JM Williams

A home for all things fantasy and sci-fi.

3 Tips for More Productive Writing

Jan
15

The past year and a half has given me a few insights about writing productivity that’s I’d like to share.

1) Wake up early and keep a regular schedule.

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I’ve had a lot of free time to write after quitting my full time job in 2016 (not having full-time employment has proved to not be the boon it’s cracked up to be). I work full days at different jobs from time to time, but many days I am just off for the whole day. I have found that waking up at a regular time, as if if it is a regular work day, sets me up for success later on. For me, this is around 7am. I think it has to do with creating the right mindset, expecting a day of work rather than a day of rest.

2) Put on pants.

I imagine this is much the same as the previous tip, setting the mood for work. It may be tempting to stay in sweats or PJs if you are going to be home all day, but putting on regular clothes tells your psyche that it’s time to get to busy. For me, that’s pants.

3) Note your ideas when they come, not when you think you have time.

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Even though I been blessed with a lot of time to write, I don’t always have time when I need it. In a similar way, I often get ideas at the absolute worst time–in bed, in the bath, in the car, etc. I’ve found that it is critical to take note of the idea once I have the slightest chance. If I am parked for a moment, waiting to pick someone up, I jot a note in my phone or record a voice note. If in bed, I often wake up to take a note then go back to sleep. If in the bath, I just mull it over until I get out. It has been shown that writing something down helps you remember.

Now, I have a couple dozen ideas in my notes and if I every find myself without something to write, I just have to look there. Also, reviewing my story notes from time to time often welcomes a spontaneous muse and helps me bring the story to fruition. This is precisely what happened with the most recent short story I wrote, which I submitted to the previous quarter of Writers of the Future.

In the end,

it’s about generating and maintaining the right state of mind. Any writer knows that if you don’t have the right mind, you can’t write well, even if you force it. And even if you wake up early and get dressed for success, it does not guarantee that the day’s writing will go off without a hitch. But it is an easy way to set the groundwork for a good day.

Hope these tips help! Good luck with your writing.

~JM

I will be sending out my next newsletter, in honor of the new year, which will include an exclusive video of myself, talking Iric and future projects, as well as the usual publication highlight and writing tips. If you’d like to see all that, and be part of the “cool” crowd, you can sign up to join the RABBLE on the right side of the page!

 

Thoughts on Classic Narrators

Jan
14

I’ve been working my way through H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, and was struck by a random thought. The narrative structure of the book is very similar to other contemporary works.

This is actually my first time with this particular work. I am also surprised by the shortness of it. I had been under the impression that The Time Machine was a novel, but it is in fact a novella. Only around 33,000 words depending on the source. Wells’s The War of the Worlds is only around 46,000 words. Both details have me thinking about the current demand of publishers of 80k or more words for fantasy and sci-fi books. Where does that come from? But that’s a question for another time.

For this post, I am thinking about the narrators used in The Time Machine and many of its contemporary works. The narrator takes the form of a side character who is witnessing the actions of the main character of the story. This is the same narrator used by Arthur Conan Doyle in the Sherlock Holmes stories, in the form of John Watson. Though I haven’t read it, I believe it is the same in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, accounts of the famous vampire conveyed by a third party. The same is true for Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, though you might not notice it as most of that novel is told in first-person. But this is a first-person account being heard and relayed by the narrator, who is not himself, the person who traveled back in time.

The Time Machine is similar to Twain’s work in that–at least what I have gone through so far–the narrator is not part of the actual story. He is simply a witness that relays this incredible story to us. It seems to me that classic fiction–for popular fiction for wide audiences emerged in the 18th and 19th centuries, as did the modern form of the novel–demanded very straight-forward, realistic narrators. That old writing question, that is now unnecessary but is often still asked, “How is this account delivered to the reader?,” is a critical component of classic novels. So you tend to find a lot of discovered letters, and third-party witness type stories.

We have grown a lot since that time. Now we feel no need to explain where a third-person account comes from, nor how the narrator knows what it knows. Though many would argue with me, I would even go as far to say that first-person narrators do not need to be accounted for. I have indeed written on the topic before.

It quite interesting to look back and see, what appears to be, much more rigidity than what we have in modern writing. There’s nothing wrong with having realistic narrators, especially if you’re writing historical fiction. I have even though of writing a “discovered letters” story myself. But it is not necessary. We have so many more narrative tools than they did back then.

I am having a lot of fun with The Time Machine, much more than with the last page of IT, which is becoming a major drag. Maybe I should get back to it, eh?

Thanks for reading.

