Do you wish you could write more? Guest blogger, Heidi Ruby Miller, author of AMBASADORA and GREENSHIFT, reveals how she increased her daily word count. Keep reading for a chance to win a copy. You’ll want to, because her spicy sci-fi romances rock with action!
I resolved this year to WRITE FIRST.
It was my way of seeing if I could write more. And it worked.
Believe me, I was more surprised than anyone. Over the past five years I had steadily worked out of the century club (100 words per day) to the millennium club (1000 words per day), but then I stalled. I have always been a slow writer, probably because I labor over every word and character motivation, each plot point, the cadence of individual sentences, blah blah blah.
Outlining helped me tremendously once I started graduate school. The planner that I am, I usually had a nice beginning/middle/end worked out, then went from there. When I began to do more extensive outlines (80 pages long), which detailed each scene, I had a rough first draft in no time and a direction to move with the story. That’s when the 1000 words a day came quite easily.
To jump to the next level (like Robert J. Sawyer with his 2000 words a day or Susan Mallery with her 20 pages a day) I needed a little extra mojo. Turns out the solution was simple—write first.
I decided to try my new tactic in 2012 after talking with horror writer and my co-editor of MANY GENRES, ONE CRAFT, Michael A. Arnzen. Instead of New Year’s resolutions, he does focus words—words that he focuses on all year in order to make improvements in his life and career. My words were WRITE MORE, but that seemed too broad, so I decided upon WRITE FIRST.
And that’s what I’ve been doing since January 1. I wake up half an hour early to… work through a yoga routine.
Okay, I know you were expecting me to say “write,” but with as much time as I spend on the computer, I wouldn’t be able to move if I didn’t stretch and breathe first thing in the morning. But then I write. Before I change out of my pajamas or make a cup of tea or surf through all my social media sites or before my husband gets out of bed, I sit down and write for at least 30 minutes. That may not seem like much time, but it’s enough to get a few hundred words in or a few pages revised. More importantly, it brings my story front and center in my mind where it stays all day long.
It becomes a trance-like state for me during the rest of the day. No matter what I’m doing, I’m thinking about my characters, plotting scenes in my head. This compels me to sit back down in front of the laptop and keep writing. Before I know it, I’ve sometimes had 3000 words by day’s end or revised four chapters. More typically, I hit 2000 words, but that’s double what I was doing last year at this time.
Granted, I accrue this word count during various sessions throughout the day, not in one sitting—I would have a constant migraine if that were the case. But it’s working. January 2012 was my most productive month ever. So far February is falling a little shorter with only an average of 1500 words per day, but that’s still 500 more than most days last year. I blame the small lapse on the launch for my latest novel GREENSHIFT, which came out on Valentine’s Day. Obviously, more marketing time was required this month. I fully expect my productivity to kick into overdrive in March… by simply writing first.
Be entered to win a copy of GREENSHIFT or AMBASADORA or both by telling us in comments what you’re reading right now and leave your email address disguised something like heidirubymiller AT gmail. Winners will be drawn randomly on March 1, 2012, and announced on March 2, 2012. Good luck!
About Heidi Ruby Miller
Heidi Ruby Miller has been putting too much sex in her Science Fiction since 2005 because she believes the relationship is as important as the adventure. She loves high-heeled shoes, action movies, Chanel, loud music, and video games.
I’m seeking beta readers for my current work in progress—DEATH PERCEPTION—a supernatural crime story infected with horror yet preserved by a sprinkling of black humor:
Nineteen-year-old Kennet Singleton lives with his invalid mother in a personal care home, but he wants out. He operates the crematory at the local funeral home, where he discovers he has a gift for discerning the cause of death of those he cremates—by toasting marshmallows over their ashes.
He thinks his ability is no big deal since his customers are already dead. However, when what he discerns differs from what’s on the death certificate, he finds himself in the midst of murderers. To save the residents and avenge the dead, he must bring the killers to justice.
About two weeks ago, I got the idea to revise my Seton Hill University thesis novel, DEATH PERCEPTION. But that created a dilemma for me: revise an old project, or work on a new one? Here’s how I came to my final decision.
Since graduating from the Writing Popular Fiction masters program in 2006, I had made several rounds of revisions on the book, a supernatural crime story. I would go through it and make a lot of changes, then I’d bury it again. I never felt it was complete. Certainly not good enough to be published. And frankly I was so sick of it I couldn’t gain any perspective. Am I improving it, or am I making it worse? I could never tell. After its mouldering in the grave for a good three years, I unearthed the manuscript once more, scraped off the decay, and decided to take another look.
I was suprised. Sure, there were a couple chapters that were clinkers, churned out under the pressure of a term deadline nearly a decade ago. But most of it was good. Really good. At one point, I thought, I can’t believe I wrote this…
Perhaps my skills and judgment have matured. More so, I think I’ve gained confidence in my abilities. Somewhere during my continuing studies and coming out process, I gained that perspective I needed to be able to judge my own work with a more objective eye.
