscript so that she could finish reading it and give me a more complete appraisement.

If she thinks the story is salvageable, I'll sit down with a notepad and see if I agree. In the mean time, I've begun a new story starting with a harrowing situation that hasn't been outlined or imagined further than the beginning. We'll see if that turns into a novel or a short story. I'm excited to see where it goes.

David

F**k It, I'm a Pantser

Okay, I've tried it. I've tried to go along with this organizational thing and plan out my novels and stories before I sit down to write them and I've had enough! How do you people do this? I'm 69K words into my fantasy novel and it veered way off course several chapters ago and now it's just floating around in some writer's abyss waiting for a conclusion to happen. I'm not sure I'll get to it, at least right now, if perhaps ever.

I really thought I found the perfect medium ground after reading "Take Off Your Pants!" by Libbie Hawker since the story outline grew from the character and not from plot. I outlined the entire novel using her techniques and I thought it was nice to have a course to follow but that there was still tons of room for spontaneity during the actual writing of the book. But somewhere along the way, the story started veering farther and farther off the path that I had outlined in the beginning. I understand that there should be some flexibility for wandering away from the outline but I'm talking so far off course that no navigational skills would ever bring it back on course.

Back before writing my first three novels, I read Stephen King's "On Writing" and I immediately identified with his approach to writing, which is a pure pantser mentality (or Gardener as I talked about in a previous post). I wrote my first three novels that way and it definitely worked out for the first two (wish I could say the same for the writing). The third one was a science fiction novel and was in need of lots of revision. I've since come up with a better take on that story and will write it after getting a few books under my belt. Anyways, I digress. I felt much more comfortable as a writer going about it as a pantser than trying to fit into the outliner paradigm.

My main impetus for forcing my way into the outline was twofold: I started my writing resurgence at the end of last year solely on screenplays and you have to outline if you want to make it in that business; and when I switched to novels, all current wisdom was that to succeed in indie publishing you had to release several books a year and outlining them was the only way to get them done in a timely manner. Well, fuck that. With the writing sprints that I'm currently using I'm reaching up to 4K words a day and if I'm writing by the seat of pants that word count increases as opposed to trying to fit it into some outline. There is no doubt that pants-ing it will lead to longer and more extensive rewrites, but that is the price I'm willing to pay to enjoy the writing process. I was born a pantser and I'm done trying to force myself to be something I'm not.

David

Am I Just Wasting My Time?

David Mullin

While I'm in the middle of writing the first draft of my epic fantasy novel, I often make the mistake of looking ahead by reading blogs and watching YouTube videos about marketing and selling your book. As part of that procrastination research, invariably the topic of odds of success comes up. Obviously, the odds of making a living solely by writing fiction is a slim one. There just not that many readers in our country who read on a regular basis and that's depressing.

So if the odds are slim to none, why am I pursuing this? I think anyone else who is currently following the writer's path could answer it: because I'm meant to do it. Irregardless of the money making potential, I am writing because I feel like I am a story teller and I want to leave those stories behind as a legacy. Maybe they'll get some traction now or later but I feel the need to get them down on paper (or screen) in order to satisfy my need to create.

Just like with weight loss, I need to remind myself that its a one day at a time type of deal. Just sit down and write each day and then when done, sit down and edit what you've written. Then promote and market the book as best you can. And most of all, try not to think how much money it's going to cost to be an indie publisher for each book. $2K for developmental edit, $800-1200 for professional cover art, and then who knows how much more for proofreading.

As I just said, I need to stick to the business of writing. That includes keeping up with this blog. I have been lax for the last three weeks due to family obligations but also just the lazy fact that I didn't feel like writing a blog at the same time I'm trying to pump out the rest of the first draft of this book. In other words, I have not been acting like a professional for the past few weeks and that sort of lapse cannot continue if I'm going to put up a good fight against overwhelming odds.

David

To Con or Not to Con

David Mullin

I used to attend MacWorld regularly, well at least when I was living in Boston, and before they moved the East Coast version to New York City. The only other conventions I've attended were Wizard Con in Sacramento a couple of years ago and the last two Babscons in San Francisco, although I was more of a chaperone for my daughter to Babscon then an attendee. Me and my two daughters woke up early to try and get tickets to this years Comic Con in San Diego but we got shut out. Other than these experiences, I've never really attended a Con, at least not a proper Fantasy Con such as Dragon Con or World Con. My question is, do authors really need to attend these things?

I know it is highly recommended to do so in order to network and meet fellow writers and editors but I know myself and if I go to these things by myself there's a chance I'll just sit in the corner alone not talking to anyone. I do have one related experience that does fly in the face of this fear: in 2012 I attended the first and only Google Plus Photographers Conference. I went by myself and ended up meeting a great group of photographers who I'm still friends with to this day. So it would seem that my biggest fear has no merit, so why am I still trepidatious?

Money is definitely a factor. Now that I'm not working and writing full time, I have no income and what I have left from my previous job I'm saving for editors and illustrators. Those are definitely priorities but should I elevate attending World Con or Dragon Con into that realm of necessity for the betterment of my career? I can only assume the correct answer is different for everyone depending on where they are in their careers and what they're looking to get out of the Con.

I think for this first year into full time writing I will concentrate on keeping my head down and putting out a short story and a novel before the end of the year. Perhaps by the Con season next year I will be ready and willing to fully participate feel like I have something to offer.

David