Non-Standard Query Structure - pt. 2

Friday, December 31, 2010

10 Chiming In
So....

Convinced that I was insane with my crazy query thing I wrote for Premeditated, I posted it to Query Letter Hell over at Absolute Write (which helped me shape it into the version I put here a few days ago). AW is awesome for helping knock the kinks out of things when they need a bit of an adjustment.

Then, still convinced I might be slightly less than mentally sound, I decided to send the query to Query Shark to see if the unusual structure was attention-grabbing for an agent or off-putting. I was half-expecting to end up as chum, but apparently the sharkly one liked it.

[ * insert embarrassing dance of joy * ]

She posted it on the blog today, but that's not why I've made another post out of the query. One of the comments she made was. QS said that before you do the "rule-breaking" query, you write one that doesn't break the rules.

I did that - seriously. The first attempt at a query for Premeditated was the standard couple of paragraphs following the plot and introducing the characters, but I didn't think it served the book as well as something a bit more sinister. So, for the sake of having something to talk about, I thought I'd show you the other kind of query for the same book.

Brooks Walden committed suicide the day he drove Claire's cousin to kill herself... he just doesn't know it yet.

^ This was my original "hook". It put the focus on the guy and girl and less on the cousin. In the new version, the dynamic is reversed. Dinah (the cousin) is the driving force, Claire is the one in motion, and the guy isn't a real person to her. She only uses his name because she has to.

When Claire agrees to attend the prestigious Lowry School, it has nothing to do with college prep, and everything to do with revenge. That's where she'll find Brooks Walden and his perfect life, and that's where she'll tear it apart one layer at a time - from his friends to his future. Sure, it would be easier just to kill him for his part in her cousin's suicide, but Claire's way will hurt more.

The Golden Boy's facade of perfection is shockingly thin, and easy to crack. A failed drug test here, a few not-quite-authentic photos posted to the right pages there, and the inescapable fact that rumors are powerful things. All the while, Claire plays the part of classmate and friend.

Just because she smiles, doesn't mean she's happy. Just because she laughs doesn't mean he's charming. Just because her stomach plummets when he worries over how well her plans are working doesn't mean she pities him. And just because her heart speeds up every time he comes close doesn't mean she's falling for his act the way Dinah did.

Yeah, right.

^ And this is how the rest of the "standard" query version would look.

True, the shorter version loses some of the story threads, like the fact that Claire's not evil and starts to regret the things she's doing, and the fact that she actually starts to play her part a little too well. It also cuts out some details, like Claire's transformation from Goth princess of darkness to Preppie pretty - all in the name of deception.

But, what the shorter version does, a lot better than this one, IMO, is get someone's interest. It's the core of the story, while the longer query is more set dressing. Hopefully, those who like the short query will see the extra story threads as embellishments to the core story when they read it.

(However, I think I'm flip-flopping the names. Dinah's the avenging angel now and Claire's the ill-fated cousin. Claire has a more ethereal sound to it, and Dinah's a bit harder. It fits better that way.)

I'll stop rambling now, and get back to editing so I can actually send the MS out...

:-P

Why NYC

Thursday, December 30, 2010

3 Chiming In
Someone left a comment on one of my older posts asking why it is that the overwhelming majority of contemporary YA books seem to be set in NYC or LA (or at the very least California in general) while paranormals stick to the smaller towns.

Easy answer? I don't know.

Contemporary, though I am currently attempting one, isn't my usual cuppa.

However, I can make an educated guess or two.

New York and California, more than being the nation's book ends, are destinations. Not in the way that "I am from here, so going there makes "there" my destination." No, NY and Cali (and NYC and LA in particular) are real destination cities. They're the places that kids who dream of being stars dream of living.

When you're writing fiction of any sort, it's still a fantasy, and New York City is a fantasy locale for many kids and teens who can only dream of a place where the buildings are more than 10-12 stories high. Manhattan's sky scrapers replace the sky-palaces of fairy tales, and the girls who dream of being princesses grow into young women who dream of being Pop Princesses or starlets, so their fantasies gravitate toward the cities where they believe those dreams can happen.

For a kid living in rural America, where there are still unpaved roads, one lane streets, and towns where there's no need for a traffic light because everyone has to stop for the tractors anyway, reading about people wealthy enough to send their kids to private school or live in a penthouse apartment is as far away as Never Land. It's another set of rules and expectations.

When people want to be seen, they go where they'll have the most eyes on them - and that's NYC and LA.

Conversely, with paranormal, you're usually dealing with someone, something, or both who doesn't want to be seen. The creatures passing themselves off as human have to go places where there aren't enough eyes on them to realize something's off.

A vampire can go to school in a town where there are few newcomers because the townies won't realize that their behavior is odd, even for an outsider.