And I discovered something uncanny. Those frustrating holes in my manuscript that I didn’t know how to fill in past revisions were suddenly waiting like placeholders for knowledge I now possessed. Someday I plan to blog about the prescient and prophetic aspects of fiction writing, but for now I’ll say that not only with THE SIXTH SEED, but also with DEATH PERCEPTION, plot situations that I wrote about years ago have come to pass in my personal life. Let me explain.
DEATH PERCEPTION is about a young man who operates the crematory at the local funeral home. He discovers he has a gift for discerning the cause of death of those he cremates. Not a big deal since they’re already dead. However, when what he discerns differs from what’s on the death certificate, he finds himself in the midst of murderers.
Have I started to cremate the deceased in my spare time? No. (But the onsite research was fascinating!) Yet the abilities my protagonist Kennet Singleton develops—powers I wrote about from pure imagination a decade ago—I am now experiencing in my own life.
I’ve been planning a new novel, DEAD CEMETERY, working on setting, plot, and characterization in my spare moments the past few months. I’m itching to spend more time on it, but am constrained by my spiritualism schoolwork. When I received the idea (actually, an intuitive prompting) to revise DEATH PERCEPTION, I felt it would only further postpone my work on the new book (which, of course, it is). But once I got into DEATH PERCEPTION, I realized that I might be able to finalize revisions and actually get it published.
So that’s what I decided to do: revise and publish DEATH PERCEPTION so that I will have something to market while I work on DEAD CEMETERY.
With the help of Spirit, I’m learning to spin plates like a real writer. I’ll let you know how it goes.
All fiction seeks to get the reader to identify with story characters. But there’s a special element of identification in horror fiction. In horror stories, the emotions of the reader should mirror those of the story characters in a certain way. Here’s how to recognize and employ this technique in your writing.
In his dissertation, The Philosophy of Horror (Routledge, 1990), Noel Carroll claims that “…[T]he appropriate reactions to the monsters in question comprise shuddering, nausea, shrinking, paralysis, screaming and revulsion. …This mirroring-effect… is a key feature of the horror genre” (p. 18).
Here are some common character emotional and physical reactions to the horrific that Carroll points out:
muscular contractions (tensing)
Examples of Horrific Emotions
In Brian Keene’s Ghoul (Leisure, 2007), characters Pat and Karen are getting it on in a graveyard. (Note to reader: Bad idea.) When the monster arrives on the scene, we get these reactions:
Then the stench hit him. … It smelled like something rotting in an open grave. … Karen’s eyes grew wide, staring at something behind him. She screamed.
Without even describing the monster, Keene has encouraged reader identification with a nauseating smell. When Karen sees whatever it is behind Pat, her eyes go wide, prompting her to scream. So, without even describing “it,” we have the crucial emotion of horror displayed by character reaction. What your characters feel, your reader will feel.
From Scott Nicholson’s The Red Church (Pinnacle Books, 2002), little Ronnie and his brother are trying to escape a flying monster by heading into the dark woods. (Scared already, arent you?)
Something brushed his shoulder, and he bit back a shout. His body was electrified, sweat thick around his ankles and armpits and trickling down the ladder of his spine. The monster is going to get me.
Here we have the desire to scream, electrification, and sweating. All without seeing the monster. If your character is scared, so will be your reader.
And from my own The Sixth Seed (2011), we have the reaction of sweet six-year-old Emil who at first thinks he’s dreaming about being taken into a spaceship:
When he got real close, he noticed an opening like a door. Inside it stood some kids not much bigger than himself. Maybe as big as Whit. They looked like skeletons. Skeletons with big heads and bug eyes. They were looking at him, reaching out with their skinny arms and long fingers. One, two, three . . . three fingers and a thumb.
Emil barely felt the warm urine he released. It soaked his pajama pants and sprinkled down onto the backyard grass.
They reached for him, and all at once he thought he should be scared.
And then he was.
When the impure and threatening creatures reach for him, he wets himself—and his emotions catch up with his physical response. Scare the piss out of your character, and your reader will run for the bathroom.
Exercises for You to Practice
Print the previous bulleted list of horrific reactions so that you can use it as a checklist. Take three or four horror novels off your shelf and leaf through them, finding the places where your characters react in fear. Check off reactions from the list. Be sure to identify not only the explicit reactions, but ones that are implied. Which are most commonly used?
When you are writing a horror scene, stop to evaluate what your characters’ reactions might be. When crafting your character reactions, can you use ones that are not so commonplace? And your reactions must be tailored to your character; what scares one will not scare another. For instance, if your character is a herpetologist, she is not likely to react like a fashion model to a monster that is slimy or scaly. Put in the extra work, and find out what scares your characters as individuals. Your readers will break a sweat in fright—and love you for it.