The Three Dirty Birds Sing Farewell to Story Trumps Structure


We sing a fond, or not so fond, farewell to Steven James and Story Trumps Structure, over on Zoe’s blog.

Tuesday Tickle: A Knight in Shining Kevlar

I’m deep into the revisions on this story, so of course that’s where my mind is when I go looking for Tickles. This bit occurs fairly early in the story, on Ben and Ross’s first date. (No guarantees that this will stay in this form, or that it will even appear in the final manuscript. The story’s in a pretty amorphous state at the moment, being stretched in some places, compressed in others. I love these lines, but I won’t know if they are appropriate until I get a bit more tweaking done.)

Ross pulled back and tugged on the front of his coat. “So I’m not the only one feeling this?” he asked, eyes wide and dark in the streetlights.

Ben shook his head.

Ross nodded, as if he’d suddenly come to a decision. “Good. It’s spooky.” He ran his thumb across Ben’s mouth again, then patted Ben’s chest. “Dinner.” He walked around to the passenger door and waited for Ben to unlock the car.

Ben stood a moment, stunned, and then scrambled to hit the door locks. He settled himself into the driver’s seat, put on his seatbelt and was leaning over to put the key in the ignition when Ross said, “Ben?”

He sat back. “Yes?”

Ross looked toward him. “Just so we’re clear on how this night ends, I’m not sleeping with you.”

Ben leaned forward and started the car. “I wouldn’t expect you to.” He smiled a secret smile at Ross’s small “Oh.” Good to know he could throw the other man as off-balance as he felt.

Three Dirty Birds Talk Story Trumps Structure and Story Gimmicks


Today on Dirty Birds, we’re talking about the last chapter in Steven James’s Story Trumps Structure–Gimmicks.

Ana: I like the first line already: “If your novel isn’t entertaining, it’s not worth reading.” I think this is also why a lot of novels that aren’t that well written do better than some that are; they’re entertaining.

Zoe: For people who don’t get headaches when they read clunky writing…yes, they’re entertaining!

Kate: My first ever experience of editing in my head while reading happened a few years ago. I still finished the book, because I liked the characters and it was a good story, just clunky writing. I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything by that author since, though.

Zoe: Readers can forgive a lot if you’re pushing their (good) buttons. Plus, writing is easy to fix—it can be tightened and cleaned up. But telling a good story is hard, writing engaging and interesting characters is hard, drawing readers into the story is hard, leaving them satisfied at the end is hard.

Kate: It is, which is why I’m so conflicted about the author I mentioned above. I’m much pickier about the writing mechanics now than I used to be, so I’m afraid to try any of this person’s other books, but I keep looking at them.

Ana: Sometimes I wish I weren’t so picky about mechanics, but studying writing just does that to you. I still remember fondly the times I could lose myself in really crappy fanfictions.

Zoe: I used to read the hell out of Sidney Sheldon…and now I’m afraid to open one of his books. Over the years, the highs get higher when I find good writing—because I know more about what makes it great—but the lows get more plentiful.

Ana: Good point. I do appreciate some books more now than I would have some years ago, simply because I can appreciate the work that went into them. But, sometimes, I think we need to remember that the average reader doesn’t care that much about the rules.

Kate: So, you can worry less about your mechanics if you can tell a rollicking good story with great characters. In this chapter, James talks about Gimmicks, and warns the young writer to stay as far away from them as possible, because it spoils your story. (And here I am trying to be clever, when James says to NOT DO THAT!)

Zoe: His first advice is to stop trying to be that, yes.

Ana: I find it funny that he mentions trying to write books without a semicolon. I’ve heard some editors at certain publishers hate semicolons with a passion and so writers shy away from using them.

Zoe: I can verify that there are publishers that will edit out the semicolons (or ask you to).

Kate: Yes. Which makes me all the more likely to use them. Because I actually do know how to. (contrary Kitty)

Zoe: They’re a tool. They have a purpose.

Ana: I think my editor put like 90 semicolons into Lab Rat’s Love. Taught me never to comma splice again.

