Guest post: Beautiful writing by Ian Miller

Tonight’s guest blog post is brought to you by science-fiction and thriller writer Ian Miller. You can read my interview with Ian here.

Beautiful writing

Somehow, Morgen talked me into writing a blog on “beautiful writing”, and I cannot think why I accepted because I do not consider that I have the answer. To add to the problems, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and everybody has their own idea. According to the Concise Oxford, “beautiful” is something that delights the senses, so I thought while trying to work out where to start, what piece of writing has done that to me the most?

One scene came to mind before all others, a short scene from “War and Peace”, and one that I rather fancy most will have considered padding, the sort of scene the average editor would delete for not moving the story onwards, yet I remember it over 40 years after reading it. It depicts a grain harvest; you sense the swish swish swish of the scythes, the heat, the dust, and the stop for refreshments. Why would that make an impression? Because I had worked in grain fields (admittedly with combine harvesters) and I know how to use a scythe. To make an impression, I think you have to be able to get the reader into the scene and in Tolstoy’s time, peasants harvesting grain would be something most people could relate to. Of course you also need skill, and Tolstoy was a master.

If the scene is supposed to delight the senses, I think it has to be essentially static. However, if you keep writing static scenes, the book goes nowhere, which is why editors love to delete static scenes. We can now see why Tolstoy put in such a scene: you cannot remain at a climax for extended periods of time. To have a second climax, you have to come down from the first and have a period that is relatively tension-free, which is at least one correct place for a “beautiful scene”.

How to write it is more difficult. One critical point, in my opinion, is to have a clear rhythm. The objective is to get a favourable emotional response from the reader, and an awkward sentence construction merely distracts the reader. I also favour repetition. I know! Editors hate repetition, but in any art, all rules can be broken if you know what you are doing. As an example, in music harmony classes, parallel fifths are regarded as the most heinous crime, and signs of gross incompetence. Yet if you play enough Haydn sonatas, sooner or later you will find them. The difference is, of course, that Haydn was a master and knew exactly what he was doing, and why. The same with writing rules. If you know why you are doing something, and it gives the effect you want, then there is no reason not to do it. There are undoubtedly a number of further points. From a personal point of view, I prefer not to have a plethora of adjectives; for me, “beautiful writing” comes from the way it is presented, not from a long-winded description of something beautiful. “Clever” words should perhaps be avoided, because you are trying to carry the reader with you, to draw out an emotional response, and that will be spoiled by visits to the dictionary to find out what is actually being said, and by polysyllabic words that interrupt the rhythm. Finally, the best way is probably for the author to feel the scene, to insert him/herself into it. If the author can be lost in the scene that is intended to be beautiful, it will either be beautiful, or an outright disaster. The latter option is part of the reason you might need careful editing some time later.

I did indeed ask Ian to write this piece. You see folks, he made the ‘mistake’ (which others have made :)) on one of the blog posts’ comments of saying “someone should write a blog post about…” so I threw down the gauntlet, as the saying goes… well, not threw down but dropped elegantly… and very well accepted I would say. Thank you, Ian! 🙂

Ian Miller was born in 1942 and studied chemistry at the University of Canterbury (BSc Hons 1, PhD) followed by post-docs at Calgary, Southampton and Armidale. He then returned to New Zealand to work at Chemistry Division, DSIR, on recycling, biofuels and seaweed research.

In 1986 he set up his own research company to support the private half of a joint venture to make pyromellitates, the basis of high temperature resistant plastics, which, with an associated seaweed processing venture, collapsed during the late 1980s financial crisis.

In his scientific career he has written about 100 peer reviewed scientific papers and about 35 other articles and was on the Editorial Board of Botanica Marina between about 1998-2008. Early in this century he had a provisional agreement with a major publisher to write a book on how to form theories. This took a lot longer than expected, the publisher lost interest, however he completed the first part of the project and the first ebook in the series entitled “Elements of Theory” was self-published last year. The second, Troubles, about planetary formation and the origin of life, has just been released.

