(Non) Video Saturday: #HarryPotter Plot Spreadsheet

When writing, we all have different ways of organizing our thoughts and ideas. Below is a fun little piece of history from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  This page (you can click to view it in a larger format) covers chapters 13 through 24.

You can find more details at Endpaper but I’ll quote just a little from there:

Part of this page’s charm, of course, is it’s roughness. It’s handwritten in cursive on loose leaf paper; the column lines weren’t done with a ruler; many words and paragraphs are scratched out or re-written. She may be J.K. Rowling, brilliant best-selling author of the Harry Potter series, but a document like this can be created by anyone…

…Note that some columns have nothing written in them and others vary from having complex to simple details. (The initial “Order of the Phoenix” columns have very simple details: Chapter 13 is called “Recruiting”, chapter 14 says “first meeting”; chapter 20, on the other hand, just says “big meeting”.)


Video Saturday: Short Stories versus Novels – Michael Levin

Considering one of the last meetings of the Cat Vacuuming Society Writers Group of Northern Virginia there was a big discussion about our writing preferences: long-form versus short-form, I thought Michael Levin’s quick video about “Short Story vs. Novel – What’s the Difference” might be one answer.

He focuses on definitions and what is included in each rather than writer-preferences and how to work to change what you do to be more inclusive. The description of the video:

What’s the difference between a short story and a novel? My 10th grade English teacher, Miss Harte, provided definitions that make the difference clear. Discover what Miss Harte told her class back in 1974 (we had big hair back then!)…with New York Times best selling author, Shark Tank contestant, leading ghostwriter (www.BusinessGhost.com), and America’s writing teacher Michael Levin, because “Books Are My Babies.”

So what do you think?  Do you agree with Michael? What do you think is the difference and which do you prefer to write? Short stories or novels? Why do you think that is?


Guest (Re)Post: Anthony Dobranski – Using your Dreams in Life and Art

Dreamjournal on NightstandAt a recent party with fellow writers, I mentioned my last story had come to me in a dream. People seemed surprised, which I found surprising. Dreams have been essential to me, both in art and in life, and to hear other writers don’t use them is like hearing they don’t use their legs.

Dreams are not messages from beyond or from some benevolence inside oneself. They are a cognitive filing act to help store and retrieve information. This is why dreams are hard to remember. They are not meant to be saved.

My personal belief is that they lay the groundwork of intuition and creativity — the mind connects what you just learned against what you already know and experience, creating associations that allow you cognitive leaps. An unprovable opinion, but it works well for me.

But, just as analyzing urine tells doctors what your organs cannot, dreams contain information you can use. For a writer of the fantastic especially, dream images and scenarios are a rich inspiration. Dreams help with living too. In dreams, you see things you wouldn’t let yourself see in waking life, without a fully functioning you to object to them, to deny them. For one example of many, a dream of a three-way with an ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend fully cured me of any resentment about the breakup. Not that it revealed repressed attractions — only that I had lost sight of the difference between loving, and winning. (And perhaps that there was no love on offer, for me or my successor. At least, that’s how it turned out.)

To get your dreams, you have to do a little work. Spend a couple of weeks trying to remember them on waking, and put down what you do remember. You may have better luck with pen and paper or a voice recording – I think the backlighting of a smartphone or a computer screen scares them away, as does the greater dexterity required to use the device – but, whatever works.

Ponder them. They are your dreams and no one else’s. The reductive vocabulary that says water means money or flying means sex is what charlatans or fools have sold since at least the beginning of writing. Yes I know I’m gathering up Freud and Jung in that — but, seriously, how could it be otherwise? Our individual lives change our mental associations over decades — how could we collectively share them over millennia?

BoschThe story of the dream is the easiest to remember, but there is great value in the setting, the rendering of the dream world itself. Our dream-mind is not just an actor. It directs, it designs sets, it chooses viewpoints. It makes a you in the dream, and another you watching it. It is cast and crew and audience, reader and writer and unwitting subtext. There is knowledge in all of it. I have seen complex visual and verbal meanings in dream settings, even jokes and puns, wholly separate from what seemed to be the story, and as densely encoded as the art of Hieronymous Bosch or Geoff Darrow.

I hope this serves you well. For all my attention to my dreams, I never got to the point of “lucid dreaming,” of taking control of my dreams and acting in them consciously. I don’t know why but it never felt right. I didn’t want my dreams to be a new world; I wanted them to expand my powers in this one.