Zoe: Good!

Kate: I had to laugh when he talked about people picking a number of words and writing their story so it’s exactly that amount. Is that a thing? Have I been doing this all wrong? o.O

Zoe: I hadn’t heard of that for novel-length works (like he mentions), but it’s of course a thing for very short stories. (And I used to love writing to exactly 100 words. You learn a lot about tightening, and what’s really important to the story, that way.)

Ana: One author I read recently talked about her plotting process and she mentioned having a number of words for every scene she writes so that when she’s done with a scene she can check if it’s not too short. Like, if she wants a scene to be 1000 words (she sets the amount while plotting) and it ends up only being 700, she finds ways to add more words. (I do not think this is a good approach.)

Zoe: No, it seems kind of arbitrary.

Ana: It made me see why some of her book dragged.  I guess sometimes we think important scenes SHOULD take a lot of words, but quite often, they don’t.

Kate: I was just going to say, it would make me worry about adding fluff. The comment on the dialogue tags was spot on. When, or have they, stopped teaching students to use all sorts of different words instead of said?

Zoe: I don’t remember being taught either way (but school was a loooong time ago).

Ana: It’s different in German. We love our variations of said. The first time I read a book in English (Harry Potter) I thought all the ‘said’ all the time was off-putting. But I got used to it.

Kate: I wonder if that will come back in style again some day. I will occasionally use something else, but only if using that different attribution will save me words elsewhere in the text. Mostly, I try to stick to action tags or beats if I can.

Zoe: I probably use a word other than said once or twice per novel.

Ana: I use ‘shout’ or ‘whisper’ occasionally. Sometimes my characters mutter or mumble.

Kate: Those are good ones. Because there’s more than one word’s meaning in them.

Zoe: My characters ejaculate from time to time, but not with their mouths.

Kate: Lol. James also talks about vocabulary. Now, my mother loves to read books where she needs a dictionary to understand them. (My mother is weird.) But most people don’t. So, unless you can get the meaning of your new word across in the context, it’s probably better to find some other word to use. I totally agree with James on this one.

Ana: Yeah, one author I occasionally read, the first thing I think when I see her name is: Oh, it’s the one with all the big words I never know.

Zoe: He also says to avoid the temptation to impress your readers with your knowledge of the flora and fauna of western North Carolina, which was a huge relief, because it means I don’t have to go outside. (I can see western NC from here. I’m sure their flora and fauna has crossed over the TN line.)

Kate: I see this in critiquing a lot, and have to watch out for it myself. You’ve done so darn much research, you can’t wait to trot it out. But does the story need it? Probably not, especially if it turns your entire first chapter into an info-dump, with only a couple of lines of action. (I have, indeed, seen this.)

Ana: I’d be surprised if anyone who’s ever critiqued hasn’t seen it.

Zoe: And next James talks about style. Which is something I don’t have.

Kate: Writing, Zoe. Not clothes.

Zoe: No, even there. I always think of my writing as “utilitarian.” I don’t care about “style”—I want to disappear. I don’t want you to realize you’re reading. When I’m editing on a word- or sentence-level, I’m busy removing speedbumps and “style.”

Ana: I’m kind of the same there. I think of my ‘style’ as ‘simple.’ Still, people have told me they like my voice and I’m like, I have a voice? But at the same time I’ve been told it’s not something you usually see yourself. I’ve even read somewhere that authors shouldn’t try to figure out their voice because when you do, it becomes something constructed.

Zoe: Right? I’m all “What voice? I’m just telling the story.”

Kate: I like simple. I generally do my best to stay out of the way of the reader when I’m telling the story. I try to focus on the emotion and let that lead the way, and then I hide behind it.

Ana: It looks like we’re all trying to do kind of the same thing style-wise, still we all read different. I guess that’s voice.

Zoe: Must be!

Kate: Ha! What did you guys think of his name examples, when he was talking about not getting too precious with your characters’ names?

Ana: Honestly? I thought of Remus Lupin.

