In today’s Journal
* Quotes of the Day
* Five Days Left
* Don’t Kill the Scene (notes from a grouchy old writer)
* Of Interest
Quotes of the Day
“My stories have led me through my life. They shout, I follow. They run up and bite me on the leg—I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off.” Ray Bradbury
“The best description of my career as a writer is, ‘At play in the fields of the Lord.’ It’s been wonderful fun, and I’ll be damned where any of it came from.” Ray Bradbury
Five Days Left
If January 1, the official beginning of a new week, month and year, has any significance for you from a goal-setting standpoint, you have five days left.
Have you considered your goals for 2023 yet? I have two pieces of advice:
1. Whatever goals you set, I urge you to break them down into smaller, more easily achievable bits.
It’s completely ridiculous to even think about writing 24 novels in a year, yet in the first 7 months of 2021 I wrote 13 novels, an average of one every two weeks. The average length of those novels was 44,546 words, an average of 3181 words per day.
I didn’t set out to write 13 novels in 7 months. I set out to write 3000 words per day. I wasn’t worried about whether or how many short stories or novels would result from achieving that daily goal. Which leads me to my second bit of advice:
2. Whatever goals you set, make them quantifiable.
Saying your goal is to write 12 (or 1 or 2 or 6) novels in a year is not quantifiable because a novel can be anything from 25,000 words on up. It’s like saying you’re going to write a certain number of sentences or paragraphs or pages per day.
On the other hand, if you set and reach a certain daily word-count goal, you WILL write more short stories, novellas and novels than you expected.
My grandpa used to say of the gas tank on his old Chevy pickup, “If you keep the top half full, the bottom half will take care of itself.”
Same thing here. If you strive to reach your daily word-count goal, the number of stories and novels you write will take care of itself. Those words have to go somewhere.
If I, my friend Robert and my friend Dawn each wrote exactly 1,000,000 words of fiction in a year, all in novels, I will have written 20 50,000-word novels, Robert will have written 11.111 90,000-word novels, and Dawn will have written 8.333 120,000-word novels.
The number of novels doesn’t make any of us more or less prolific than the others. The 1,000,000 words makes us all pretty prolific for this age.
Don’t Kill the Scene (notes from a grouchy old writer)
We’ve been watching a Netflix SF series that was pretty good when it started. Which is to say it was pretty good until the first high-tension We Must Act Now action scene.
Depending on your skill level you can mix poignancy with tension, and human emotion with the immediacy of emergency.
For example, a fireman who is using the jaws of life to cut through a car door and extract his wife and child, who are lying bloodied but very much alive on the front seat, certainly will feel some emotion.
That’s perfectly natural, and a good writer will know how to allow the character to express that emotion while continuing to do what’s necessary to save his wife and child.
Or, if that character, based on his past behavior and his personality, is not capable of setting aside his emotions or controlling them in order to do what is necessary, another character will pull him away where he can watch as they free his wife and child. You can see this in action in pretty much any of the NCIS or 911 (or other) major series on television.
My point is, the characters won’t suddenly forget they’re in an emergency situation. To return to my example, the fireman won’t simply stop trying to effect a rescue so he can launch into a two- or three-minute soliloquy to the other firemen about all the wonderful years he and his wife have had together and the moment they first met and the birth of their child and, oh, all the wonderful gag gifts they’ve bought each other over the years ’cause those were really funny, ha ha, hyuck hyuck hyuck.
In real life he would save all of that for later, right? Maybe until AFTER he has extracted the people he loves and sent them in an ambulance to a hospital?
He probably will even climb into the ambulance with them and maybe deliver his heartfelt memories into the camera then.
Or he might even reflect his emotions in a layer over the top of trying to effect a rescue.
But he won’t simply set aside the rescue attempt and deliver his speech In Place Of the ongoing action. And seriously, Everybody Knows That. If you trust in what you’ve already absorbed and learned over the years about Story, you would never write it like that.
