M. Lori Motley http://mlorimotley.com Just another WordPress site Thu, 15 Feb 2018 18:09:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.4 Strange Photos Writing Prompt http://mlorimotley.com/strange-photos-writing-prompt/ http://mlorimotley.com/strange-photos-writing-prompt/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 18:04:35 +0000 http://mlorimotley.com/?p=125 From:  Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds He had been killing things for a while by the time I showed up and moved into his studio apartment above the river. It flowed in fits and starts just outside its banks, building up then letting go like Campbell’s chunky soup over the log that had been wedged crossways […]

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From:  Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds

Ricardo Salamanca artwork

Ricardo Salamanca artwork

He had been killing things for a while by the time I showed up and moved into his studio apartment above the river. It flowed in fits and starts just outside its banks, building up then letting go like Campbell’s chunky soup over the log that had been wedged crossways ever since the last rain.

 

I crouched on the edge of the log and watched things flow by while listening to the screams of whoever he had found on the highway. One part of me liked them. One chunk of who I now was in this dying world liked them. I fished useful things out of the flow and carried them back upstairs when the screaming was done.

 

“Shelter. Food. Water. All Welcome!” He had taken me out to see the sign the second night. It leaned against a dead Chevy in the center lane of the Pike. A line of cars clogged the shoulder. The people who saw the sign and followed it parked neatly despite everything.

 

Vague memories of spherical tag clouds on gaming blogs I followed. I spun myself from river fisher to Scheherazade – whatever me he didn’t want to kill. I didn’t know what it was. I just stuck with what worked.

 

“Hey, Joe,” I said, voice light and smile easy. My gaze darted around the room expecting gore and finding none.

 

He perched on the edge of the bed, one foot propped up on the opposite knee, fiddling with the frets of an electric guitar that hadn’t existed two hours before. He strummed a tinny A minor, D, G, then an off-tempo Pop Goes the Weasel before looking up at me.

 

Another spin. Another grope for the right me. What did he expect in response to this? I met his eyes for a second then looked away at the prints and papers taped to the wall. I strained my ears for any sigh or grunt that would signify a change from okay Joe to the thing that tore travelers apart and left me to bucket brigade them down to the river.

 

I tapped a brief rhythm on the side seam of my filthy jeans with two fingers. Conciliation. Risk.

 

He looked down and picked at a toenail. “How’s the river today?” he asked, just like he always did.

 

I spun back to river fisher, safe waters, a comfort spot. I slung the sack off my shoulder. “Some net, dead bird too far gone – I let it flow – and this.” Someone had hacked off the baby doll’s black hair. Its blue dress showed silt lines and what could have been old blood on one sleeve.

 

Joe shot to his feet and over to me. My gaze shot over his shoulder. My ears opened up. I shut my mouth. Fisher gone. Watcher, waiter back. Would he accept this offering?

 

He took the doll, cupped its head. “We’ll keep it.” He drew my gaze and reached up to cup my cheek with a wet hand.

 

The first time he had touched me and I fought against the urge to recoil. My mind spun loose. I had no clue what me to be. My eyes went everywhere, my ears, my lips opened then closed silent, my mind flowed in fits and starts like soup over a log.

 

I was still alive when he turned away to put the baby on the bed. He slumped down beside it, his gaze consumed with its plastic blues. “Take care of that,” he said and waved his hand toward the bathroom.

 

I got the bucket.

 

An hour later I crouched on the log again and watched the water flow. My mind settled like a marble in a maze, tucked into some safe corner, inert. A partially inflated plastic bag snagged on a branch and I leaned out to pull it to shore.

 

A clatter of stones behind me brought me to my feet. A young couple no older than me scuffed boots down the path cautiously. The woman wore a Mexica blanket around her shoulders. The man carried a backpack and a hatchet.

 

Spin. A friendly smile. A direct, open gaze. Eye-contact.

 

I raised a hand in greeting. “Hello there.”

 

They were brother and sister, Tim and Meg. Had driven from Smithfield, they said. Wanted to get to the lake. A barge community had sprung up, according to a man they met heading south to find his family. But they saw the sign and stopped. Maybe stay a night? Maybe trade?