Zoe: It wasn’t what I was expecting when I saw the section heading, “Just use normal names.” I thought he was going to talk about how, if you’re writing contemporary (or historical real-world) fiction, people should (mostly) have the names you’d expect for people of those ages/locations, etc. I don’t think I’d notice much if people got “clever” in the way he describes.

Kate: I think, sometimes, that’s part of the voice, or the charm, of a book. It’s one of those layers that you might not notice the first time around, but once you do, it’s like a little in-joke. It’s part of what makes Shakespeare so great.

Ana: I don’t think I’d mind much as a reader, but it might be one of his pet peeves.

Kate: Oh, is he inserting himself into the text again?

Zoe: I hadn’t noticed him having pet peeves…

Kate: Lol. The last thing he talks about is not inserting yourself into the story. (See what I did there? Am I being too precious?)

Ana: He might have taken this advice for himself when writing this book….

Zoe: Yes, so don’t use your story for therapy, for imposing your political or religious (or plotting) views on readers, or to impress readers with your greatness.

Ana: Yes, that’s what blogs are for.

Zoe: He closes the chapter (and the book) with his advice for how to get readers to clamor for more: simply write emotionally gripping fiction. I can’t argue with that.

Kate: Nope.

Come back on Wednesday, when we’re going to talk about the book as a whole, and give it a rating.

Ana: Dun dun dun.

Three Dirty Birds, Story Trumps Structure, and Plot Flaws


At Ana’s blog today, talking about plot flaws and discussing the nifty little chart Steven James put in the book, to guide you to the chapter that will help you fix them.

On Change, and Turning The Bad Stuff to Good Purpose

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of Bite Me Tender’s release. It was a lighthouse to remind me that it wasn’t all doom and gloom, in a year that brought me unending turmoil and changes.

While it feels like the entire structure of my life has been through a tornado, it has also thrown me into a kind of mindset where anything is possible. If no structures are left, that leaves me free to create my own. Stumbling over this article at Cracked got me thinking about how we go about making changes and looking at what’s worked and what hasn’t for me. And so, I’m jumping into this–my second year as a published author–with a bunch of changes I’ve either started to implement, or have serious plans for. Interestingly enough, all the changes I’ve made or plan to make are aimed directly at reducing the amount of anxiety I deal with on a daily basis.

1. I’ve started running again. I haven’t done this in years, not since I worked as a paramedic. It was never my favourite exercise–weightlifting was always more my thing–but it was part of the recommended program for the job, so I did it. I probably wouldn’t have started again, except that my daughter decided she wanted to lose some weight, and I stumbled across Zombies, Run! at about that point in time. I’ve discovered a couple of things. One, it doesn’t take very long before the weight starts dropping off, even if you change nothing else. (And, heaven help me, ALL my jobs are sedentary.) Two: That 45 minute run (or walk–the Kitten doesn’t like running anymore) does more to handle my anxiety than all the drugs I’ve tried. Anything that reduces anxiety and helps me sleep is good for my writing. So many of my ‘no words’ days follow a night, or nights, where I didn’t sleep, or didn’t sleep well. I feel like I’ve lost so much productive time to this, and I’m still struggling to figure out how to deal with it.

I find myself jonesing for that run on the days that the Kitten and I don’t go, because it does feel good afterwards, and I think I’m going to start running on my own on the off days. The exchange I’m making is a bit of online time socializing with other writers, for the anxiety-reducing and health-increasing effects of the run, plus the fun of following the serial-story and collecting supplies for my base in the connected online game. (I was absolutely SHOCKED at how big a draw that was for me, since it’s a pretty simple game. But right now, I’m taking every chance to run or walk for extra supplies, because those darn zombies keep attacking my base!) This was, hands down, the easiest change to make.