~JM

I’m getting ready to send out my next newsletter, in honor of the new year. I will be including an exclusive video of myself, talking Iric and future projects, as well as the usual publication highlight and writing tips. If you’d like to see all that, and be part of the “cool” crowd, you can sign up to join the RABBLE on the right side of the page!

Aftermath of a Bad Decision

Jan
12
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photo by Hans Vivek

It was the worst mess Jared had ever encountered–nine years as a sanitation inspector could not have prepared him for the scene. Shredded paper was scattered all around; broken bottles were shattered on the floor, spilling their contents into a thick brown pool that smelled of urine; what were once ordered stacks of books and DVDs were now collected in a heap. The only thing that wound its way through his dumbfounded mind was the memory of a feminine voice saying, “Getting a cat will only be trouble, Jared.”

*Written as a response for the Three Line Tales Week 102 photo prompt.

I’m getting ready to send out my next newsletter, in honor of the new year. I will be including an exclusive video of myself, talking Iric and future projects, as well as the usual publication highlight and writing tips. If you’d like to see all that, and be part of the “cool” crowd, you can sign up to join the RABBLE on the right side of the page!

Thanks for reading!

~JM

Refuge — 3LineTales

Jan
05
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photo by Gemma Evans

The box truck’s paint was faded, with numbers on the side that meant nothing to Daryl. The old beast ran, which was the only thing that really mattered; that one truth had saved his life more times that he cared to count. So, he built a home inside the cargo area, a place of refuge from the maniac infested desert outside.

*Written as a response to the Three Line Tales week 101 photo prompt.

~JM

REBLOG: The Adventures of Iric Review

Dec
30

Thank you, Victorique, for the great review. I am surprised I got off so well. For those who don’t know, she is usually very hard on books! A 4 of 5 is a great score from her.

I really like this anthology. It doesn’t need you to constantly change characters, but each chapter is indeed a story. Resembles a serial in its own way but very much is still made up of pieces that all together work. Each one telling a little more about Iric as he begins to experience life. From […]

via Adventures Of Iric — Dreamingmtthoughts

An Ambitious Work

Dec
22

I hope that my comments yesterday on Stephen King’s IT did not come off as hyper-critical. I know I tend to rant when the passion gets in me.

I could have easily continued rambling on about what is wrong with the book (one thing that really bugs me is the over-reliance on pop culture references, which I find to be a very lazy sort of writing…but I’ll have to save that for a future post).

In all honesty, I am enjoying the book. It is a story I have always enjoyed, since I first saw the TV miniseries in 1990. I enjoy this book much in the same way I have enjoyed the last two Star Wars films–having fun on the ride, but acknowledging the many bumps along the way.

Many critics, including VOX, have described the book as “one of King’s most ambitious works.” Is it?

 

It is all too common to associate ambition with length. The phrase “ambitious work” is often directly tied to, or at least associated with, the work’s length. This is the case with the VOX article, where the length of the book is given in the same sentence where it is described as ambitious.

But is length all that matters when considering a work ambitious?

My answer is no. In fact, I would argue the most ambitious novel you could write today would be 40,000 words. That’s the standard length given for the cutoff between novel and novella. I mean exactly 40,000 words, not one word more or less. To put things in perspective, IT is 444,414 words, more than ten times the length I am suggesting. And the book needs to be a complete, deep, and fulfilling novel in its own right.

Anyone can tick off all the boxes on the novel-writing checklist with enough pages. The test of a really good writer is doing more with less, efficiency and brevity. All the more difficult it is to hit an exact word count without either filler or holes.

But as I mentioned in the last post, we have a tendency to equate length with quality. Longer works are “ambitious” while shorter works are generic. It really bothers me how many speculative fiction publishers have minimum word count requirements of 75,000 words or more when the cutoff for a novel is 40. They often state outright “we will not even look at anything below this.” Why not? You cannot know what you will find unless you look.

The first fantasy book I wrote, In the Valley of Magic, clocked in at 66,000 words. This was after several revisions that added to the length. But the work itself, structurally, is really unlike anything else out right now that I have seen or heard of. That’s why I started with that project, thinking that a unique and novel approach to the fantasy novel (pun intended) would be an easy sell. It’s disheartening to see that it has been rejected several times without consideration just because it didn’t meet some arbitrary length requirement.

On a side note, Fiction Vortex, who is publishing my fantasy series Call of the Guardian, will be picking In the Valley of Magic up later in 2018, after they get their app (Fictionite) and core stories rolling. Good thing about this is that their contracts are dope. Bad part is the waiting, after already waiting an eternity (okay, only since March, but it feels like forever).