 

My smile widened with practiced ease. “Come inside,” I said, showing my teeth. “Meet Joe.”

 

We stood in a clump on the worn rug. They took in the artwork on the walls, the stained doll, the electric guitar, the everything, the nothing. The girl looked nervous and she caught my eye.

 

A mad vision of people on green barges, families, gardens, things that made sense flew through my head. Me, maybe with an arm around Meg’s shoulders, with Tim grinning through his beard. Birds overhead. Clean water flowing. I blinked.

 

River fisher, waiter, I turned to the door and eased it open.

 

“David,” Joe said, the first time he had used my name. “Why don’t you stay?”

 

Our eyes met. The vision spun away. The pieces of me whirled like plastic gems in a kaleidoscope, yellow and red. They spun, then they stopped. I pushed the door closed again and locked it.

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The Writing Demon http://mlorimotley.com/the-writing-demon/ http://mlorimotley.com/the-writing-demon/#respond Wed, 07 Feb 2018 15:00:50 +0000 http://mlorimotley.com/?p=121 “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” George Orwell

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“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

George Orwell

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Smeerps and Other Fantasy Tropes http://mlorimotley.com/smeerps-fantasy-tropes/ http://mlorimotley.com/smeerps-fantasy-tropes/#respond Sat, 27 Jan 2018 22:39:56 +0000 http://mlorimotley.com/?p=72 I was involved with a discussion on Facebook this morning about using Tolkien style elves, dwarves and other creatures in modern fantasy fiction. I was very happy to find that most of the writers in the group but that was fine as long as you put a unique spin on their culture or the story […]

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I was involved with a discussion on Facebook this morning about using Tolkien style elves, dwarves and other creatures in modern fantasy fiction. I was very happy to find that most of the writers in the group but that was fine as long as you put a unique spin on their culture or the story itself. I’ve seen this discussion plenty of times before people seem very caught up in the idea that fantasy fiction is nothing but a cluster of cliches and they need to invent wild new things in order to produce quality stories. (Of course doing that is great, but there is plenty of room for classic tropes as well.)

Orson Scott Card warned us not to call a rabbit a smeerp. If you have a fuzzy little creature with moderately long years, wiggly nose and a penchant for nibbling clover and carrots, you have a rabbit. Maybe the rabbit is green or highly intelligent, but it is still some form of rabbit.

If you take an elf, make it have purple skin, a theocratic culture, no magical capabilities whatsoever and a love of jewels instead of trees, is it still an elf or is it a smeerp?

Like I said above, it’s awesome when quality writers make up new types of beings to populate their worlds with. I do some of that myself. It’s part of the whole creativity, world building, character creation thing that writers do. But I think trying for uniqueness when a well-loved trope fits better is, perhaps, trying too hard.

Readers want something new and different, but just as many want the comfortable and familiar. A friend of mine has read the Lord of the Rings trilogy 27 times now. He isn’t looking for smeerps. He’s looking for a good tale.

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The Power of Positive Critique http://mlorimotley.com/power-positive-critique/ http://mlorimotley.com/power-positive-critique/#respond Fri, 26 Jan 2018 22:43:04 +0000 http://mlorimotley.com/?p=77 One of the most annoying things about critique that so many writers desperately want it but fear it most of all. After all the headaches and arghs and stress we put into our fiction writing, we want some kind of external validation that it was worth it. At least I do. Of course, you come […]

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One of the most annoying things about critique that so many writers desperately want it but fear it most of all. After all the headaches and arghs and stress we put into our fiction writing, we want some kind of external validation that it was worth it.

At least I do. Of course, you come across a lot of writers who wax poetic about the writing process itself and how creation is its own reward, but I bet deep down inside each of them would really love to hear, “wow! This is amazing!” From someone, somewhere at some time or another. I happen to love external validation. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Problem with positive critique though is that it’s not manure, and I don’t mean bullshit. Well, hopefully, it’s not bullshit. When I talk about manure I mean fertilizer. Hearing, “wow! This is amazing!” after you have edited your short story or novel is the goal, but if you hear that too early there’s nothing to help you make it better.