During his first year at University, following an argument with some Arts students, he was challenged to write a fictional book. Following two rejections, this was abandoned, but subsequently, as he began to get some television exposure while trying to promote the pyromellitates venture, Gemina was self-published, only to find as a condition of finance that all publicity for it was forbidden. It was somewhat difficult to sell books without any promotion.

Following the collapse of the pyromellitates venture, he returned to writing fiction, using both his scientific and business experience to write “science in fiction” thrillers, a type of “future history”. This series starts with Puppeteer, set in the near future when both oil and resources are in short supply, when government debts leads to the inability of governments to govern properly and when corruption is widespread. In Puppeteer, one man threatens to detonate three nuclear bombs to get revenge of corrupt officials who have ruined his life, while two others alone can stop him. Further details can be found at www.ianmiller.co.nz.

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If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with fantasy and paranormal romance author Berni Stevens – the five hundred and forty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

** NEW!! You can now subscribe to this blog on your Kindle / Kindle app!

See http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B008E88JN0

or http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008E88JN0 for outside the UK **

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything. You can contact me and find me on the internetview my Books and I also have a blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

Guest post: Endings by Ian Miller

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of endings, is brought to you by science-fiction and thriller writer, interviewee and spotlightee Ian Miller.

Endings

While there is a deluge of advice on how to start a novel, there is strangely little on how to end it. For me, the ending is very important because you want repeat sales, and to get them you want to leave the reader with a good feeling. To rule out sequels, the classic ending, usually implied, is, “and they lived happily ever after”, or alternatively, as with Shakespeare, leave the deck littered with bodies. When a sequel is intended, that book must end satisfactorily, but leave a clue why the reader might be interested in the next one. My interest in this is because I am in the process of writing a sequence of what I call “future history”, and a satisfactory conclusion to one book causes the problem for the next one. This is what history is like, but that does not make it easier to write in a novel.

Suppose I was writing at about 1750, and suppose I could see the future. (I can’t!) It would be easy to write a book or so on the Napoleonic wars and one could end with someone staring at the vastness of Russia, to give an ominous hint of what next. The last war book could end with a view of the chaos of Europe. Your next one might involve the Congress of Vienna, and while this sowed the seeds for world war 1, can you give a hint? Perhaps one or two characters could feel dissatisfied, but surely you cannot invoke “impending doom”. The end of world war 1 easily lets some Germans fear the consequences of reparations, but would you really introduce an angry corporal, who had never fired a shot in anger? The problem is, how to give a clue without looking as if you are flying off at a tangent.

In my first attempt, I ended Puppeteer with a letter from a dead man (written before he died) predicting that while the hero thinks he has solved the problem, it will return. Time will tell whether that is a valid ending.

Let me finish with my version of the greatest ending ever, and it comes from the first ever story (as far as I know): The Epic of Gilgamesh. (This is a skeleton story, to be embellished by the storyteller. Most people of the time could not read, and anyway, who wants to carry around five hundred clay tablets?) At the end of the epic, Gilgamesh engages in a quest to seek immortality, eventually he almost finds a way by gaining a magic plant, but his tyrannical nature makes him take it home to try it out on someone else first. However, while asleep, a snake eats it, and thus denies Gilgamesh immortality. Gilgamesh returns to Uruk and carves his story in stone. Here is the skill of the storyteller: imagine the ancient storyteller ending with Gilgamesh saying, “They say all men must die, but my name will live for eternity, for I have invented writing”.  Beat that for an ending!

And we’re eternally grateful. Thank you, Ian! 🙂

Ian Miller was born in 1942 and studied chemistry at the University of Canterbury (BSc Hons 1, PhD) followed by post-docs at Calgary, Southampton and Armidale. He then returned to New Zealand to work at Chemistry Division, DSIR, on recycling, biofuels and seaweed research. In 1986 he set up his own research company to support the private half of a joint venture to make pyromellitates, the basis of high temperature resistant plastics, which, with an associated seaweed processing venture, collapsed during the late 1980s financial crisis.

