My reading plan for this year: read more “widely”

stack-of-books-1531138The biggest pet peeve I have with myself is how I don’t read widely enough. What I mean is, I don’t read across genres. I stick to the same kinds of books. At the end of each year, I look at the list of books I’ve read and I realize it’s two-thirds speculative fiction: science fiction, fantasy, horror and so on.

Now, if I could, I would read speculative fiction exclusively. It’s like eating nothing but dessert all the time. That’s not healthy. So, in an attempt to be more well-rounded, to be better educated, to read more widely, I used an Excel spreadsheet to get my 2016 reading plan started.

Here’s what I did:

Across the top of the spreadsheet, I listed different genres of books I want to touch upon throughout the year. Here is my list: General Literature/Best Sellers; textbooks; Science Fiction; Fantasy; Biography; Classics; Poetry; Drama; Graphic Novels; Short Story Anthology; Spiritual; History; Art; Writing Instruction; British Literature Middle Ages; British Literature Renaissance. These are the areas I want to read in this year; your list may be different.

Next, I take all the books I have on “TO READ” lists — and I have several different ones, both digital and hard copy — and consolidate them on the spreadsheet. Each book goes into one of the categories. A particular book might fit into more than one column, but you decide which genre you want to put it under.

Next, I select a book, read it, then go to the next column and pick a book in a different genre and read it, and so on, and so on. I read about 30-40 books a year, so this will ensure I go through the cycle about two times. The idea is to not read two books in the same column until you have read one from all the other columns.

As a result, by the end of the year, I am a more well-rounded reader.

Pros, Cons and Tips for this method:

  • Tip: I add books throughout the year as I hear about them.
  • Tip: Of course, I’m not going to be able to read every book on the list in one year. I can just use this as a running list so I also have suggestions for something to read.
  • Tip: I don’t necessarily read the book at the top of the column. I just pick a book in a column that strikes my fancy at that moment.
  • Tip: No need to be legalistic about using this spreadsheet. I will probably cheat and read an extra science fiction or fantasy novel here and there.
  • Pro: I end up reading a better balance of fiction and non-fiction books.
  • Pro: My mind is expanded by reading book I keep putting off to read.
  • Pro: By reading more widely, I become a better writer.
  • Con: If you like to just read for pleasure and not worry about reading across the genres, then this method would probably feel too constricting.
  • Con: You only get to read your favorite genres when they come around. But, as I mentioned earlier, I will probably cheat a little.

It’s simple. It’s effective.

Happy reading.

 

 

My reading plan for this year: read more “widely”

Fiction Writing Workshop: Action Scenes

kick-fighting-1528974

He extends his sword and then utters these words:

“My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.”

The most memorable part of this fight scene are these words. But why?

To find the answer, I wanted to know more about writing effective fight and action scenes. My novel has several of these scenes, so I did some research to maximize their punch.

I found some great articles on the web and as I read them, I kept coming across some recurring themes.

  • Action scenes in books are different than action scenes in movies. A blow-by-blow fight between characters doesn’t come across as exciting on the page as it does on the screen. Describing every detail bores the reader.
  • Action scenes must further the plot. They should do this in both movies and books.
  • Action scenes must advance characterization. Why is the protagonist fighting? The fight, the action must relate to the character’s goals.
  • Action scenes should increase the suspense, the tension and up the odds. Writer John Rogers says, “… this is one of the reasons The Matrix still holds up, and the sequels are two of the most boring movies I have ever, ever, ever seen.” I have thought the same thing over and over since I saw those last two movies.
  • Action scenes should be unique and have interesting settings. One fight scene looks like another. An interesting setting can make it more memorable.

I also found some contradicting advice. Writer K.M. Weiland says:

“Make sure you use [dialogue] to your advantage by breaking up descriptions of action with story-advancing (and perhaps scintillatingly witty?) dialogue.”

While writer Alan Baxter says:

“There is no dialogue while fighting. It never goes like that. You don’t have time, although there may be a few sharp words but no conversation.

Remember Montoya’s famous piece of dialogue? It’s totally appropriate. It had been repeated throughout the story and when he finally finds his father’s actual killer, it’s thrilling. Also, he says it before the fight begins, so it serves as a war cry.

Both of the writers I just quoted suggest using short sentences and one or two word pieces of dialogue. Good advice for fight scenes.

Here are the excellent articles:

Writing exercises:

  • Comb through your story or novel and analyze each fight or action scene. Does it develop character? Does it advance the plot? Is dialogue used appropriately? Does it create suspense?
  • Find a favorite novel and go through it looking for action scenes. Do they work? Could you improve upon them?
  • Do more research and find more articles on writing action scenes. Do you see recurring advice? What other tips can you find for writing these scenes?

See other Fiction Writing Workshops from this blog.

Fiction Writing Workshop: Action Scenes

Support Self-Published Writers and Small Publishing Houses

printing-press-1181030.jpgAs I plan my reading list for 2016, I want to include several self-published writers and small, independent publishing companies. So far I plan to read the following:

Support Self-Published Writers and Small Publishing Houses

The Final Quarter

football-1437517I am down to the last 25% of the current draft of my novel which I’m now calling Ziggurat Reach. Whether that is a working title or a final title, I don’t know.

