Sometimes the hardest part about writing isn’t finding ideas or knowing how to begin, it’s maintaining a flow so you actually finish what you started. It’s not quite total writer’s block since you’re already on the move, but a writer’s road block, if you will. This trick that Star Trek: The Next Generation staff writers used can help you keep on truckin’.
I do this all the time. I once had a character named Mr. French Name.
Cell phones ruin everything. As others have pointed out (for example, here, here, here, and here) many plots of movies or books or television shows wouldn’t work if the characters had cell phones. One way to fix that is to set your story before the advent of the smartphone, sometimes way before. Of course, writing historical fiction had its own problems. You have to do a ton of research to make sure you get everything right, and if you miss anything, you’d best believe you’re going to get called on it.
I’ve written my fair share of historical fiction. My vampire trilogy Daughters of Shadow and Blood takes place at various times over the last four hundred years. My new urban fantasy series Dreadful Penny takes place in the 1970s. What I’ve discovered is that in a lot of ways it’s easier to set fiction farther in the past than more recently.
If the story is set a hundred or two hundred years ago, we know people dressed differently and talked differently and had different customs. It’s easier to spot all the ways life was different and easier to take those differences into account. When writing near-past historical, it’s just as easy to miss tiny details that are different because the world is still mostly recognizable. Here are a few of the difficulties I encountered writing Dreadful Penny.
Penelope, my main character, is a private detective, and when she’s investigating a case, of course there needs to be a way for her to record evidence visually. Early on in my draft I had a small existential crisis because I suddenly realized she didn’t have a smartphone, and what is she going to use to to take pictures if she doesn’t have a smartphone? This is an actual question that my brain came up with. For a solid fifteen minutes I agonized over this problem, until I suddenly realized the solution:
Yes, they had these things called cameras. Even instant cameras, so Penelope wouldn’t have to wait two weeks for the pictures to be developed at the drug store like those barbarians of the past.
In another scene I have a character working at a desk, going through his company’s finances. He doesn’t have a computer because this was the state-of-the-art in personal computing in 1972:
So I have him working on an adding machine, which looks like this:
Except I could think of what it was called. I had to ask someone. Otherwise it was going to be the “scrolly paper pully thingy with buttons.”
In the same scene I had him working on a spreadsheet, which (surprise!) actually used to be sheets of paper you wrote on with a pencil or pen:
One of my critique partners pointed out, though, that most people are going to be confused because that word is associated so much with computers now. People aren’t going to think of paper. So just I wound up changing it from “spreadsheet” to “ledger.”
Another issue I had was with a character in college. Penelope needs to call her, but I’d forgotten to take into account that at the time, most college students didn’t have telephones in their dorm rooms. There was one communal telephone for the dorm, or maybe for the hallway, and everyone was forced to fight to the death share. Incidentally, (mild spoiler) when Penelope calls, she gets the dreaded busy signal, a sound future generations will never hear.
So, writer friends, anyone else had similar experiences writing near-past historical fiction?
Writers are obsessed with routines. With the exception of religion and perhaps grooming, no pursuit is as closely joined to the idea of the Holy Routine as much as writing is. It’s why writers’ routines have become an entire genre of web content. Frustrated scribes can easily find hundreds of lists online detailing the various schedules of their successful and productive counterparts, all laid out neatly like an instruction manual. The subtext of these compilations is always the same: You need a routine, so why not try one of these?
Overall not great, but I did manage to get one novella written in my new series Dreadful Penny, a ’70s noir/urban fantasy/Southern Gothic mashup. I’m really excited about that one. Look for it in early March! As for the rest, hope springs eternal.
I’d also like to blog more. So if anyone had any ideas about what they’d like to see me ramble about, let me know! Better get to work.
More than 10 years of writing, rewriting, Wikipedia, libraries, reading, revision, proofreading, first drafts, second draft, third drafts, red pens, ink cartridges, paper, Word, Scrivener, track changes, critique groups, conversations with friends, late nights, large coffees, writing conferences, conventions, query letters, synopses, rejections, Facebook, twitter, blog posts, and now it’s done.
If you’ve dreamed of writing your own novel(s) but haven’t yet written anything besides the first two chapters—and trust me, I’ve been there—you’re probably wondering how I got it all done, in addition to my everyday workload and all of the other stuff that goes into a life.
Aside from finding consistent time to write every day (even just a few hundred words), a lot of the advice in this article probably wouldn’t work for me, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work for someone else. Courtesy of Lifehacker.
Do you write chronologically? Or are you prone to writing whatever scene strikes your fancy? Do you skip around, hop ahead, circle back? Or are you inclined to move from scene 1 to scene 2 to 3 and beyond?
Contrary to our romanticized notions, writers don’t just sit around all day, drink coffee and Scotch, and wait for inspiration to strike. Like any other job, they have to be disciplined and productive. While that does involve lots of coffee, it also requires hard work. Here’s how some famous authors have kept their nose to the grindstone.
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