Dana's Dojo: So You Wanna Be a Pseudonym

Today in the Dojo: To ‘nym or not to ‘nym, and how to make it work.


Yes, I’m plucking the low-hanging fruit from the Pitch 2.0 tree, but this is actually a rather important topic. We’ve already established that a ‘nym’s not a problem, per se. Jason Black was kind enough to drop by and confirm my suspicion: that it’s about identity, not the name on your photo I.D. So far, so good.

Now, let’s explore the topic in further detail. Those of you who are veteran ‘nyms can probably skip lightly over this one and get on with the holiday traditions like trying to avoid stores and hiding from the more vexing relatives. Those of you who aren’t yet established ‘nyms and wondering whether and how you should be come so, stick around.

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Dana's Dojo: So You Wanna Be a Pseudonym

Dana's Dojo: "It's This Big and It's Blue"

Today in the Dojo: Getting a handle on stories that don’t quite know what they are.


There was this cliché at the bookstore chain I worked for, eons ago when things like chain bookstores in malls still existed. Customers would come in all the time, collar one of the booksellers, and burble, “I need this book! I don’t remember the title, the author, or what it was about, but it’s this big and it’s blue!” About the only thing that changed in the parade of people coming in for the book whose subject, author and title weren’t recalled was the relative size indicated by their desperately waving hands. It happened so often that the manager of one of our stores, upon hearing this request for the billionth time, joked, “Oh, yes, I know that book. It’s right over there in our this-big-and-blue section.”

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Dana's Dojo: "It's This Big and It's Blue"

Dana's Dojo: Talking Heads

Today in the Dojo: choosing the right spokesperson and keeping the voices from turning your multiple POV masterpiece into Babble-on.


The problem with a Cast of Thousands is that everybody wants to be a star. When you choose the third person point of view, limited or not, you open the door to a flood of potential narrators, all of whom want to tell the world about their part in the drama. Some of them just seem to want to tell the world about their drama, and be dramatic doing it. It’s like wading into the crowd at a big premier with a camera crew and a microphone: people who would have been content to be part of the background are suddenly pushing themselves into the lens, grabbing the microphone, and telling all.

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Dana's Dojo: Talking Heads

Dana's Dojo: Imodium for the Verbal Diarrhea

Today in the Dojo: We begin to come to grips with this hell that is description.


A long, long time ago in a Death thread far, far away, Glynis posted the following question:

I wonder if there is a way to stop before doing in cases of over description?

And I said I’d write a column on the subject someday. I keep my promises. Eventually.

I’m not the world’s expert on description. My first drafts tend for the most part to be somewhat Spartan, sometimes to the point where Wise Readers yell at me for not describing things thoroughly enough (which is a problem when you’re writing SF and supposed to be describing things beyond mortal ken). This wasn’t always the case. My early writing suffered from the verbal diarrhea: long-winded descriptions of buildings, ships, trees or what have you that stopped the story cold; inventories of characters’ appearance, flowery landscapes…. Let’s just put it this way. When it annoys even the writer, it’s too much.

Being the offspring of an Indiana farm boy/coal mine engineer, I don’t get mad, I get even. And I have applied that philosophy to description. I spent a couple of years reading every book on writing I could get my hands on. I practiced varied techniques: describe the character/leave it up to the reader, remove every other adjective, etc., until I found my happy medium between too much and too little. My first drafts got leaner and meaner. I don’t have to do as much slash-and-burn in the revisions. I find myself editing as I go, automatically, as if there’s an alarm that goes off when the description creeps up to dangerous levels and the narrative auto-corrects. Usually. When I’m lucky, anyway. No matter how good you get at this, description will probably never be easy.

That said, I’ll attempt to give you some pointers on hooking up the Over-Description Warning System, and keep it running smoothly as you’re in the throes of prose writing.

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Dana's Dojo: Imodium for the Verbal Diarrhea

Dana's Dojo: Progress? What is This Progress You Speak Of?

Today in the Dojo: Your progress mileage may vary. And that’s perfectly fine.


Anne Jefferson started a SciWrite challenge to coincide with NaNoWriMo. Now, before we have any talk of word counts or other arbitrary measures of success, go read her post on progress. I mean it. Do it now. Then you can head back over here and listen to me natter on.

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Dana's Dojo: Progress? What is This Progress You Speak Of?

Dana's Dojo, Week 2: Letting Go

Today in the Dojo: The importance of letting go so those 50,000 words can flow.


