Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Best of Harold Lamb

If you’re been reading and loving the Harold Lamb collections put out by Bison Books (edited by yours truly) and wanted to convert a new reader to the glories of Lamb’s prose, what stories would you want to hand over?

I’m thinking about putting a “best of” volume together and while I have some definite opinions on what stories are best, I wanted to throw this discussion wide and see what other people thought. For instance, I know my friend Deuce Richardson thinks the third volume of Cossack stories is when the series shines most brightly. What does everyone else think?

Name your favorite stories here, and if you like Harold Lamb, spread the word around to sites where other Lamb fans might be and tell them to report back here with their opinions on favorite stories. And yes, if I do this, I’m wanting to do a complete Durandal trilogy at the same time, although there are still some copyright issues to iron out.



Leveling Up

Look at that — part 2 of my 4-part short story, featuring Lisette from Stalking the Beast, just went live. I hope you’ll drop by and take a look. Part 1 is here.

I’ve been joking with John O’Neill lately that I feel like I’ve leveled up as a writer — meaning that all of the sudden the process isn’t taking as long for me.


Three quick things today, as I’m picking up more and more speed on the current project and don’t want to step away from it for too long.

First, I’m over at Suvudu all this week. Matt Staggs invited me to Take Five and talk about my new book, Stalking the Beast. So I did, and you can find what I said over there.

Second, I found a really interesting article about character construction and what looks like a bevy of more essays all about writing techniques over yonder. Take a look, and if you like what you find, come back and point out the best to me.

Third, Lou Anders sent me a link to a great article — with additional extra links to some swell looking reference material — all about adding verisimilitude to your fantasy setting. Get ye forth and read it.

More on Character Strengths and Weaknesses

A book by “John Benteen” a some-time pseudonym for the late, great Ben Haas.

As long as we’re on the subject of reading outside the genre, I want to point once more to an excellent, excellent essay about the structure of adventure stories. Follow this link to the site of the illustrious James Reasoner, where he posts an essay contributed by Joel Haas, the son of the talented Ben Haas.

Sure, it’s an essay about writing westerns, and you may just turn away as soon as you hear that. But if you’re interested in the technique of adventure writing, this here be gold, matey. Pure gold. Four pages of honest truth and structure advice that you’d be unlikely to get in several years worth of writing classes.

Go read it, now. I just re-read it myself. Now it’s time to feed the horses and get to writing.

Reading Outside the Genre

I used to get advice about how I needed to read outside my genre, and I didn’t.

I used to get advice about studying other writers for technique, too, and I at least understood that — thanks to Dr. Karl Barnaby’s great class on writing techniques I learned how to slow down to see how the sentences work, and to examine why THIS particular action scene was so effective.

One of the reasons that I thought I didn’t need to read outside my genre was because there was so much of my genre yet to read (and the genre’s even larger now). It’s always good to understand the history of your genre if you’re going to be working in it. But I think the other reasons were laziness, arrogance, and no good sign posts. Who can you trust about what’s really worth your time? You have to be careful. I mean, every crappy science fiction series gets devoted fans, which is why I didn’t try Firefly (and discover how wonderful it was) for years.

This is all leading to a simple recommendation. I, personally, recommend to fantasy fans that they need to read a few books outside of their genre by Donald Westlake writing under the Richard Stark pseudonym.

Back when I was recovering from my knee surgery I finally dug out some books my buddy John Hocking had sent me, and one of them was the first Parker novel, by “Richard Stark.”

Character Design, Part 2

My friend Mick wrote in the other day on the site and told me he’d “love to hear more theory about how you pick weaknesses and flaws and how you use them.”

I’d originally planned to show a filled-in character sheet for Lisette, as discussed in the post of part 1, but Mick’s question intrigued me more and more when I realized I didn’t have a ready answer. So I’ll hold off on that character sheet for a few more days.

