Mr. Butcher came to my corner of the world last weekend at Space City Con in Houston Texas. Not only is he a great writer, he also gives back to the writing community by sharing the basics of the wordsmith craft at convention and conference panels. He reminded us of the saying attributed to Michelangelo, which I found brilliant as a way to describe the need to learn the craft of writing and revisions to aspiring authors. How do you make a statue? You carve away from the stone, everything that is not the statue. As Michelangelo said, “You just chip away at the stone that doesn’t look like David.” That’s exactly what the revisions I do feel like to me.
Speaking on writing in a way that makes people care about your characters, he used the terms scene and sequel to describe what I happened to have learned as action and reaction. The elements of scene and sequel are emotion, logic and review, anticipation (what’s going to happen next) and choice. Mr. Butcher stressed the importance of keeping them in that order. Though sometimes you may not use all of them, which is fine, you need to keep to that order for the ones you do use. If you use any internal dialogue, keep it in the sequence or reaction part only. The best place to end chapters is in the action part, when the crisis or major event of that scene occurs or when the character is in an emotional state in the reaction part of a scene.
What I have often heard described as – start the story at the last possible place you can where it still makes sense, he explains as starting the story when something happens to change the status quo. Of course, it’s the exact same concept just as action/reaction is the same as scene/sequel, still his terminology may be easier for some to follow.
Mr. Butcher explains all books use the story question—Your protagonist sets out to accomplish a goal but will he succeed when the antagonist gets in the way and tries to stop him? Every story is all about getting from the question at the beginning to the answer at the end. Jim Butcher adds the basic protagonist information and his goal and basic antagonist information and how he tries to stop the lead character to the story question. He uses this for synopsises, pitches, and back cover blurbs.
When asked about describing characters, he advised writers to choose specific words to go with the characters. For example, for Murphy in Dresden Files he uses the character tags of short, cute, and blond. Do that for each character. You can also use tags to describe places in the story. I have to say that is the first time I heard the term character tags. So I learned something new. I will definitely utilize this technique in my work.
When asked how to avoid stilted dialogue, Mr.Butcher said, “Try writing dialogue in five words are less as it’s the way people really talk.” That will help you bring the dialogue alive. He also advised per characters, the one thing you can never do is have a character wallow in self-pity. It will drive the reader away.
Regarding his beta readers, Mr. Butcher asks these three questions of them. What did you like in this chapter? What did you not like in the chapter? Do you have any questions in the chapter?
As far as authors whose books inspired him, he stated his single biggest inspiration was Laura Hamilton’s earliest books. When asked if he had any interest in co-authoring and if there was any one he would like to write with, he answered, “There is no one I hate that much. I’m not going to put myself on someone else professionally, I’m that much of a diva.” That brought loud laughter from the audience.
He spoke of when he had to work full time and said writers should look on writing as a part-time job that isn’t going to pay you for a long time. Personally, I consider it is an additional full-time job that isn’t going to pay you for a long time.
Then he moved to Steampunk, answering the question, what got you into Steampunk? His face broke out into a wide grin as he said he wanted to create a character with a cool steampunk cos play outfit people could dress up in. He saw a captain’s coat at Comiccon that fit him. So he has to change the character because he really wants to wear that coat. The steampunk fantasy series also includes lots of airships, crystals, and goggles. It’s been said the Cinder Spires series is a kind of league of extraordinary gentlemen meets Sherlock meets Hornblower. The first in the series is titled The Areonaut’s Windlass. He’s working on that book now. He’s starting to build and pull his Steampunk world together with everything he wanted. Among other things he really wanted to include cats that speak. One of his characters is a talking cat.
Jim Butcher – Cinder Spires Reading
I love the idea of a talking cat, it reminds me of one of my favorite books and one of my favorite aliens in a book, Rejar by Dara Joy. I will definitely read The Areonauts Windlass when it comes out, the release date has not yet been announced.
Also please feel free to share your favorite writing advice to give to newbies in the comments below. Mine is never stop writing no matter what and finish the rough draft.
Maeve Alpin, who also writes as Cornelia Amiri, is the author of 18 published books, including four Steampunk Romances. She lives in Houston Texas with her son, granddaughter, and her cat, Severus.