Today we have the second Guest Post from Leah Charifson, pen name Leslye Lilker, widely known for her Star Trek fanfic about Sahaj, Spock's son he didn't know he had until the kid was 10.
I talked about THE AMBASSADOR'S SON, a novel about Sahaj first meeting Spock, last week, comparing it (favorably) to two widely published hardcover Best Selling novels of international intrigue, SAVING SOPHIE and VENGEANCE.
If the name Leslye Lilker sounds familiar, perhaps you read her previous Guest Post here, in 2015.
Since then she has been working on the new stories about Sahaj, running Sahaj Continued Group on Facebook, and re-issuing the older stories with updated editing, all while changing her employment status and moving.
So this week Leslye Lilker brings us the story of what she learned via launching into Fanfic writing, and discovering how the transition from reader to writer changes your perspective.
Also, it is harder than you think -- yet easier than you'd ever expect. Romance writers who are making that leap will tell very much the same story.
------------Quote Leslye Lilker--------------------
Jacqueline has set me the impossible task of discussing the learning curve I am on in my writing, in hopes that it will encourage beginning writers to persevere in learning to craft their stories.
I am not sure that I am the best example of someone who has negotiated the slippery slope. I have had lots of help along the way, I am willing to breakdown what works for me, with absolutely no claim to originality or totality.
At some point in time I have synthesized these steps so that I am able (or at least I try to) work on more than one section at a time.
It is human nature to tell stories.
We do it every time we meet our friends at the mall and we catch them up on what we’ve been doing. That is a story told orally, complete with body language and tone of voice, both of which make your tale come alive. If your audience, your friend, doesn’t get it, you can add details, or tell it in a different way. Authors do not have that luxury. An author must communicate with his audience through the use of rhetoric, the language chosen to persuade or impress his audience. This known as style.
All of the elements of a story come under this umbrella.
I don’t know anyone who can just sit down, put words on the paper, and come up with a compelling, cohesive story. As your high school English teachers told you, writing is a process, and there’s no getting around it, no matter how experienced, and how successful you are. Of course I didn’t let that stop me from putting an idea I had down on paper, publishing it in my first fanzine, and going to a convention. Thus began my education.
Letters of comment began to arrive. Most mentioned such things as, “plot holes,” “character motivation,” and “homophones.” I had no idea what these things were. Fortunately, the letters also in included words like, “great idea,” and “I love Sahaj.” With that encouragement I hooked up with people who knew more than I did, and let them read and comment on my stories. After a while I began to understand that you just couldn’t put an idea down on paper without finessing it, because your reader will not see the story the way you intended.
Here is my down and dirty process for writing the story:
Keep a writer’s diary. Write down all of your ideas, random thoughts, overheard dialogue as you have lunch out, anything at all that you might ever use in any story at any time. This will come in handy later on in the process. Also note down the things you like about other authors. You might even copy turns of phrases, or descriptions that jump out at you. Put them in quotes, cite your source, and learn from them. You also might do some research about the various elements that make up a story and write down notes for yourself.
The reason I say write it down is because the brain does not retain as well by reading the screen or print out as it does when you have to physically write something down.
The diary is also the place to tell yourself your story. Start with your theme, the universal truth, you want your audience to understand. If you cannot state your theme in one sentence you will not have an anchor on which to hook the other elements of your story. An example of a theme is, ‘When man fights nature, man loses.’ Now you can write an adventure story set in Alaska, when a man ignoring advice from experienced backpackers, sets out to meet his buddy across an unfamiliar trail. Oh wait. Jack London did just that in “To Build A Fire.”
For me, the characters come next. In your diary, write out your back story for each character. Put in every detail you can think of, because this is not going into your story, but into your brain so that you can call on parts of it as it comes naturally in the story. Your characters need to be three-dimensional, and flawed to be believable.
You’ll need a protagonist, the character who moves the story, with a task or a goal to accomplish. You’ll need an antagonist, who has a legitimate reason to prevent the protagonist from achieving his goal. Know what they look like and be prepared to describe them early on (Character description.) Write down their character traits, which is how they behave and react. You might even create a conversation between yourself and your characters. Beware though they might come and haunt you in your dreams!
Create a plot chart, just the way you did in high school. Start with whatever bit of exposition you need to create the setting (time and place.) That’s your starting point. On your way to the climax (turning point) you’re going to list each step the protagonist takes to achieve his goal. But every step is countered by the antagonist, which may or may not be another person. This step-counter-step creates conflict, i.e., man against man, man against nature, man against self, etc. The conflict resolution leads back to the theme.
Know the setting for the overall story and for each scene. WRITE THEM DOWN IN YOUR DIARY. Use them.
Now it’s time for your first draft.
WRITE IT DOWN.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to put your words on paper. At least it is for me because I am a visual, linear learner. I see a story as a living, breathing character, and when I do the first draft I consider it to be that character’s skeleton. I’ve heard other people use the hamburger analogy so I’ll do that too. That’s where the first draft is a hamburger.
