Diana Pharaoh Francis | Diana P. Francis | Diana Francis
Friday, September 11th, 2009
writing craft

I’ve published six novels, with the seventh on its way in October and the 8th with my editor. You’d think I’d felt like I had some mastery of the craft, but in all honesty, i feel like a newbie every time I set out. Now I realize I’m not because I teach creative writing and each time I do, I remember what newbie-ness truly is, and that’s someone who’s just learning about plot and character and pacing and so on. these are people who’ve never practiced the craft whatsoever. How scary and exciting that must be to start out fresh! I can’t even remember that.

But I do feel panicked and nervous every time I start a new work, every time I return to write on it, every time I take up revisions . . . . In short, I never feel like I know what I’m doing. Part of that is because I hope I’m stretching myself, pushing at the stories to make them deeper, more compelling, more entertaining, and generally better written. Of late, I’ve felt like instead of getting better, that I’m slowly dwindling in my abilities. I wonder if that’s true, or if it’s a case of the more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know. Hmmm.

I’m always on the lookout for books and blogs and articles and so forth that teach me more about writing. I don’t like all of them. Some I look at for commiseration–that I’m not an anomaly. Some I look at for real ideas on improvement of craft. I know there are a lot of writers who don’t read books on writing at all. They think they are mostly useless. I tend to read them and frequently find something useful, though many are more basic than helpful now. But some will still have gems that let me see writing in a new, different way.

I just got Don Maass’s The Fire in Fiction. Haven’t read much of it–like 10 pages, but it definitely sparked some thoughts for me on what I’m currently writing. It wasn’t anything new or unusual, but it was just said in such a way that made a key snick in a lock and suddenly I had ideas. This is why I continue to read those craft books, and why I go to panels at cons on the craft of writing, why I read a lot of writing and industry blogs, and why I talk writing frequently. Something will light a match for me and I’ve got to chase it down.

For me (and every writer is very different) I need to read about craft every so often. Sometimes I sink into the writing and I get running down paths that I’m comfortable with–and not necessarily bad paths–but I know I need to think about the craft and push the boundaries. I need to try new ways of doing things and stretch myself. It’s the only way to improve. To quote Robert Browning, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?” You should always reach for more than you can achieve to grow your craft. Never let yourself be comfortable in the old grooves, the good enoughs.

How about you? what do you do to improve? Whether it’s the craft of writing or something else?

Thursday, September 10th, 2009
Newsletter reminder

I periodically (actually highly infrequently, but I’m trying to remedy that a little) send out a newsletter of info, reminders, bits and stuff, and some of you may be on the list, and you may not. Do feel free to go the website and on the contact form send me an email to add you to the list.

Remember, contest on Monday. And I also have cover flats, so two arcs and coverflats to give away.

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009
Stewing in My Own Juices

I’m running a fever. Have been for a couple of days. Makes me cranky, makes me unable to sleep well, and makes working hard. Don’t. Need. This.

I also find myself with little to blog about because of it. Mostly I’m dazing and feel like him stewing in my own juices, except the fever makes feel frozen. Frozen stew juice.

I wasn’t able to watch the Obama speech tonight, but I read it, and frankly I found it reassuring, and I found it to be rational and balanced. I hope that there’s health reform. Goodness knows we need it. Goodness knows I do. I still have major concerns about what the final product will look like–I am very much hoping the rational, public service side wins out. I just wish the Congress Critters had to have ordinary insurance and deal with all the hassles. They’d certainly move more quickly and sensibly. One thing the speech said that I agree with totally as that the last few months have made me despise our congressmen and women more than usual. They have acted badly and I hope they straighten up and fly right. Joe Wilson would be my top example of poor behavior. Simple civility is the least of what he and everyone else in this debate should offer. I wonder when we started electing children and spoiled brats to lead us.

Here is also where I start calling attention to the fact that Bitter Night will release in just over a month and I’m asking you to preorder and tell your friends. Get the word out for me if you would. I’ll be posting chapters soon. Look for an ARC giveaway next week. I figured out what the contest will be. Start thinking about it. I am going to need a title for the next book. No, you don’t get to know anything about it. But it should be something of the same flavor of Bitter Night–dark and gritty, possibly heroic and powerful. I want a two word name. So be thinking about that. I’ll be opening up the contest very soon. Soooooo . . . . think.