Link Day

Copyright Darian Jones

My absence this week has all been due to keeping up the homestead and working away on writing deadlines. I have a lot more writing pointers to discuss, but today I’m just going to provide some links.

First, part 1 of a 4 part story featuring Lisette, one of the point-of-view characters from my new book, Stalking the Beast, is now available over at Paizo. You can find “Bells for the Dead” there.

Second, Jon Sprunk penned a nice “things you ought to know if you’re going to succeed at writing” piece for Black Gate this week. Go take a look.

I’ll be back soon with some stuff of my own.

Link Man, away!

Character Design, Part 1

Matt Groening designed characters that could be recognized by silhouette alone.

I had the privilege of sitting down with Patrick Rothfuss at Detroit’s ConFusion last January, and he was kind enough to discuss some of the methods he uses to build characters. I think the observation that most struck home for me was that it’s hard for readers and writers to remember everything about a character’s appearance. Pat personally felt that you shouldn’t give a character more than three “tags” to identify them.

Being a student of the pulps I was familiar with the idea of creating a character with something distinctive  you can revisit to help the reader picture what’s happening. But I’d never heard advice about tags distilled quite this way, and I think Pat gave me a central truth.

I thought about that tag limit for my own characters and realized I’d been doing it unconsciously for a lot of them. Dabir has a spade beard and bright blue eyes. Elyana has auburn hair and violet eyes and, well, she’s an elf. Drelm’s a half-orc, which is distinctive enough, but the things that stands out are his immaculate clothing and armor, and the noble way he carries himself.

Still, I don’t think I’d made these tag limits deliberately, and now when I create characters I remember Pat’s advice. Lately I’ve been striving to be  more systematic — writing is my job now, and I am constantly striving to do better at it.

What follows is the character design template I’m using these days, partly inspired by Scrivner’s Character Sketch template and character sheets from various role-playing games, but mostly inspired by what I’ve learned, the hard way, that I need to know about a character as I’m writing.

Character Writing Prompts

I didn’t understand writing prompts or their purpose when I was younger. Maybe it’s because I always knew what I wanted to do even though I wasn’t aware that wanting wasn’t quite the same thing as knowing how to achieve that writing objective. Writing prompts? I’d roll my eyes at them all through high school and all through college writing courses because I was so eager to get to the story I already had in mind. (The story that wouldn’t work because my characters were cardboard.)

As a result of that eye rolling, I, who thought himself so special, wasn’t open to learning some techniques that really could have helped me get better a lot sooner. (Aren’t all of us who like to write sold that bill of goods about being special from movies and books that celebrate how magical it is to be a writer? Post for another time.)

Yesterday I was writing about how important it is to know your character if you’re going to write swiftly. Well, one of the ways you can get to know those characters so that the prose flows smoothly is to ask some essay questions and then try to write answers in that character’s voice. The trick to avoid making the task onerous is to give yourself a time limit — no more than 5 or 10 minutes. Time yourself, and stop. If it sucks, you haven’t wasted much time and have actually SAVED yourself some time by discovering stuff that can’t possibly work.

On Writing Swiftly

Sometimes I write quickly. Occasionally, when I write quickly, I write well. Most of the time, though, I don’t. I have to revise and re-revise and throw things out.

You’ll find me peering with envious eyes over the shoulders of great writers who write quickly, studying, studying, trying to divine the secrets.

And I think I’ve learned a few. I AM getting faster. Some of it just comes from experience, but some of it, for me at least, comes down to conscious choices.

Thinking back over the best successes I’ve had with writing well, swiftly, I can recall a Dabir and Asim story I wrote in one sitting (“Servant of Iblis”) and an occasional chapter or two that ended up with only a few words changed between when I crafted it in a blaze of inspiration and when it appeared in print. And I think about what I’ve learned talking to talented writers who write swiftly and reading about those from the past. As a result I can make a few generalizations. Maybe they’ll help you as National Novel Writing Month gets into full swing.