2. I built myself an office out of a spare bedroom. I made it my own and, while I’m still trying to figure out what I need and what works best for me, I think it was a step in the right direction. The only issue I’m having is that it removes me somewhat from the rest of the house, which keeps me socially isolated. I suspect the next change I’m going to need to make will be to implement a strict schedule of when I’m allowed to be in here, otherwise I’d just lock myself away and emerge in ten years time a crazy old hermit with hair down to my ankles and the inability to speak in anything more than grunts and editing mark-up. I gave up some storage in my storage-impaired house and had to do a lot of sorting through junk and throwing things out, but having a space that’s mine, where I can keep research books open and never have to shut down my computer to make room for the supper dishes, is definitely worth it.

3. After the winter from hell, I’ve decided to make changes with the barn and how the ponies are kept. I’ve thrown out a LOT of junk, cleaned one side out, and gotten some pallets to put down on the floor, so that I don’t lose hay. I’ve also set aside some of the money I saved over winter to fix the North wall, so snow isn’t blowing in all winter, soaking everything and making a mess. I plan to go in and buy feed in bulk, 20 bags at a time, now that we have a working truck, so I can just make 3 or 4 trips to the feed mill per winter, instead of once a week. I took money I could have used for other things, and put up a serious, 90%-pony-proof fence, so I don’t need to worry about them getting out. (No fence is 100%-pony-proof, and anyone who tells you different is a liar.) It might seem silly to put money into the barn instead of the house, when both need work, but my anxiety last winter over things pony related was through the roof and contributed to the exhaustion and burnout I’ve been recovering from this summer, so this wasn’t a hard change to decide on. And I’m eager to see what kind of difference it makes, since they’re apparently changing the hours of my evening job, which will make scheduling a bit trickier. My hope is that this streamlining will leave me with more spare time to write, and cost me less in terms money I have to put out to keep Old Man Pony and the Red Mare.

4. I want to get farther ahead in my list of things I want to write about, the longer pieces that seem to give me fits, and I want the time to do them right. As The Editor in Question says, I have stories that age. By that, she means that the more time I spend with it, the more clearly I see it, and that I will continue to refine and make changes to a piece for as long as I have access to it. Working with longer pieces, that adds quite a bit to the time I need to do it right. To make that manageable, I need to buy myself some time. So, I’m working on some shorter pieces (still fun!), with the intention of giving myself some breathing room to really figure out these longer ones. I get Jaime and Henry back in December, which means I should either start looking into self-pub, or consider writing the next part of their story and trying to farm the whole thing out to someone. I’m also keeping myself to a strict ‘only work on these pieces’ rule, which is a change that I hope has enough pay-off for me to replace the ‘oh, this is what I feel like working on today’ mindset that I’ve been fighting all summer. (This is a bad habit I developed over the winter, when I was working three jobs, exhausted, burnt out, and stressed to the point where sleep was starting to become an occasional thing. So, perhaps, not so much a change, but a return to the me of last year, before everything went to hell.) I get really anxious when my timeline gets shortened–ask the Editor in Question. Which becomes a vicious circle. Maybe I should set aside some time to write an Emergency Submission, that I could keep in a file in case of scheduling conflicts? Which would require me wanting that security more than I want 4 releases in the next year. Not sure I’m there yet…

5. I want to read more, which means I’ve had to make the decision to give up social time online (again!), and small conveniences around the house, so I have money to spend on the books and time to read them. I want to read more craft books, and try to apply their advice to my writing. I want to read more good books, both MM and not, and dissect why what they’re doing works or doesn’t work for me. I want to read more bad books, because I’ve found that ripping them to shreds makes me paranoid about my own writing and more conscious of not doing whatever made me snark at that story.

6. Once winter hits, I want to streamline my day more, which means making some decisions about how things are organized right now, and perhaps adding infrastructure so that chores don’t take as long, or forcing myself to develop habits that will take the sting out of it when I really need it. (Sigh. I hate housework…) Someday, I hope, when the major repairs are done, I’ll be able to afford a maid to come in once a week. Which would require me wanting the maid enough to go through the house and finish throwing out all the junk. o.O Not there yet either…

be in love with your life

Most of all, I think I need to get back to this–being in love with my life. Which means giving up my worry, anxiety, and fear–they’ve served their purpose. Those emotions protected me and kept me prepared for the unexpected, but also kept me locked behind walls for most of the past year. I want to head out the gate, running shoes on, and tease all the zombies until their legs fall off. And then come home and write awesome zombie porn.