Saturday, September 5th, 2009
The big weekend

This weekend is the big weekend in this town. There’s the fair, the carnival, the big rodeo and concert, a parade, the fire department pancake breakfast fundraiser, the big craftsfair in the park, the university’s football game, and of course the karaoke. We’ve participated in some of it and will in some more. But the karaoke. It’s outside at the fairgrounds and usually starts around 8 at night or so. It goes . . . late. There are a few good performances, but also a great many people who have been drinking. And others who are apparently deaf. Since we live right near the fairgrounds, we can hear it all very well.

I found a recipe I must make. Next week.

Writing-wise, I’ve been getting some work done, but not enough. It’s two weeks into the new semester and one and a half weeks left of the first block. I have stacks of papers to grade and a bunch of reading to do. Wow. I’ve been working so hard on the day to day that it’s hard to get perspective. And the block goes so damned fast. Wow.

Been walking the puppy by way of rehabbing him. Next week I’ll try running him a little bit and see how he does. He’s got a frankenstein scar going down his hip with staples in it. I need to uploads some pics. What’s funny is he’s also got a whole lot of attitude. So here he is with half his butt shaved, weighing only 28 pounds and with and threatening this big lab mix that lives behind us.

I want to take a family vacation. The kind that requires saving up for and cool stuff to do. I’ve always wanted to go to Belize. And I’d like to go to Costa Rica and Hawaii. The kids probably want to go to Disneyland. And I’d like to take them to the San Diego Zoo. No money for any of it, of course. But I still want to start figuring it out and planning for it and trying to make it happen.

Saturday, August 8th, 2009
snippet sat . . err . . sunday

Yeah, I’m late. No wait! I’m early! Sunday! Snippet Sunday! It’s still alliterative.

From Bitter NIght, since it’s coming soon:

Her gaze ran over him. He was maybe seventeen and cute beneath the ugly uniform and acne. His face was still curved with baby fat, but in a few years he was going to be a lady-killer. She felt her face hardening. In a few years, he’d be a tempting target for a witch. He blanched at the sudden violence in her expression and took a step back. She heard his heart start to race and smelled the sour scent of fear. In a minute he’d pee his pants.

Fuck. She grabbed her change and the coke cup and went to fill it. She leaned her hip against a bolted down chair and studied the floor until her burgers were ready. No danger here. No danger here. She repeated it to herself, hoping Todd would feel it and believe. When he plopped the two grocery-sized sacks on the counter, she grabbed them without a word and strode out the door.

And now, your turn. Bring it on. Show me what you’re working on.

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009
words words words

I remember reading somewhere as an undergraduate an essay by a writer. Someone had approached him and asked him what he needed to be a writer. His reply, slighly flippant, was “first you have to like words.”

Here’s the thing, as flippant as that might sound, it’s very true. And I LOVE words. I love to learn new ones (I get words of the day from dictionary.com) and I pay attention to words in books and look them up. I have dictionaries of very specific kinds of words, like the one called Home Ground for land and water masses. I have a Describer’s Dictionary. And I have a a Visual Dictionary so I can details right. And it goes on. I love to flip through them and read them.

Today, in revisions, I got to use the term: oriel windows. Isn’t oriel a lovely word? And it’s perfect! No, I”m not telling you what it is. Go look.

Saturday, August 1st, 2009
Holy KRP!

I know you’ve heard this from me before, but as I get into rereading this book (aka Crosspointe 4), and remember I’ve made a point of NOT going back and revising or reading, but have written it straight through, so this is my first real reading of it as a whole, I can say this:

Holy KRAP Batman! It doesn’t suck! I like it so far. Even the the necessary info-dumping background bits aren’t as heavy handed as I feared. Whoohoooo!!!!!

And some of you have asked, so explanation: This was going to be called The Traitor King. I thought it would focus more on one of two characters. But it took a left hand turn and that title just doesn’t fit. I think Cursed By Sylveth, which was the original title of The Turning Tide might work better, but not sure if that makes me happy. I will be trying to figure it out as I revise and then later when my betas read and tell me things.