All this is because science fiction and fantasy readers have been led to believe that length is quality. Well, sorry it be the bearer of bad news, but length is more often indicative of weak, lazy, bloated writing. You get length when you refuse to cut what needs to be cut, when you do not take care with every word choice. And of course, there is that sentiment that with a longer work you are getting more product for your money. But in the arts, that is not necessarily the case.

This is why I enjoy writing flash and microfiction. These forms force you to consider the efficiency of your words. They train you to be a better writer.

IT is too long for it’s own good, having many sections and even full chapters that should have been cut in the editing process. I don’t find that ambitious at all.

All that being said, I still enjoy the story and find Pennywise to be a disturbing and compelling manifestation of evil. Speaking of which, I’d better get back to it. I’m almost to the “apocalyptic rock fight.”

Here’s an important question, since if you are following this blog you probably read some sci-fi and fantasy: Would you be turned off of a fantasy book if it was “too short”? Would you open it to look at the writing, or just pass on sight alone?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments

~J.M.

What Makes a Classic?

Dec
21

This is something that has been brewing in my head for some time. Perhaps fermenting is a better word, because it’s begun to stink.

I ask you, what makes a book a classic? Besides that some stuffy old white men in an ivory tower say so. What makes a book or a story endure?

It’s well acknowledged that Moby Dick is terrible long winded, that Melville in his opus, had a tendency to go on long tangents.

The book Dune, by Frank Herbert, is often consider the best science fiction novel of all time. But it, too, suffers from some weak writing, and more critically, constant and almost nonsensical point-of-view jumps. Not only is the POV done in a way to reveal everything upfront, leaving no room for the reader to wonder or inquire about events or character motives, the POV even jumps heads after one or two paragraphs!

An interesting side note is the fact that the “best science fiction book of all time” is actually more fantasy than science fiction. Sure it’s set in space, in what seems to be the future, but little about how the world functions is explained, and explanation is what makes science fiction scientific. But I digress.

Both Moby Dick and Dune are considered by many to be classics. Both have been reprinted continuously and have had their stories told in other formats such as film, to this day. This is despite the fact that if someone were to have pitched either manuscript to a modern agent or publisher, it probably wouldn’t make the cut for the problems I have already mentioned.

What’s another famous book that has been reprinted and turned into film several times?

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Tim Curry will always be Pennywise to me.

Now, I’m not going to suggest that It is a literary masterwork. But Stephen King is one of the most popular writers of our time. And as noted in The Guardian, “It is one of King’s most enduring novels; it’s crossed over from just being read by his fans, and become a part of a wider cultural consciousness.”

But IT is far from a great book. In places, it is even outright bad. I am currently about sixty percent through the audiobook, but I know the story, I’ve seen the movies. And I am becoming more and more convinced that the movies are simply better.

Most people will tell you, about any film adaptation, that the book is better. This is primarily due to the book having more content, and being able to explain the characters better, cover more ground. In the case of IT, length is a bane not a boon.

Clocking in at 1100 pages or more, depending on the format, the book is a beast. Length is not, by itself, a problem. There are many long books that work just fine. But people seem to have a tendancy to equate length to quality, that a long epic must be some sort of masterpiece. Masterpiece IT is not.

It was Stephen King himself that famously said in his manual On Writing to “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” To this he was rehashing the age old writing rule of write once, cut twice. Writers today are expected to cut down their work, to make it efficient and concise.

It’s perhaps not surprising that On Writing was first published in 2000, almost 15 years after IT. And it shows.

In this book, King violates almost all of his writing rules. In regards to cutting and editing, the book has several sections and even chapters, that have no bearing on the central characters. They might be nice and scary chapters, they might illuminate the monster a bit, but they are far from essential. They would not survive a modern publishers red pen.

The structure of the book is all over the place, and relies on the main character having amnesia, an old cliche. There’s a reason why the films are more appealing. They are linear, and don’t really mention the amnesia bit. It is, in fact, wholly unnecessary for the characters to not remember the events of their past in order to bring the memories up in the narrative bit by bit. It is a a tired, and unnecessary narrative tool.

Then there is the writing itself. King said in On Writing, “Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created for the timid writer in mind.” Well, King must have been timid in his earlier days, because his book is just stuff with adverbs, bad adverbs. Things like “[the door] banged gustily” and “sitting miserably.”