In his scientific career he has written about 100 peer reviewed scientific papers and about 35 other articles and was on the Editorial Board of Botanica Marina between about 1998-2008. Early in this century he had a provisional agreement with a major publisher to write a book on how to form theories. This took a lot longer than expected, the publisher lost interest, however he completed the first part of the project and the first ebook in the series entitled “Elements of Theory” was self-published last year. The second, Troubles, about planetary formation and the origin of life, has just been released.

During his first year at University, following an argument with some Arts students, he was challenged to write a fictional book. Following two rejections, this was abandoned, but subsequently, as he began to get some television exposure while trying to promote the pyromellitates venture, Gemina was self-published, only to find as a condition of finance that all publicity for it was forbidden. It was somewhat difficult to sell books without any promotion.

Following the collapse of the pyromellitates venture, he returned to writing fiction, using both his scientific and business experience to write “science in fiction” thrillers, a type of “future history”. This series starts with Puppeteer, set in the near future when both oil and resources are in short supply, when government debts leads to the inability of governments to govern properly and when corruption is widespread. In Puppeteer, one man threatens to detonate three nuclear bombs to get revenge of corrupt officials who have ruined his life, while two others alone can stop him. Further details can be found at www.ianmiller.co.nz. Ian will return in November to talk about ‘beautiful writing’. 🙂

***

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with non-fiction and children’s author Lisa K Winkler – the four hundred and fifty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & NobleiTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.  I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

Free Kindle eBooks

In this past week I’ve heard from three of my contributors about their eBooks being free for a limited time (dates being based on US timings) on Amazon.com so definitely worthy of a dedicated posting. In alphabetical order (the fairest way), we have…

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Novelist, short story author, article writer, guest blogger,

spotlightee and 30-day challenger

Christopher Starr

with his sci-fi fantasy novel ‘Road to Hell’

being free for the Kindle on Friday 13th April on Amazon.com.

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Thriller / suspense novelist and interviewee

S. Eric Wachtel

with his novel ‘The Essene Conspiracy’

being free for the Kindle

from April 12th to April 14th on Amazon.com.

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and last but not least…

Science-fiction, thriller and non-fiction author, interviewee and spotlightee

Ian Miller

with his non-fiction book ‘Planetary Formation and Biogenesis’

free on Amazon.com from April 12th to April 16th inclusive.

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Much as I would like my eShorts to be free on Amazon.com (they may twig when they realise they’re free elsewhere), I do have four freebies on Smashwords. Do help yourselves. I also have a 31-story collection and writer’s block workbook on there, not free, but just $1.49 (plus tax from Amazon) on both sites. 🙂

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Next up is the author spotlight of ecturer, novelist and co-founder of Creative Writing the Artist’s Way Sarah Jane Dobbs then the blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with non-fiction author Ted Vestal – the three hundred and fortieth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

As I mentioned above, you can read / download my eBooks from Smashwords, Sony Reader Store, Barnes & Noble, iTunes BookstoreKobo, and now also on Amazon.  I also have a quirky second-person viewpoint story in charity anthology Telling Tales.

I have a new forum and you can follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s ‘Contact me’ page or plain and simple, email me.

Author Spotlight no.67 – Ian Miller

Complementing my daily blog interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the sixty-seventh, is of science-fiction and thriller writer Ian Miller.

