I am learning a lot about writing from podcasts, but one voice consistently helps me think about my progress and learning: Tobias Buckell. His recent interview on Dead Robots’ Society Episode 58 is jam-packed with goodness. It is really too bad the way the episode begins. I skipped it three times before I listened long enough to hear Mr. Buckell because it starts with a juvenile swear-fest that is definitely not safe for work (NSFW). But once one hurdles the unprofessional tirade and wades through to the interview Toby gives great insight into his upbringing, creating outlines for novels, and some background on how he came up with some parts of Crystal Rain and Sly Mongoose.
I found particularly useful what he said about how not enough writers focus on Story in their development. Spinning a good yarn that grabs the readers and pulls them through the tale. This is useful to ponder. Earlier in my development as a writer I would have heard that and thought, what the heck does that mean? But now, it’s not just about how to write the story in mind. . . lets learn how to manipulate the space between the reader’s eye and the words on the page. How to massage their expectations? Lead their emotions? What gets them asking themselves how they’d solve the situation and speculate on where they think it’s going? I think answers to these kind of questions are what Tobias means when he says: “story.” We don’t want to tell them what happened in our world. . . We want to stinkin’ mesmerise them! Ask, in addition to: “what is the dang thing?”- “what does it do to the reader?”
I think that upping the stakes is one part of it. It is very clear in Crystal Rain when the stakes up – when the Azteca boil through Mafolie Pass the story takes off. We need to learn how to connect the points of tension, laying hooks into the narrative that consistently pull our readers a little farther.
In an interview on Adventures in SciFi Publishing he makes the point that details are “reader velcro.” I am reading Crystal Rain now and he definitely uses the details to put me there. The scraping sound of hands on the salt encrusted ship rails stands out as an example.
I get especially excited when I see a new AISFP in my google reader. Twice now, Toby has answered my questions on the Ask a Writer segment, one on Novella length and one on POV. (It’s late, maybe I’ll come back and link those later.) I had been writing stories that were weighing in at around 30k words. Way too long for a short story, way too short for a novel and way too unpublishable for a newbie. He suggested that I may be trying to put everything I had thought up into each story. He told me that writing a short story was like shooting an arrow, it should be about one thing and hit it. To tell you how helpful that was I will just share that the next two stories I wrote came in at 6 thousand words. Thank you, Mr. Buckell.
And finally if you haven’t listened to the six part: Getting Past Being Joe Blow Neopro on Telltale Weekly you are in for a great listen.
He is not the only voice out there sharing powerful insights. I get a ton out of Holly Lisle. She is so generous with her expertise! Her website offers a staggering amount of free workshops, articles, and books as well as some premium content. Mark ye, whenever two of these pros say the same thing it is gold. Tobias talked in the Dead Robots podcast about starting his novel by amassing a bunch of scenes that are too cool not to use. Holly, in her free 1 month Plot Outline course (which I am going through right now) talks about “candy bar” scenes that you are so excited to write being used to get you through the transitional scenes.
The other voice that is significantly upping my game is the basso profundo of Michael A Stackpole. His podcast, The Secrets, comes out infrequently, but when it does it is dense with knowledge. He also co-hostsThe Dragon Page Cover To Cover podcast. This pro’s fingers prod the pulse behind the jaw of publishing’s changing face and he is playing web2.0 to the bone. Do you want to thrive as a writer in the upcoming paradigm shift?
This listing would be incomplete without She Who Came First for many of us, Mur Lafferty and I Should Be Writing. Her podcast is a Bird By Bird for the wired generation of writers.
In Stephen King’s On Writing he makes the point that a budding writer could do worse than take a subscription to Writer’s Digest magazine. That is still good advice, but there is so much insider info coming out for free on the podosphere that you owe it to your craft to listen to these podcasts.