These combinations of verbs and adverbs don’t even make sense. Adverbs are tied directly to the verb they are modifying. So in the case of “banged gustily”, while King surely meant to mean that the closing of the door caused a gust of wind, what it really means is the sound of the bang was like the wind, as in not loud or at all intimidating. And how does someone “sit miserably”? When I heard that one, the first thing that came to mind was sitting on thumb tacks or something. The miserableness must be related to the verb sitting, that’s how adverbs work. It does not relate to the state of the person sitting. To convey that, you should say something like “Richie was miserable, sitting by himself.”

King continues his assault on adverbs in On Writing, saying “I insist you use the adverb in dialogue attribution only in the rarest and most special of occasions.” Tell that to the guy who wrote IT. I would guess that more than a quarter of the dialogue tags in that book have adverbs. There are whole exchanges where each new dialogue tag has some cute adverb after it. Some are just bad, like “‘daddy… ‘ she whispered huskily.” How do you whisper huskily? A husky voice to me is one that is deep and resonant, the opposite of a whisper.

And of course there’s the problem with Beverly. King should be given credit for how socially conscious his book is. He addresses class, and racism. You even get the feeling that he tries to deal with sexism, too, but he fails. The book is horribly sexist. The only lead female character is constructed solely through her relationships to men. She is also the only character that is sexualized, and often. We are introduced to her in a chapter section that is in the POV of her abusive husband.

Moreover, I have trouble believing that Beverly, after being abused by her father, would fall in with another abuser. My understanding is that child abuse makes people hyper-vigilant, and turns them into future abusers, not victims. There is a time when, during that introductory section, I get the feeling that King might be leading us on, that Tom Rogan just thinks he is in charge and it’s Beverly abusing him. But no joy.  Tom Rogan turns out to be one of the most cliched, and unbelievable characters I have ever read (“I’m going to teach her a lesson”–does any man, even the most abusive chauvinist really think that? I feel like they probably don’t process what they are doing until it’s done).

So with all the problems in this book, and the others mentioned earlier, why are they considered classics?

It’s the story.

King’s book might have problems with it’s prose and structure, but the story is incredible. There’s a reason why Moby Dick is replicated in countless revenge stories. Most people know what Romeo and Juliet is about, but can’t recite more than a few lines from it and often mistake the meaning (wherefore art thou, Romeo?). But the stories are timeless.

The stories are classic.

Well, that’s all the time I have for right now. I think I’ve said my peace about IT. Now I need to finish it. The audiobook is 44 hours! What in the heck?

What do you guys think? Have you read any classics that probably wouldn’t cut it today?

~J.M.

Audiostory on Tall Tale TV

Dec
19

Chris Herron of Tall Tale TV did an awesome job reading one of my Iric stories. The production quality is the some of the best I have come across for short stories and indie podcasts. His pacing, tone, voices and accents, everything about this production is just great. I cannot offer enough praise. I have been invited to submit more work and I certainly will.

Without further fuss, here is the story:

Wasn’t that great? If I were a rich man, I’d pay this guy to do the whole collection for Audible!

Thanks for listening!

~J.M.

Speaking of the collection, you can get your copy below. Both kindle and ebook versions are available for purchase.

Celebrating the Big 35!

Dec
17

No, I’m not that old yet. Almost. My time for running off to become an FBI agent is running thin.

No, in this case the 35 refers to my 35th short story acceptance. And a humor story no less. At least that’s what my submission tracker is telling me. But could be lying to me. 

This most recent acceptance came from Space Squid, for a flash story that I originally posted to the blog about an old Viking having a midlife crisis. I had almost forgotten about this one, having sent it to the Squid way back in December! Color me surprised when I got an email that started with “We apologize for the delay but…” Color me extra shades of neon when I saw that the phrase didn’t end with “we’ve decided to pass on your work,” as is typical.

I will post more details when they come, for now I am going to just bask in childlike giddiness for a while. 

Hope you guys are having an equally productive weekend! Now I really need to get back to Call of the Guardian. The series won’t ever release if I don’t write it!

~J.M.

REBLOG: An Open Letter to Netgalley and Goodreads

Dec
17

Thanks to Laura for sharing this important information. I have just started on Goodreads as an author, have my first book listed on my account, and have yet to start working on giveaways (though I planned to). I am an American writer, and write in a genre that is more popular in the US (SF/F) but many of my blog followers are international peers, and I love that. I have already run into trouble trying to get copies of my book to them through Amazon (I’ve ended up having to manually send MOBI files). I recently did a giveaway on Amazon, which was only available for US residents. I was hoping to do more with Goodreads. If anyone is concerned about this issue, please read the original post in full.

~J.M.

via An Open Letter to Netgalley and Goodreads