I write like…

July 29, 2010 at 5:35 am (Thoughts on Writing, Voice) (, , , , , , , , , )

I finally gave in and tried this though not with an open mind and I have to admit my thoughts about this were well justified. Using the prologue from a work-in-progress I fed in various paragraphs and samples into the I Write Like site and according to it’s analysis I write like:

First 200 words: Raymond Chandler (which is an insane comparison)

Next 150 words: Douglas Adams (which is flattering but really quite untrue)

Next 150 words: Cory Doctorow (hadn’t heard of him before and had to google him to find out, no idea what his writing style is)

Next 200 words: Dan Brown (now it is just being mean to me)

Final 100 words: Stephen King (again flattering but untrue).

Now how in one prologue of just over 700 words did I manage to be that schizophrenic? And how can you possibly write like Douglas Adams and Dan Brown and Stephen King and Raymond Chandler all in one cohesive text. In case they hadn’t noticed, they have very different writing styles. extremely different. As in, if they were ant colonies they would devour one another different.

I went into this sceptical about it having any accuracy. I assumed it would make some generic assumption about your writing and spit out the name of someone famous to keep you happy and you would tweet it once, the end. What I didn’t expect was that pieces of the same text would come back with such incredibly different results which makes you wonder what exactly it is looking for in the text.

So I dropped the entire 700 words in and it came back with Cory Doctorow. But if I put the first 350 in it comes back with Raymond Chandler and the final 350 come back as Dan Brown. There doesn’t appear to be any underlying logic here.

Did this give me any insight into my writing? Not really. I’m trying to imagine Dan Brown interjecting into the middle of one of Douglas Adams’ novels and I must say it is an amusing thought but that’s about as far as it goes.

Who do I write like? I write like me and that’s all I can do.

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Politics in Fantasy

July 25, 2010 at 6:04 am (Plot, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I have this story outline I’ve been kicking around forever and I have always wanted to write it. Yet every time I’m between projects or looking for something new I have chosen not to begin this particular project.

There may be a very good reason.

Essentially the story is a political thriller but set between two governments that don’t actually exist in a world that also doesn’t exist. See, I’ve always been interested in politics and diplomacy and this story kind of evolved out of that. It really is a guide on how not to be diplomatic and yet still not cause a war. The focus is on two characters that represent opposing governments but each have their own agenda independent of their respective governments.

The reason I don’t think I’m ever going to write this story is because I can’t think of anyone who would want to read it. The sheer number of people that don’t like real politics kind of convinces me that finding out about fictional politics wouldn’t really work for most people. And while other authors have used fictional governments as the scene to make social commentary, that isn’t what I would be intending. The story would simply be about the characters and there would be no social statement.

I have to wonder how many ideas are out there floating around that won’t ever see fruition because their owner decides they just don’t fit their current needs.

Do you have an idea you’ve sent to limbo?

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Query, Query, Query

July 18, 2010 at 5:31 am (Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , )

I’m going to admit right up front that I am terrible at writing query letters.

A query letter is kind of like writing a cover letter of a resume when applying for a job and I was never any good at that either. For one fairly important reason. I can’t talk myself (or my work) up.

Even when I say something nice about myself or my work I have this niggling need to qualify it or use low modality to devalue the statement. This makes it really hard to write a half decent letter at the best of times. Add in a dab of anxiety about the possible outcome and a smattering of anticipation and what you have is a perfect recipe for word muck and nothing good is ever going to come out of that.

I know I am not alone in the being bad at writing query letter’s department. I’m quite certain there are a lot of people also blundering around in here with me. So how do you write a better query letter? Clearly I haven’t figured out how to write a brilliant letter yet but I’m going to share some advice with you and it is the advice you will find nearly everywhere online if you look for ways to improve your query letter.

1.  Read the guidelines every time you submit. Don’t read the guidelines for one agent/publisher and assume the guidelines will be the same on the next one.

2.  Even if like me you can’t write a brilliant query letter, you can at least check the basic spelling and grammar of the letter.

3.  Visit lots of author blogs. Lots of authors out there have written their list of tricks and guides for writing queries and a lot of that information is really helpful as to what to include and what to leave out.

4.  Be professional. As I said at the beginning, writing a query letter is kind of like writing a cover letter for a job and you always need to put your best foot forward. Set the letter out properly and be relatively formal and professional.

5.  When in doubt, ask or search. Don’t guess. If you don’t know what they actually want in your query letter, read the submission guidelines again, the frequently asked questions and anything else that may tell you what you are and are not to include.

The reason I’m remembering how bad I am at writing query letters is that I’ve finally decided to try to get a manuscript I shelved last year published. I’ve been dusting it off and cleaning up the rough edges but it was more or less ‘complete’ when I shelved it and decided to focus on other things. A friend of mine recently asked what was happening with it and was shocked when I told her I’d put it aside and that was enough to make me want to revisit the project. So here I am, writing another query letter and hoping I don’t stuff it up too badly.

Best of luck to everyone out there writing query letters.

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Making Stuff Up

June 6, 2010 at 5:50 am (Setting, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , )

Even though I write fantasy I kind of avoid just making random things up. I tend to read widely and borrow bits from here and there and put them together in new ways.  There’s a reason for this. When you just make stuff up it tends to sound like it is entirely made up because people don’t have any kind of connection to it or understanding of it. They have no history with the concept and so it becomes a harder idea to sell to the reader in terms of believability (and despite writing fantasy I know that I want my reader to believe the world they are in, even if only for a little bit).

That said, I’m being a little more ambitious with my latest WIP. I’m still basing most of the creatures and things on common mythologies but I’m definitely adding more of my own designs to the mix. Whether this will work or end up an incomprehensible mess of overly descriptive fluff is yet to be determined but I’m really enjoying the process. I’ve drawn on most of my previous knowledge about miscellaneous beasties and thought about my favourite creatures from movies and television and then still considered things I’ve read about in other stories and taken a bit from here, there and everywhere to come up with some really interesting creatures to populate my world.

For interesting read deadly and just plain nasty.

Of course I then have the fantastic problem of trying to figure out what to name these things. I’ve learned not to attach any name to something until I’m sure it is right because names, once used, tend to stick and that can lead to disaster if the name was utterly wrong to begin with. I’ve been describing each new addition to the world to a few friends and been judging by their faces as to whether I’ve totally lost touch or not. And if their faces weren’t letting me know than the strained tones as they say words like ‘interesting’ or ‘that’s different’ certainly would.

I think every writer needs that test audience, particularly if they are venturing into unfamiliar territory. And I’ve carefully selected the order I talk to people in. Fantasy fans first, because that’s who I want to read the stories. But fantasy readers tend to be more accepting of bizarre so if the idea passes that test I check it out on a few people who don’t go for fantasy at all just to see if I can convince them such a creature could exist.

You know, when you are kid you don’t worry about all these things. Of course the cupcakes joined together and formed a massive creature with jelly eyes and a dress made out of sprinkles. You don’t worry whether you can sell that idea to anyone, you just do it.

Oh well.

How often do you make things up and do you run them by a test audience first?

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