Please welcome my guest blogger, writer Greg Small. I can’t decide if Greg is one of the funniest thriller writers or most thrilling humor writers I’ve ever read. In response to my request for a bio, he offers the following unprofessional summary:
So, how about a top five-ish list of things I’d tell you about myself if I was actually introducing myself to you over dinner and a beer. Or two. No politics, no religion. Just general stuff.
1) No matter what the question is, books are the answer. I may have more book shelves than furniture, but that’s ok. Books make me happy.
2) Humor helps. We don’t all think the same things are funny, but funny is one of the best things we humans do to help us survive.
3) Science. Just science. The world, even the universe is opening up at an amazing pace. Pick two or three things you think will change the world (or maybe even save the world) and follow them. Fusion. Genetics. Batteries. AI. Graphene. The pace is insane, and the world is changing before your eyes if you watch for it. Don’t miss it because of all the day to day nonsense that crowds the headlines in your news feed.
4) I love food, and I believe food is love. Cooking meals with and for family and friends is one of the highest forms of sharing I can think of. I do it often.
5} Scotch rocks.
6) Couldn’t stop, could I? Ok: Neil DeGrasse Tyson, my favorite astrophysicist. If you’re not paying attention to him, please start.
My Writing Process
by Guest Blogger Greg Small
In order to improve my writing, I’ve recently been trying to practice mindful self-awareness.
Unfortunately all I’ve really become aware of is that my mind is a dark and scary place, and I probably shouldn’t spend too much time in there without a responsible adult chaperone. If I back away slowly, usually no one gets hurt. Sometimes, you just don’t need to see how the sausage is made.
That said, there are occasionally bits that pop out of my brain that are potentially good novels. Really good novels actually. Or they would be, if I could find someone to write them. In the meantime, I try to hack them up myself, and I’ve become quite fascinated with the process of writing.
I’ve read many sites that promise to teach me how to quickly and efficiently write the books that are in my head. These sites are extremely helpful. For other people. For the life of me, whatever my intentions, once I actually start the writing process, all the rules seem to go out the window.
So, if I can’t follow a plan laid out by someone else, how exactly do I write a novel? And does my process mirror, in any way, the models put forth by the “experts”?
To answer that question, I’ve been observing myself (from a safe social distance, of course) as I write, and am beginning to understand how I construct stories. I thought I would share this rather innovative and useful process with you so that you can stop, back away slowly, and then run like hell.
It’s really the only reasonable response.
For me writing works something like this:
1) Find the key idea. Create an inspiring sentence or perhaps a short paragraph. Capture the essence of something new and interesting. Very exciting. At this point, when I have that first thrilling paragraph done, I often feel like the Nobel Prize is in the bag this time.
2) Write a seminal scene. I create interaction between a couple key players establishing a tone for the dialog and the beginnings of character. Make it snap, sizzle and sing! Of course since I don’t really know anything about the story, this scene is happening in a complete vacuum. No idea where, when or why. But who cares? We’ll fix that later, right? The important thing is we’re writing. Just like real writers.
3) Name the main characters. Names bestow characteristics. I don’t want to wait too long to start to get to know these guys. But I don’t get too attached. Inevitably when I give the main character an unpronounceable French name and a regrettable accent that is difficult to convey on paper, I find out in a few chapters that he is a Chechen war veteran who lived in Thailand for years and also speaks Farsi without an accent.
4) Write more scenes. Eight or ten scenes, mostly in chronological order from the first one. Heavy on dialog and interaction, light on location and time clues. After all, I don’t really know where they are or much of what they’re doing yet. Not worried. Not yet.
5) Crisis number one. Now I’m worried. Pause to figure out the story. Shouldn’t I have done this earlier? Well yes, but I was busy. Writing. Except, now, I don’t know where I’m going and it’s becoming a problem. I write the teensiest summary I can get away with. I go look at what I’ve written and realize that it’s no help. I turn the summary into five paragraphs. Better. Except now the stuff I’ve already written doesn’t fit in there anywhere. Maybe a chapter list? I break out Excel and do a listing of all the chapters and their major plot points. Very helpful, or at least it would be if I were writing the book the Excel describes. I give up on the summary and go back to writing.
6) Write more scenes. Lots of them. Follow the characters wherever they lead. Chapter order, location cues and time sense are all missing because I don’t have a clue. My characters are living in a city temporarily called “Blue” sometime in the early twenty-first century. Most likely in the US. They are, after all, speaking English. And Farsi.
7) Create story order. I now have thirty or more bits of story with characters who have meandered through a lot of nonsense. Time to put the events in some sort of order.
8) Redo story order. Reread the first attempt. Got lost three chapters in. Start over and rearrange everything again.
9) Think about the query. Realize that I have once again created action sequences which will completely defy my attempt to distill their essence into a meaningful query letter which will have an agent begging to see the rest. I thought I swore I wasn’t going to do this again. Didn’t I?
10) Crisis number 2. Where the hell is this story going? Any ending I previously envisioned is now inadequate in the face of the troublesome people my characters have grown into. Suddenly the creator discovers he is at the complete mercy of his creation. Can’t I end this the way I want to? “No!” cry all my characters in unison. “Your idea is stupid!”
11) Enter endless loop of plot creation and destruction.
a. See above.
b. See above.
c. See above…
12) Write the denouement. If I can’t write the climax, maybe I can cheat and write the conclusion. Realize that the huge bus crash at the very end that leaves only smoking ruin and mangled bodies might not be appreciated by the reader as the final disposition of their few hours of dedicated reading. Unwilling to give up on the crash scene you just spent five hours describing in loving detail, start working on creative solutions. “Jimmy, his palms sweaty, his legs shaking, jumps from the bus at the last possible moment, only to discover it’s a fifty foot drop to the ocean and the jagged rocks below.” Damn. Dead again. Next?
13) Desperation sets in. Beg the gods for insight. Sacrifice a virgin ream of printer paper on a pyre composed entirely of outdated manuscript pages. Discover that you have mistakenly burned the only copy of the first five brilliant chapters of your next novel. And your wife’s only copy of the honey-do list. Well, win some, lose some.
14) Practice Badminton and Croquet skills as a backup earning strategy. Inch toward a resolution.
15) Skip the resolution. Go back to the beginning and start to smooth the story and prose out. Add timing cues and story orientation references. Try not to overuse “meanwhile, back at the ranch…”
16) Sneak up on the ending. Just keep adding bits to the adventure until suddenly, something big has to happen, or we’re all just going to bed.
17) Write the big scenes. Cry. Delete them. Cry some more. Undelete them. Smack them around a little. Look at them through squinty eyes and tell yourself, “They’re really not THAT bad.”
18) Alpha read. Give the manuscript to your most trusted Alpha reader and pray for divine intervention. When you get the comments back, ignore the fact that by chapter three their comments are mostly curse words. They don’t really mean it. Honest.
There you have it. Short, sweet and to the point. If you use my (patented) method and it brings you success, please feel free to send me a post card (and a check). Just be advised I don’t accept any package large enough to hold a bomb.
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