Maybe, you think, it can’t get any better. If you go into professional writing and the critique process with that kind of attitude, you probably will never get any better. People who think their words don’t stink usually resist editing and don’t seek out new learning opportunities.

The topic of critique is fresh in my mind right now. As soon as I finish this blog post, I am going to go to the How Writers Write in 2015 class and see what the other students had to say about my assignment from last week.

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Want Believable Characters? They Can’t Always Be on Top (or the bottom) http://mlorimotley.com/want-believable-characters-cant-always-top-bottom/ http://mlorimotley.com/want-believable-characters-cant-always-top-bottom/#respond Wed, 24 Jan 2018 21:01:19 +0000 http://mlorimotley.com/?p=61 People watching is one of my favorite hobbies. (Not in a creepy way!) While I was at the market the other day, I kept sneaking peeks at this 3-generation family unit behind me in line. It appeared to be a grandmother, daughter and granddaughter. The mother would scold the child, the grandmother would scold the […]

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People watching is one of my favorite hobbies. (Not in a creepy way!)

While I was at the market the other day, I kept sneaking peeks at this 3-generation family unit behind me in line. It appeared to be a grandmother, daughter and granddaughter. The mother would scold the child, the grandmother would scold the mother and the child would play up to the grandmother and get whatever it was she wanted.

There was such a unique exchange of power going on that it made me think about the characters in my stories, and how their interpersonal relationships change over time.

No one is on top all the time. No one is on the bottom all the time. And if they are… there’s something slightly unbelievable about it. The characters fail to be people, and start being caricatures, which is not what any writer should want.

The dumb, tough-guy jock. It’s an archetype as old as Adam. The beater of rival quarterbacks. The tormentor of nerds. He’s on top of the food chain. He can over-power anyone physically. His status is high.

But… not all the time. He may swagger up to the new girl at school, assured of his dominance, yet if she responds to him with, “I do desire we may be better strangers,” from Shakespeare, he will be reduced to the submissive party quite quickly.

In every social situation, there is a person with high status and one with low status. It’s not assigned to the character themselves, but only in relation to what is going on or being said. And they change all the time.

Use this in your characters, and your characters will be portrayed at the people they really are. There’s nothing wrong with archetypes, but if an archetype is all you have, your story ceases to be a real life on paper, one your reader can be transported into or live vicariously through. Take them and twist them, play with them, raise them up to giddy heights of power and knock them down again.

 

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Am I Creative Enough? Has it All Been Done Before? http://mlorimotley.com/creative-enough-done/ http://mlorimotley.com/creative-enough-done/#respond Tue, 23 Jan 2018 22:41:07 +0000 http://mlorimotley.com/?p=74 I struggle a lot in the realm of writing confidence with the idea that I’m simply not creative enough. Up against a speculative genre audience always looking for something new and different, I tend to reject ideas because they’ve been done before. Then that annoying voice in the back of my head reminds me that […]

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I struggle a lot in the realm of writing confidence with the idea that I’m simply not creative enough. Up against a speculative genre audience always looking for something new and different, I tend to reject ideas because they’ve been done before. Then that annoying voice in the back of my head reminds me that EVERYTHING has been done before. Is it right? I’m not sure, but I shouldn’t let the idea stop me.

To get this out in the open, I don’t believe in writer’s block except in very rare cases of trauma or such. There are times when people cannot write or really, really, really do not feel like writing. If offered 1 million dollars for a paragraph, I bet they really could get something decent down, though. (If only that happened!)

It’s not writer’s block that makes me stop working on particular stories. It’s fear (oh wait, isn’t that the same thing? I don’t think so, although they are ridiculously intertwined for people who do believe in writer’s block.) and a large chunk of it is fear that my stories are ordinary, expected, boring and especially not layered or nuanced enough.

A long time ago, I wrote a novel called “The Shadow’s Song.” It was absolutely filled with every single bad fantasy cliche ever: secret heirs, bastard princes, simple politics, too distinct bad guy/good guy dichotomy, the thief/hooker with a heart of gold, the caring tough guy/blacksmith, etc. There was even a deathbed secret revealed.