Great. You’ve got an identifiable beginning, middle, and end. Now it’s time to add details which will make your reader see, hear, feel, taste, and smell what your character is experiencing (imagery.) Now is not the time to worry about diction or syntax. Just get the ideas down. In my analogy, these details are the organs that make the body work. In the hamburger analogy it’s adding lettuce and tomatoes, ketchup and onions.
Now go back to the beginning and multiply those details.
Do your words adequately convey the who, what, where, when, why, and how for each and every scene in your story? Does each scene have a beginning a middle and end? Does the reader understand the setting for each scene? Is it a…. forgive me… logical progression? Write it down. This is adding muscle and tendons, or bacon, mushrooms, and avocado.
Next step is to divide.
This is where you’re going to chunk ideas. You might have written a sentence in paragraph three that actually would be better in paragraph five. This is the time to move it there.
This is also the time to make sure that all paragraphs have a topic sentence and a transitional conclusion, so that one paragraph moves smoothly and logically (my favorite word) from one to the other. Another thing to look at is whether your vocabulary, your diction, is appropriate to your audience. It is said that an author should write to readers with an 8th grade reading level. Personally, I have emulated one of my favorite writers, Dean Koontz, who has sent me to a dictionary on many an occasion, and have chosen not to write down to my audience. I figure that anyone who loves Star Trek must be an intelligent being.
Since we are working on paragraphs this might be a good time for you to check your dialogue.
Dialogue is what your characters say. The purpose of dialogue is to move the story forward and reveal character traits to your reader. Spoken words go in quotation marks. You want to try to avoid ‘talking heads’ – dialogue that is not embedded into action to the point that the reader just sees two hand puppets talking to one another. Another thing is that each time the speaker changes he/she must go into a new paragraph.
Example of how not to do it:
“How are you, John?” “I’m fine. How are you, Jane?”
Example of how to do it:
Jane sauntered up to John, stood akimbo, and poked him in the chest with one elegantly sculpted nail. “How are you?” The words dared him to complain.
John, having survived the initiation, simply said, “I’m fine. How are you, Jane?”
Once your characters have reached their turning point, it is all falling action from there, leading to the denouement, where your protagonist has an epiphany, of sorts, and then you conclude your story, nice and neatly.
This is the skin and features of my characters, the hamburger bun, so you’re done, right?
Now it’s time to put it away for a day or two weeks. If you’re like me, you’ll immediately start getting ideas to change, fix, or add to what you have. Write them in your diary, and when you do your next draft, you’ll be able to incorporate them.
So what’s the next step?
You’re going to hate it.
You will retype the whole thing. Every. Single. Word.
You’ll be amazed at what you missed the first time and can now correct. This is what I call breathing life into my character, and for the burger, I guess it would be the first delicious bite.
You’re done now, right?
Now it’s time to read it aloud to someone, if you’re fortunate enough to have someone to read it to. It doesn’t matter if it’s a baby, or your dog, or even your mirror. Reading it aloud will point out places that need work that you haven’t already picked up. Don’t stop to fix it. Just mark the spot and read on.
Then fix it.
Done now, right?
Now it’s time for you to select two people whose writing and proofing skills you trust and admire and have them mark up your draft, because it still is a draft.
Then correct errors again.
You’re done now, right?
You may be sending your manuscript to an editor who wants additional changes.
So you make the changes, or argue ‘til you win, or pull your manuscript, and you get published.
Not necessarily. Your subconscious mind is still working, and the day after your work is published you think of ten things you want to change.
Solution: Sing “Let It Go” ten times and move on.
Now, you’re a writer!
(P.S. If this sounds like it was written by an English teacher it’s because I have just retired from that profession. A great book to look at is Thomas Fosters’ How To Read Like A Professor which breaks down the elements of writing and introduces many archetypes we find in what we read and write.)
-------------END QUOTE FROM LESLYE LILKER-----------
Isn't it odd how many friends of mine are English Teachers? Jean Lorrah is a retired Professor of English and my coauthor on many Sime~Gen Novels, and author of whole novels in my series.
If you take a close look at the Star Trek fanfic writers who started this whole fanfic phenomenon, (the precursor to self-publishing) you will find English Teachers, Librarians, Bookstore Managers, and all sorts of people who have stringent standards for their fiction, and their science, and their history. In other words, Star Trek fanfic writers have the same educational profile and tastes as Romance writers (and readers).
You can't get away with Historical errors in Historical Romance. The readers will out you on Twitter, for sure. And you can't get away with scientific errors in Science Fiction Romance.
Being the writer means intercepting factual errors and story-logic errors (plus grammar, spelling, punctuation) before the words are released to Readers -- because there will be errors, and readers do notice them, so fix them. But don't let fear of making an error in public stop you from blasting out that first draft, or those idea notes, any old which way. Being a writer means learning to fix all your mistakes - after you've made them. No matter how inept that first draft - you can FIX IT. You have the skill, the craft, and the fortitude to fix it.