Reposted from: http://anthonydobranski.com/2015/01/12/use-your-dreams-in-life-and-art/#more-579

Image from Martha Harper Dream Journals.


Anthony DobranskiTony – I was born in 1966, 900 years after the Battle of Hastings. Libra and horse. My Polish immigrant parents settled in the Washington DC suburbs. After graduating from Yale and some youthful adventures I worked internationally for America Online in the 1990s.

I live in the city of Washington now, with my family. When not writing I ski, skate, and walk in parks. I want to learn tennis and I want to get a 3-d printer. I read novels but also magazines: news, politics and science. I love movies.

(Non) Video Saturday: Book Publishing Paths via @JaneFriedman

As we all know, when it comes to books there is no longer a single path to publication. But what are the ways?  We know “traditional publishing vs. indie publishing” as those are the two categories usually mentioned; and they’re usually mentioned with the “vs.” between them.  ;-) It seems there is more to it than that.  Don’t just look at the infographic (click on it for a clearer version), but check out her blog post on this at: http://janefriedman.com/2013/11/19/infographic-key-book-publishing-paths/







Video Saturday: Ursula K. Le Guin and how “We will need writers who remember freedom”

Via BillMoyers.com: “In accepting the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at this year’s National Book Awards, eminent sci-fi writer Ursula Le Guin made a knock-out speech about the power of capitalism, literature and imagination that, as she put it afterwards, “went sort-of viral on YouTube.””

From Le Guin -

…think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries — the realists of a larger reality. …

Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art — the art of words.

I have had a long career and a good one. In good company. Now here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want — and should demand — our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.

You can watch the video or read the full transcript here: http://parkerhiggins.net/2014/11/will-need-writers-can-remember-freedom-ursula-k-le-guin-national-book-awards/

Writing Goals for 2014: Accountability

It’s all well and good to set goals for yourself, but you also need to hold yourself accountable.  I set a lot of steep writing goals for myself last year.  This is going to be how I did.  I kinda feel like I’m letting myself off lightly, because, spoiler, I hit them all, but I plan on doing this each year from now on.

My word count goal was 350,000 words, including my own original writing, blog posts, and reviews (I review comic books and related movies & tv shows for various blogs).  I was determined to make this, and, as part of it, did both CampNaNo and the regular NaNoWriMo in November.  My NaNoWriMo story was an idea I’d been kicking around in my head for a few years, and I guess I’d been working on it subconsciously harder than I thought.  The goal for NaNoWriMo is 50,000 words in November.  I did 69841 that month.  I didn’t finish the first draft, which was my secondary goal, but I made a lot of progress.  As far as the 350,000 words, my total for the year was 445,350.

One of  my other goals were keeping at least two pieces out for submission at all times.  I managed that, and sold several short stories, as well as more copies of my novel, In My Brother’s Name ( http://amzn.to/1Bpl9EH because why not?)).  Admittedly I got a lot of rejections, of both short stories and novels, but that happens.  It’s all part of the game.

I have various works in progress, and probably need to manage them better.  My method this year was doing a chapter per month of several first drafts, and at least two that I’m rewriting.  I didn’t always get them done in the month I had designated for them, but I made them all up by December 31st.  So that’s twelve new chapters per novel, several times over.  I also managed to finish the first draft of the Weird West story I did for NaNo back in 2013, and have another book out with several beta readers.

I’ve been to a lot of workshops, seminars, and lectures by various writers who are considerably more famous and better-selling than I am.  One common thread from all their talks is that writing takes discipline and focus.  I spent a lot of time writing in 2014, including time I’d rather have been doing other things occasionally.  But I hit all my goals, and got some sales.  The sales are good on several fronts: I got paid, which is always nice.  My name gets out there more, which can be a help.  I’m building a body of work, which shows various editors that I’m serious about my writing.  And, as your name moves in certain circles, you get more opportunities.  I had one editor I sold to a bit ago take a moment to suggest I submit to another of his anthologies, which is a really good sign.

So, with discipline and perseverance, I got done everything I had set for myself.  Now I need to do that again with my goals for 2015.  Because, if I want to keep selling, I need to keep writing.  So, this is my accountability for myself for 2014, and hopefully at least a bit of encouragement for other writers.  And now I’m off to work on some projects.

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