Because, after all, what’s life without a little challenge, right? :)

what doesnt kill me

Three Dirty Birds Talk Story Trumps Structure Ch. 23 and Kitty Was Confused


We’re over at Zoe’s blog again today, talking about revelation and transformation as it applies to characters. (I didn’t see the point, but you should read it and see what you think.) We also talk a little about How Many POV’s Is The Right Number?

Tuesday Guest Tickle: Saving Kane by Michele Rakes


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What’s the story about?

A twenty-something paramedic suffering from PTSD and a failing relationship with his high school sweetheart becomes embroiled in the tragic life of a young, gay man brutally beaten, raped, and left for dead.

Kane Abel can’t help falling for his caregiver, the handsome paramedic who saves his life, but he’s resistant. The one time Kane throws caution to the wind, he’s left with a wired jaw and a tracheostomy. He can’t take much more hurt. With his attacker’s promise to return, Kane lives in a constant state of fear, and with the ever-present paramedic, arousal.

Garrett Young struggles with the question of his sexuality, unable to get Kane out of his mind even as he fights against the demise of his long-time engagement with his girlfriend Amanda. Every day is complicated by his ongoing battle with PTSD and alcoholism, compounded by his fear for Kane’s life.

What MT, a staff member at Loose Id had to say about it:

Saving Kane is the debut story from new-to Loose Id author Michele M. Rakes. It’s m/m, and it’s not a gentle story. I like lighthearted books but I also like stories that have hard-luck characters who overcome odds and obstacles, and endure the angst and sometimes ungentle, unkind actions that come with it. Right now I’m sort of skimming as I format, but dayum, this looks good. Prolly not something you can gulp right down, but I reckon the story will stick to your ribs, so to speak.

A little preview:

The days all blend together. Two weeks feel like two months. Garrett’s the only one who makes the days stand out. By my bedside, during the night, schmoozing the night nurse into letting him stay. Sometimes, he sleeps in the chair.

The day nurse, Yolanda, enters my room. Her voice is full of cheer, and her Brooklyn accent’s so much easier on my nervous system. “Hey, you! Nice to see you again. Did you know Kane’s going home today?”

“Is he?” A low, familiar rumble fills the room, sending my skin into instant ripples of gooseflesh—a dark-chocolate voice.

Garrett’s back. The surprise of him in my room this early in the afternoon floods my body with a rare heat. Did he know I was leaving the hospital today? Did the night nurse mention something to him? I didn’t tell him. My instinct’s to play possum, always unsure of how I’m to behave with Garrett. I prefer to simply listen to the man talk, especially when he thinks I’m sleeping.

The ice pack over my eyes blocks everything except a vague light. I can’t see Garrett, but I imagine he’s in his usual spot. Long legs spread wide, his muscular form makes the chair appear small, and his uniform is rumpled from a night’s work.

I still don’t like the lights on; so much easier for me to hide in the dark. Garrett doesn’t mind. Yolanda urges me not to look in the mirror yet. I haven’t seen my face, avoiding the moment with diligence. I must be gruesome. I wonder what Garrett thinks of me, although at night he doesn’t seem to notice. Is he horrified by me in the light of day?

“I thought you might be his ride. I gotta say, you’re the only one who’s showed up.” Yolanda prattles on, filling Garrett in on all my secrets.

“He hasn’t had any other visitors? All this time?” Garrett asks, pinpointing my loneliness with a skewer of doubt.

“Oh, no, honey. You’ve been the only one today. Some guy visited him yesterday, but Kane had to send him home. The young man was a mess. Crying and carrying on like he’d been the one attacked. Poor Kane had to console him. Kyle or Lyle?” Yolanda’s voice lowers to a whisper. “Anyway, he talks about you. You’re his angel.”