Ian Miller was born on the 7th August, 1942 and studied chemistry at the University of Canterbury (BSc Hons 1, PhD) followed by post-docs at Calgary, Southampton and Armidale. He then returned to New Zealand to work at Chemistry Division, DSIR, on recycling, biofuels and seaweed research. In 1986 he set up his own research company to support the private half of a joint venture to make pyromellitates, the basis of high temperature resistant plastics, which, with an associated seaweed processing venture, collapsed during the late 1980s financial crisis. In his scientific career he has written about 100 peer reviewed scientific papers and about 35 other articles and was on the Editorial Board of Botanica Marina between about 1998-2008. Early in this century he had a provisional agreement with a major publisher to write a book on how to form theories. This took a lot longer than expected, the publisher lost interest, however he completed the first part of the project and the first ebook in the series entitled “Elements of Theory” was self-published last year. The second, which is about planetary formation and the origin of life, will be self-published soon, April being the target.

During his first year at University, following an argument with some Arts students, he was challenged to write a fictional book. Following two rejections, this was abandoned, but subsequently, as he began to get some television exposure while trying to promote the pyromellitates venture, Gemina was self-published, only to find as a condition of finance that all publicity for it was forbidden. It was somewhat difficult to sell books without any promotion.

Following the collapse of the pyromellitates venture, he returned to writing fiction, using both his scientific and business experience to write “science in fiction” thrillers, a type of “future history”. This series starts with Puppeteer, set in the near future when both oil and resources are in short supply, when government debts leads to the inability of governments to govern properly and when corruption is widespread. In Puppeteer, one man threatens to detonate three nuclear bombs to get revenge of corrupt officials who have ruined his life, while two others alone can stop him. Further details can be found at www.ianmiller.co.nz.

And now from the author himself:

I have joined a number of others and have embarked on self-publishing through ebooks. Horrors! Can’t make it the usual way! I suppose there is an element of truth in that, but I like to think I have a case to do it this way. Once you get to a certain age, the advice “Keep trying,” loses its appeal. I would like to see my stuff out there before I cash out. Then a quick glance at the list of successes on the website Querytracker shows that new authors tend to be taken on fad. Thus there was a period where vampires and YA fantasy were the successes. I refuse to ape someone else.

Additionally, my writing usually carries multiple threads, which leads to length. I tried about two thirds of the listed SF agents before I discovered that no agent would touch anything over 100,000 words from a newbie author. Oops. I tried editing one of my novels down and got to about 120,000 words, to which my wife pointed out, everything was far too abrupt.

I then tried a futuristic thriller, a “new genre” for me, and I got it down to 96,000 words! Still no agent! So I re-edited it (adding about 10,000 words) and self-published Puppeteer in the form of a prequel to the others, which I shall publish in due course.

“The others” comprise a saga that runs from about 2050 to the 25th century, then to the first century and back again. My primary goal is to entertain, but underneath that I hope to give the reader something to think about, and in particular, some of society’s long-term problems that I believe would benefit from a scientific approach. As an example, I set Puppeteer in Los Angeles when the price of oil reaches about a thousand dollars a car refill. Anyone who knows anything about LA can imagine some consequences.

I admit to a certain disillusionment with politicians. In the 1980s, as a professional scientist, I spent a lot of effort trying to develop biofuels (as did a lot of others) but when the oil price fell, such work ended virtually all around the world. Worse than that, now a lot of money is being wasted relearning the lessons learned then. If I can persuade any voters to think more broadly about our impending problems, I shall consider that a success.

I have one non-fiction project also: Elements of Theory, which shows how to form scientific theories. This started life with a scientific publisher, but I was too slow and they lost interest, so I have decided to self-publish anyway.

So I am really grateful for the ebook, as without it I would probably remain unpublished. Of course the major problem for the newbie remains. There are apparently millions of ebooks, some good, some bad, and some downright ugly. Getting out of this morass is a problem, but then again, what in life is not?

It’s what I’m up against too, Ian. I think you just have to find as many outlets as you can, and / or like me, start your own. 🙂 Thank you. You can find more about Ian and his writing via… his website www.ianmiller.co.nz.

The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with non-fiction author Judith Thomas – the three hundred and ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can read / download my eBooks from Smashwords, Sony Reader Store, Barnes & Noble, iTunes Bookstore and Kobo. And I have a new forum at http://morgenbailey.freeforums.org.