Welp, the Netflix series I’m talking about was written from the conscious, critical mind. Every word was what the writer(s) THOUGHT should be inserted at that point. I can almost see the actual characters, standing off to one side, leaning back against a wall, their arms crossed over their chest, smirking and saying, “Aw, c’mon, man!”
Because at least one time in practically every episode of the Netflix series, an absolute, time-sensitive emergency arises, and every time the action stops—is supplanted with, not supported by—a syrupy sweet soliloquy.
In one scene, the emergency was announced with a realization that a sibling is missing and possibly in real danger.
Of course, the characters, who often move as a herd (seriously, it’s like watching a group of five year olds play soccer), found the sibling and indeed she was afflicted. (She was afflicted by a horizontal sword slash that severed her vocal chords but somehow didn’t even nick her carotid artery. But that’s a topic for another time.)
Anyway, per every emergency scene script that’s ever been written anywhere by anyone, the characters arrived on the scene just in time to save their sister’s life. Fine.
To be sure we got it, one of them yelled something like, “She’s losing blood! We have to get her to the hospital!”
Um, nope. You’re wrong. They DIDN’T pick her up and pack her off to a hospital.
Instead, they all crouched around her and, incredibly, the sense of urgency disappeared. Comepletely.
One character knelt over his grievously wounded sibling, even lifted her up and hugged her, then chatted for awhile about how much he cares for her and all the wonderful times they’ve had over the years. And while he was doing that, the others—did absolutely nothing.
There were zero normal human reactions, least of all, “Hey, you maybe wanna save that crap for later? We have to get her to a hospital, remember? It says so on page 16 of the script.”
But no. They sat around and watched as the afflicted one’s lifeblood seeped into the floor.
Meanwhile, of course, the background music morphed from dramatic, driven, drumbeat action as they were arriving on the scene into hearts and flowers delivered by a weeping violin.
Okay. At long last, I’m tired of my own voice. This stuff is something every one of you already know, if you’ll only trust in yourself enough to let go and just write.
As for the “writers” who actually got paid to write this craptrap, all I can say is I hope someday they’ll learn to trust themselves and maybe not write by committee. I think the series was probably written during free period in a high school library by a group of lovesick, angst-ridden teenage poets. (My sincere apologies to any lovesick, angst-ridden teenage poets who might take offense. Trust me, things will get considerably worse.)
Anyway, my point is, um, Don’t Do That.
There are ways to add psychological suspense and emotional tension while the necessary action is ongoing.
Almost all of my books have elements of psychological suspense and emotional tension—often during incredibly tense emergency situations—but it is NEVER permissable to stop what in the real world would be a necessary next action so a character can make a speech. Never.
Okay, that’s more than enough for today. Please don’t ask me the title of the series. And if you recognize it, please don’t mention it by name in any comments.
Talk with you again soon.
See “Only Two Days Left On The Time Travel Bundle” at https://deanwesleysmith.com/only-two-days-left-on-the-time-travel-bundle/. In case you’re interested.
The Journal…………………………………… 1460 words
Writing of WCG 7 Santa Fe 2 (novel tentative title)
Day 10… 2524 words. Total words to date…… 27438
Day 11… 3156 words. Total words to date…… 30594
Day 12… 1065 words. Total words to date…… 31659
Day 13… 2380 words. Total words to date…… 34039
Day 14… 3159 words. Total words to date…… 37198
Day 15… 3072 words. Total words to date…… 40270
Total fiction words for December……… 56684
Total fiction words for the year………… 271658
Total nonfiction words for December… 227500
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 220830
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 492488
Calendar Year 2022 Novels to Date…………………… 4
Calendar Year 2022 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2022 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 70
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31
Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. Because It Makes Sense, I trust my characters to tell the story that they, not I, are living. This greatly increases my productivity and provides the fastest possible ascension along the learning curve of Craft because I get a great deal more practice at actually writing. It will do the same for you if only you trust it.