Werewolves can live happily in the woods around a mountain town, safe in the assumption that no one will bother them because - strange as it sounds - many of those regions have superstitions ingrained as deep as religion. They expect strange things to lurk in the woods, so they stay out of them.

The "other" new kid can easily be the only one who notices the Fae girl or boy is other-worldly because while big cities and rich schools may be known for "cliques", they've got nothing on the insular nature of small town America. Outsiders are outsiders, and they're kept at a distance. No one gets close enough to see the eccentricities that another outsider might pick up on.

Last Place - STILL - Rocks

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2 Chiming In
Yes, this is a repost, but as the new year is coming up, I think it's valid to say it again...


You know that kid who was always picked last at sports in school? That was me.

Seriously - just under five feet tall, way too close to 150 lbs, and a year with a brace on my ankle - I wasn't first pick when it came to choosing teams in P.E.

People usually don't believe me when I say this, but I have no problem telling anyone that. It's not embarrassing to me or a reason to regret that status. In fact, I loved it.

No, I'm not joking. I really loved getting picked last for basketball and softball. I loved watching the "captains" go through the guys first and then the girls they thought might not screw up their scores. "Why?" you may ask, did this scene - played out every semester - not leave me a puddle of lost confidence on the gym floor? It's simple: I was good and I knew it.

That scene always happened in PE, but it only ever happened once a semester when the classes were mixed up and no one knew anyone else. When everyone's assumptions were based solely on appearance and not on ability. When no one had proven anything other than their ability to change into shorts and socks in five minutes flat. And if you've never seen the look on the face of a 6'2" Senior guy when a 4'10", overweight, Freshman girl wipes the floor with him in basketball, you haven't really lived. ;-)

The same goes for softball - "my" game. Sure I was, and am, small, but I batted clean-up from the time I was 6. And the first time all those smug faces shouts for the outfield to come in right behind the infield, and you get to watch them crane their necks as the ball sails over their heads, is priceless. It's hard not to walk the bases instead of running them.

Now, I didn't go into all of this just to point out that I was a good ball player. My point was that I've come to the conclusion that writing is similar to those days where the new class would choose sides.

When you send out a query, you're putting yourself in the line to be picked for a team. And when you watch people you know from writing circles and crit groups or online sites where writers gather snag contracts with agents, and then book deals with publishers, it can be tempting to feel like that kid who stands there all nervous while the captains choose everyone but him.

It seems like all they do is pick out your flaws and highlight them for all to see. Every presumption and assumption from what little of you an agent knows at the end of your query can make you want to tell the nurse you have cramps and can't do PE that day.

But...

If you're good, and you know it,

If you know that all it takes is one shot or one solid hit,

If you know that feeling of watching those slack jawed faces turn and follow the ball they expected to roll ten feet fly fifty yards behind them...

... last place can totally rock.

All you have to do is hang in there, and the next time someone's choosing teams, they'll still probably start with their best friends, but once round one is over, they'll point at you first. When you come up to bat, they'll back up (which, of course, is when you bunt ;-) ), and when you get the ball, you find that it's the best players on the other team following you down the court.

They may not expect much of you at first, but they'll remember you by the time you're finished.

Non-Standard Query Structure

Sunday, December 26, 2010

5 Chiming In
Anyone who's serious about writing has probably already got the "basics" of query structure committed to memory.

You know how to address the agent (and how not to). You know to include word count and genre. You know to follow the basic main plot, in voice, and keep the agent's attention. You know to shoot for around 350 words, total.

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned before that I like to get my query locked down early on, because it helps me streamline the plot before all the sub-plot threads are added. To that end, I've decided to try something a little different than the usual two paragraphs of plot and one of personal info model. Whether it will work or not, I've no idea, but I think it gets the point of the story across, and hopefully it will stand out.



Dear Agent McAwesome:

One week ago, Claire's cousin Dinah slit her wrists.

Five days ago, Claire found Dinah's diary and discovered why.

Three days ago, Claire stopped crying and came up with a plan.

Two days ago, she ditched her piercings and bleached the black dye from her hair.

Yesterday, knee socks and uniform plaid became a predator's camouflage.

Today, she'll find the boy who broke Dinah.

By tomorrow, he'll wish he was dead.

Premeditated is a 60,000 word contemporary YA novel. Chapters or a synopsis are available on request.

MERRY CHRISTMAS

Friday, December 24, 2010

1 Chiming In
If I knew what I was doing, I'd be posting those nifty YouTube viewing windows to share a few of my favorites with you, but I can't see to work out the particulars. So... I shall give you links instead.