I still like parts of the story. I love some of the characters. But the book sucks. I mean, it would be laughed at by even the greenest fantasy fan. My fear of being unoriginal here is warranted, but I don’t want to scrap the whole thing. So, in my mind on occasion, I rework it. Tweak things. Make proclamations like, “Oh, he can’t be the secret bastard prince, but what if he…?” (I’m not giving it away! Someday you can read it.)

The characters need more depth. The plot needs more depth. The setting needs more depth. Layers. Something. But I get stuck for a while wondering how I can make it all work, how I can make it different enough to be interesting, how I can make it GOOD.

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Writing Trackers – Current Progress http://mlorimotley.com/writing-trackers-current-progress/ http://mlorimotley.com/writing-trackers-current-progress/#respond Tue, 23 Jan 2018 18:52:10 +0000 http://mlorimotley.com/?p=104 The first word count tracker I ever came across was the basic Excel sheet someone whipped up long ago for NaNoWriMo. I’ve used a variety of spreadsheets over the years for months, full years, with charts and without, for the Snowflake Method of plotting, with story beats, and different colors and graphic embellishments. Then came […]

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The first word count tracker I ever came across was the basic Excel sheet someone whipped up long ago for NaNoWriMo. I’ve used a variety of spreadsheets over the years for months, full years, with charts and without, for the Snowflake Method of plotting, with story beats, and different colors and graphic embellishments.

Then came the online or offline programs. Scrivener tracks words per project, I think, but I really don’t use it. (I find it too cumbersome for my methods.) There is even a word count tracker game called 4TheWords. Other options include Pacemaker, WriteTrack, and WordKeeperAlpha. After considerable testing, I decided I liked WordKeeper the best and stuck with it.

There are also apps like Writer’s Progress Bar and WriteOmeter for Android and Write Chain and the amazing Chris Fox’s 5000 Words Per Hour for Apple.

Why Use Writing Trackers?

Most people know the whole SMART goals thing, right? Goals should be measurable (among other things) if you want to succeed. The easiest way to measure writing progress is with word counts. Some people find it silly but you do actually need to write countable words to write a short story or a novel or anything.

Track your progress. Challenge yourself to write more. Learn when you are most productive and what project you are spending most of your time on. If you want this whole writing thing to be done on a professional level of some kind, you should know how well you are doing.

My Progress

The multiple projects at once thing sometimes screws with my head. I get excited by new stories too easily (Squirrel!). I started Bradbury’s 52 Shorts Per Year challenge last week, and then the first story started turning into a novella at least. I really don’t want more big projects at this point!

So, with my handy word count tracker set up, I am focusing on the two projects you see at the bottom of my homepage. A Mind of Crystal Waters (Lucent 1) and Asylum (Zombie 1).

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Who is a Real Writer? http://mlorimotley.com/who-is-a-real-writer/ http://mlorimotley.com/who-is-a-real-writer/#respond Mon, 22 Jan 2018 21:04:45 +0000 http://mlorimotley.com/?p=67 I’m a member of far too many Facebook groups that are supposed to be about writing. Early on I removed myself from the promotional ones because they were simply annoying. (Dear self-published writers: marketing to other writers who are also spamming their book covers every day on Facebook is probably not that effective.) The question […]

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I’m a member of far too many Facebook groups that are supposed to be about writing. Early on I removed myself from the promotional ones because they were simply annoying. (Dear self-published writers: marketing to other writers who are also spamming their book covers every day on Facebook is probably not that effective.)

The question in the title of this post comes up from time to time in one or the other writers’ FB groups and it always kinda pisses me off. First of all, it does so because the people asking or the people answering are sometimes contentious boobs whose real purpose is to simply troll or make other people feel bad. (I will never understand how hurting people can be fun.) Secondly, it pisses me off because it’s an unanswerable question and trying to answer it is just going to leave someone hurt or feeling left out.

1 – You’re only a writer if you’d been published.

So, people who write for their own pleasure or catharsis aren’t writers? How about people who have multiple short stories or novels out with agents or publishers while they work on more?

2 – You’re only a writer if you’ve won awards.

This is probably the silliest criteria some people come up with. I suppose it has something to do with #4 below. If you have won awards, you have some external verification of having produced quality art or writing.