I can go into more detail, but that might be spoilicious for The Turning Tide, so if you have questions, ask them, then I’ll answer them in a spoiler warning post. KK?

Saturday, August 1st, 2009
I’m a twitter

I have joined Twitter. If you want to follow me, my name there is dianapfrancis.

Sunday, July 19th, 2009
Back From Beyond

Yep, we got back from Oregon a little earlier today. Kids and dogs are quite relieved. The puppies did very well on their first long journey, though the return trip had them looking very despondent. At least until they got home. For those interested, here’s a report of the trip, as best as I can recall.

Read the rest of this entry »

Friday, July 3rd, 2009
more questions and updatery

I am slightly better. Have managed some writing. Had to take a puppy to the vet today. He’s okay, but his foot’s sore. In a week we start heading for Oregon for our annual camping trip. Looking forward to it. Hope my neck/shoulder is better, and I hope i get all the work done that I need to before then. But in the meantime . . .

mela_lyn asked:

How well do you know your characters before you write? Do you do any kind of character study or discover them as you go?

I used to start out with some basics–characteristics, jobs, background, appearances, etc. The basics. And then I would usually have an image or idea for the opening, and I would have the plot sketched out. But to be honest, I was never all that familiar with the characters. I needed to write about them to know them and I wouldn’t really feel like I knew them until about 30K in. That meant a lot of time rewriting the beginning of the book, and a lot of time make false jets into various directions and feeling my way through.

Then with The Turning Tide I had to change that. I did a bunch of character interviews so that I could get acquainted better with my main three. Otherwise, I couldn’t even begin. I knew a whole lot more about them at that point and was able to jump in and hit the ground running. Because so much depended on character relationships in that book, I had to really know them and how they got along and what made them tick right from the beginning.

What about secondary characters? How do you know when there are too many?

So I’m not GRRM. I can’t manage a cast of thousands. Nor am I Charles Dickens. So here’s a story about Bitter Night. I had too many characters. So many that my beta readers and my editor couldn’t keep track of them all. Part of the problem was that I didn’t’ differentiate them enough. Part of it was that I made them all too visible. Sometimes a walk on character can be nameless and generally faceless. Stock characters–the butler, the servant, and so forth. So I cut a few characters, but more importantly, I cut names and individuality for some of them. That made the others stand out more and their individuality become more noticeable.

So I guess the answer to too many is this–do they serve a useful purpose–preferably more than one? Are they well differentiated? Do they pile up on one another and fade together? Can you remember which one is which if they walk off the scene for half a page? Could you have one do the work of three?

My feeling is to reduce them wherever you can and make the ones you keep as important as you can.

What’s the average length of a chapter? Is there an average length? How do you know when to stop?

I used to try to keep all the chapter lengths the same. I worked hard at it. And it was pointless and stupid. I mean, why? The chapters have to be as long as they have to be. I’ll admit I tend to avoid short chapters. As a reader, I don’t like the choppiness of reading them. But now for the hard question. How do you know when to stop? I have to admit that for me it’s more of a feeling. My chapters revolve around moments/scenes. There’s an action component in each chapter and an emotional component. When I feel that both have been satisfied, I move on. I try to have pithy endings or slightly clifhangerish endings to lead people on to the next scene. I have a tendency to use one point of view per chapter so if I need to change points of view, I’ll change chapters.

In the end, there’s a feeling when things are done and adding anything else will be too much. I guess that’s something I’ve learned about my own stories and probably the doneness factor is peculiar to me. Everybody’s doneness is peculiar to themselves. It’s a feeling you have to learn to trust, as well as a skill you have develop so that you can trust it. If that’s not too circular in the land of logic.

What was the best advice you received that’s helped you become a successful writer?

I’m not sure I can remember anything specific. But I think the main thing is to write. Don’t stop. Persevere. I think I’ve seen that in example from successful writers. They write through thick and thin, bad and worse, ups and downs. Keep writing. And keep learning. Keep developing your craft. You can always be better. Keep striving.