I know what is happening in the last part of my novel. I am building up to the story’s climax and all the characters have finally gathering to one place–the ziggurat, in case you’re wondering– and a lot of things are about to happen.

Here are some thoughts on what I’m trying to accomplish and how I’m feeling as I’m writing this week:

  • Each character has a goal he or she is in the process of fulfilling, and I’m figuring out ways the goals will be finalized in this last quarter.
  • K.M. Weiland has said she wrote more than one version of the climactic scene. I think I may do that.
  • Scrivener has been a godsend in motivating me to get moving on this novel.
  • In my next draft, I have a whole new subplot I’ll be writing. At this point, it’s outlined in Scrivener, but I’ll be composing first drafts for those scenes after I finish this draft.
  • Saving up to buy some ISBN numbers. Deciding whether to break the story down into four mini-novel episodes. The first one would be free. I would also offer the novel as a whole for a cheaper price than buying the three remaining mini-novel episodes.
  • Still deciding whether to use Smashwords or Amazon or both (at different times).

Well, tonight I’ll be toiling away on novel. Maybe I’ll go to my favorite coffee shop, Heine Brothers in Northfield area of my city, Louisville, Kentucky.

The Final Quarter

In Passing

41h0dp9njSL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Check out JR Wirth‘s new book In Passing. I designed the cover! Here’s some promo copy:

“Trying to bring closure to her haunted youth, Mary Elizabeth Stroll’s past and present converge during a haunting, day-long interview. In Passing is a dark, yet romantic, paranormal tale, which thrusts two adolescent, suicide victims into a haunting afterlife odyssey where they find love and meaning. The journey leads them to intervene in the lives of other distressed young people, all the while amorous feelings grow. The two are then reunited with their lifeless bodies to search for the truth and their lost love.”

In Passing

Books on writing I read in 2015

Every year I try and read a couple of books on the writing craft. I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but,  honestly, I love reading stuff on how to write fiction. Here is what I read in 2015:

2940151898539_p0_v3_s192x300Planning a Novel, Script or Memoir
by Hank Quense
Quense offers practical tips on how he writes his novels. What I want is something I haven’t heard before, and that’s what I got with this book. At the beginning, he suggests the reader to just take what he or she needs. Good advice. Not everyone thinks the same way, and, also, who wants to read the same thing over and over?

9780985780401_p0_v1_s192x300Structuring Your Novel
by K.M. Weiland
Weiland shows how to make the most of using the three-act structure as you write your novel. She has become sort of an online tutor/mentor to me because books like this one answer my questions about writing fiction.

51QhpMsap6L._UY250_Your Guide to Scrivener by Nicole Dionisio
Scrivener is a program to help writers organize their projects, both fiction and non-fiction. I can’t praise the software enough. There are dozens of books out there to show the writer how to use Scrivener, and I picked this by Nicole Dionisio. I admit I selected because it was the cheapest ebook on the subject I could find. But it’s all okay, because she did a great job and the book is short, so you can learn Scrivener quickly.

Books on writing I read in 2015

Some memoirs I read in 2015

I read several biographies/autobiographies/memoirs this past year, and here is what I thought of them:

9780316334310_p0_v2_s192x300Born With Teeth
by Kate Mulgrew
Actress Kate Mulgrew offers up vignettes of her life as an actress and also her personal triumphs and tragedies. Some remember her as Mary Ryan on Ryan’s Hope; some remember her as Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager; some now know her as Red on Orange Is the New Black. The nerd in me was hoping to get more behind-the-scenes stories about Voyager, and while she goes in to detail about how she landed that iconic role, she only glosses over her eight-year run as a captain for the Federation. But that’s okay. This memoir is well-written and is focused around her heartache of giving away a daughter at birth.

9781937009304_p0_v1_s192x300For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher
by Jason Sizemore
Jason Sizemore gives the history of how he started his own small publishing company of horror fiction. While this book would be interesting to those in the independent publishing field, I’m not sure the appeal goes beyond that. The problem with this book is that the author doesn’t seem to know what kind of book it’s supposed to be. Is it a memoir? Is it a how-to? He includes some well-told anecdotes, but I’m not sure most people would get into this one.

9780618871711_p0_v2_s192x300Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
by Alison Bechdel
A beautifully illustrated comic book style narrative about Bechdel’s dysfunctional childhood. The author had to be brave to share her story about her eccentric father and his early death. She struggles with her relationship with him and finds a connection with him in an unusual way. Warning: adult situations in this story.

9780374531263_p0_v5_s192x300A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
by Ishmael Beah
In the early 90’s, a boy from a village in Sierra Leone is forced to join the rebel’s army. This is the author’s version of his story and how he escape the fighting. Apparently there is some speculation about the accuracy of the author’s memories, but it’s still a great read that reveals the tragedy of children in politically-motivated combat.

9781453258132_p0_v1_s192x300The Man in the Empty Boat
by Mark Salzman
I enjoyed Salzman’s Iron and Silk and True Notebooks, but I realized he hadn’t written anything in a while. This book explains why. Salzman tells about his crippling anxiety and how it affected his life, including his writing, and also how he dealt with the death of his sister.

Some memoirs I read in 2015