3 – You’re only a writer if you write every day.

Tons of professional writers who make a living from their words do not write every day.

4 – You’re only a writer if you write great art and literature, not commercial garbage.

This “rule” about real writers is often dragged out of the depths by people who think they’re some great arteest whose words will probably go down in history like Hemingway or Shakespeare (never mind the fact that Shakespeare definitely wrote commercial fiction for the masses) In most cases, the people who think this are simply wrong.

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10 Minute Writing Prompt — Jan 22, 2018 http://mlorimotley.com/10-minute-writing-prompt-jan-22-2018/ http://mlorimotley.com/10-minute-writing-prompt-jan-22-2018/#respond Mon, 22 Jan 2018 18:59:52 +0000 http://mlorimotley.com/?p=84 She had made a poor job of hiding the damage. She had made a poor job of hiding the damage. The awning creaked as it swung lightly in the breeze, but the metal rings that held it were caked with rust. Marnie played in the dust beside the door, pushing small blocks of wood through […]

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She had made a poor job of hiding the damage.

She had made a poor job of hiding the damage. The awning creaked as it swung lightly in the breeze, but the metal rings that held it were caked with rust. Marnie played in the dust beside the door, pushing small blocks of wood through it like the Matchbox cars Crystal had played with as a child.

“Thirsty, Ma,” Marnie said and turned her brown eyes up.

Crystal sighed. “Water comes later, peanut.” She had forgotten and used that nickname again. There were no peanuts. Not for years.

“Not a peanut.” Marnie turned back to her blocks of wood and made putting noises between dry lips.

The far side of the house needed work after the last dust storm so Crystal toted the old wood around the corner. She stooped and pulled three nails out of a broken board. She forgot Marnie, forgot the past, and forgot how thirsty she was. She pulled and hammered, her mind blank of anything but the work.

From a distance, the chug of an engine came to her ears and she straightened up with a grimace. The water? So early? Five steps brought her around the front of the house again. Marnie stood, one dusty finger to her lips, and watched the wagon come across the plains, smoke belching black from its smokestack. Crystal put a hand on her shoulder and waited.

The wagon chugged to a stop and steam blasted from the engine on the back. A man, backlit by the late sun, tipped his hat as he peered down at her.

“Water delivery stopped by order of the Senate. You’ve won a spot in the Halls. Get your things.”

Crystal took Marnie’s hand and shielded her eyes against the light. She opened her mouth to speak.

“Can’t answer any questions,” the man said with a brusk shake of his head. “Get your things and come or don’t. Five minutes.” He propped one boot up on the wagon board and scratched under his hat. “Make no difference to me.”

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The World Building Trap http://mlorimotley.com/world-building-trap/ http://mlorimotley.com/world-building-trap/#respond Sat, 20 Jan 2018 21:03:36 +0000 http://mlorimotley.com/?p=65 World building is an important and really, really fun part of writing fantasy and science fiction novels. Of course, since fantasy and sci-fi occur in worlds that do not actually exist, you need to world build in order to know where and what and how your characters will be doing whatever they need to do. […]

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World building is an important and really, really fun part of writing fantasy and science fiction novels.

Of course, since fantasy and sci-fi occur in worlds that do not actually exist, you need to world build in order to know where and what and how your characters will be doing whatever they need to do.

What are some of the main areas of world building?

  • Map making
  • Political systems
  • Economy
  • Social groups and interactions
  • Education system
  • Language creation
  • Industry and agriculture
  • Religion

Are all these things necessary to create a believable fantasy or sci-fi world?

Well… maybe.

This is where the world building trap starts to slam shut.

Some fantasy and sci-fi writers – me included – have delved into building the world of their novel so deeply that it becomes a distraction from writing the book. I have spent a week on a map. I have studied linguistic systems and created my own languages. I have outlined royal successions for dozens of generations, and written brief histories for each one.

Did doing all this make my stories better?

Yes, I think it did.

Was all of it necessary? Was all of it used?

No way.

World building is fun. World building is important. But 95% of the world building you do will not make it into your novel. It may be vital to know the history of the kingdom and how it affected the trade routes, but chances are, that will not make it into your book.

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