So, we’re beginning Week 2. By now, the early flush of excitement has probably drained, and it’s beginning to feel like a long, hard slog. You might be at the everything-I’m-writing-is-total-shit stage. If not, you’ll be there soon.

You’ve got to let go.

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Dana's Dojo, Week 2: Letting Go

Dana's Dojo: Surviving NaNo

Today in the Dojo: How you can write 50,000 words in a month and not drop dead.


I said “Never again,” and I meant it. I will not be doing NaNoWriMo this year. Not exactly. More like NaNoWri2Mo, because I’ve determined I must complete a book of short stories by the end of this year. And yes, I’d do NaNo, despite a solemn vow never to do so again, but ye olde wrists may not be up to the task. The spirit is willing. The flesh has thumb tendonitis and very likely a bit of carpal tunnel syndrome to boot. Let’s not push it.

But some of you are young and sound of wrists, although your minds might be suspect, considering you’ve signed up for the madness that is NaNoWriMo. So I figured I’d tell you how I survived my one and only time doing it officially, and all those times I’ve done it on the sly.

Perhaps it will be of some service.

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Dana's Dojo: Surviving NaNo

Dana's Dojo: Advice to the Beginning Author

Today in the Dojo: Some hard-won lessons from 30 years of the writing life.

So, kick-ass blogging buddy JT Eberhard is beginning a story. I started reading it expecting the worst, then got sucked in, then decided I will murtilate him if he doesn’t continue. But beginning is hard, and continuing even harder. And I know he’s not the only person who’s got a story begun and is terrified that a) it sucks, b) it’ll be impossible to write, and c) he’ll never, ever have the writing chops to pull it off.

Just wait ’til you hit the “ZOMG this is sooo not original!” phase of your young writing life. Let me just nip that one in the bud right here, right now: No, it’s not. Everything people think of as original is, when boiled down to its essence, an idea that a billion other people have had before. It’s how you execute your ideas that matters. That’s where originality comes from: combining disparate elements and adding your own particular twist to what, on the surface, seems to be a tired old idea done to death.

Right. Now we’ve got that dispensed with, on with it. Let me give you folks who are just getting started a little bit of friendly formerly-Southwestern-but-now-Northwestern advice. Hopefully, by the time you’ve hit the end, you will feel yourself prepared to tackle this beast that is storytelling.

However. There is one question that must be answered before we proceed: must you write this story? Is it forcing its way out of you, rip-claw-tearing away at your brain, keeping you awake at night? Do you find yourself filled with a sense of dread when you contemplate dying before having written it?

If the answer is no, consider carefully before you proceed, because it may not be worth the effort you’ll have to put in.

If the answer is yes, go below. You have no other choice.

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Dana's Dojo: Advice to the Beginning Author

Dana's Dojo: A Time and Place

Today in the Dojo: How do you establish a story’s time and place?

Among the many pitfalls just waiting to impale the unwary writer is time and place. You’d think it would be so easy, right? How hard could it be to let people know the when and where of things? That’s nothing compared to the complexities of character, theme, plot, rising action, hooks, style…. Setting time and place is a walk in the woods after that!

That high-pitched shriek followed by the meaty thunk is yet another writer falling into the pit. A walk in the woods, indeed.

Not only is it harder to clue the reader in subtly to time and place than one might believe, it’s one of those chores that seem unimportant. As long as I let them know by, oh, say, page Three, we should be okay, right? you say to yourself, and Yourself agrees: Of course! Joe won’t be thinking about it being 1994 and living in Nowhere, Arizona when he’s in the house fighting with his wife. Of course it’s okay to only show that after he’s stormed out of the house.

Of course not. And I’ll show you why.

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Dana's Dojo: A Time and Place

Dana's Dojo: Characters So Deep You Can Swim In Them

There is this word, “deep.” People want deep characters. No one likes shallow, except folks who aren’t so great at swimming. Think back on the story people who’ve stayed with you for years and years after you first read about them, and you’re probably going to notice they’re deep. But what is this “deep”? How do you create someone who’s deep?

Patricia C. Wrede did up a couple of posts on it, books on writing almost always address it, and there are entire exercises dedicated to making deep people. Some of that stuff’s useful. Some of it just seems to get in the way. The thing is, there’s no one way to ensure you end up with characters who are more than ankle-deep. Fill out all the character biographies you like, you can still end up with cardboard with a few weird details thrown in.

I’m not going to tell you how writers make their characters deep. Writers are individuals, they’ve all got different ways of doing it. I’ll tell you how I do it, and you can filch any useful bits you like.

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Dana's Dojo: Characters So Deep You Can Swim In Them