1. Christmas Eve / Sarajevo -- Trans Siberian Orchestra

This is an instrumental masterpiece, plain and simple. Orchestrated like a grand piece of fine art, it incorporates modern instruments, synthesizers, upbeat tempos, and too many other good things to list. It's popular with people who like to synch their Christmas lights to a musical track, but this link goes to a recording from one of their concerts. It's got the cleanest audio of the clips I've seen on YouTube.

2. The Little Drummer Boy -- the Animaniacs

Arguably the best cartoon ever animated (American, at least. I maintain that Danger Mouse is the best internationally), the Animaniacs was a show from the 90's produced by Steven Spielberg. It was the adventures of three siblings (the Warner bros. and their sister) who lived in the water tower on the studio lot and generally wreaked havoc with everything and everyone. I think Pinky and the Brain are probably the best known segment, but one year, they did a Christmas special, including the clip I've linked here. It's their own take on the Christmas carol with Wacko (*cough* Ringo *cough*) playing the part of Drummer Boy. Soon the whole manger's rocking to a swing-style rendition of the tune. Truly unique, and memorable.

These last few are the songs I listen for every year on the radio when our local country station plays their Christmas marathon. ( I was raised on classic country music, so my "traditional" listens mostly come from that.)

3. Pretty Paper -- Willie Nelson

I can't explain why I love this song, because it's exactly the sort of sentimental song I usual detest, but I have to hear this song at least once a year, or else it's just not Christmas.

4. Happy Christmas / War is Over -- John Lennon

Celine Dion has a decent remake of this song, but I'm going with the original. It's not a happy song, and is rightfully melancholy for the content, and it's absolutely one of my favorite Christmas songs ever.

5. Blue Christmas -- Elvis Presley

I admit it. I listen to this one to laugh. I love hearing it on the radio, but it makes me giggle. (Yes, I know it's shocking, but I CAN giggle :-P )

6. Christmas in Dixie -- Alabama

Another semi-sentimental one, but still worth a listen.

7. Hard Candy Christmas -- Dolly Parton

Yes, it came from a movie about prostitutes, but I don't care. The song is something I like to hear. Deal with it.

8. All I Want for Christmas is You -- Vince Vance & the Valiants.

My all time favorite Christmas song, bar none.


9. Christmas Time in Texas -- George Strait

Do not badmouth George Strait. Just don't. There are laws. (Not the best audio.)


10. Baby it's Cold Outside -- Glee

A new favorite, sung by Chris Colfer and Darren Criss. Yes, they're both guys, but I defy a female to sing this song as well as Chris C.

** disclaimer**

I found videos with the songs doing a quick search, I didn't watch them all the way through.

How to know you've been at it long enough

Sunday, December 19, 2010

1 Chiming In
When you're writing something out by hand, with pen and paper, and you get the urge to save the file.

Yes, I have officially been writing too long.

*chants*

There is no ALT-F / S with a Bic pen. I cannot crash a paper notebook. There is no ALT-F /S with a Bic pen. I cannot crash a paper notebook.

head/desk

:-P

Tis the Season

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

3 Chiming In
.... for frustration. Fa-la-la-la-la l'la-la-la.

I'm at that point most writers hit where they don't like to look at their WIP for even one more second. It comes in the home stretch, when you're almost ready to wrap things up and call them shiny, and suddenly your brain goes on lock down.

It could be stress (yay, holidays!). It could be some sort of latent fear. (It's almost done - now people will judge it! Yikes!) It could be boredom. (Not this again! I saw this story yesterday! Wah!)

This is also the point when things get a bit dicey for the writer. It's tempting to shove the hateful WIP in a drawer and say NO MORE! Just scrap it and go on to the next thing. If you were running, this would be the point you hit the wall. But, like running, there's something on the other side of that wall. There's a second wind and more speed than you believe possible.

When it happens, and it will, you'll know what I mean. This is where a back-up story comes in handy, I think. If you have something productive to do other than your main WIP, then you won't feel so bad about neglecting the word count. (And you will feel bad for that.)

Right now, I'm on the not so fun side of the wall, but hopefully, I'll be seeing the view from the otherside soon.

/ whinge.

First Drafts are Not Crap Writing

Monday, December 6, 2010

7 Chiming In
Not mine. Not yours. Not anyone's.

So there.

Yes, I know that flies in the face of the mantra of the moment which is "Give yourself permission to write crap."

Don't do that. Just don't.

1st drafts are RAW writing, not crap writing - and there IS a difference.

When you designate something as "crap", it becomes refuse. You expect it to stink and you expect to toss it out in the end. 1st drafts shouldn't be like that (no draft should). Treat your drafts as raw materials. Freshly picked cotton or newly shorn wool. Raw diamonds and unprocessed gold.

It may not look like much, in fact it may look worthless or even gross, but realize that it's not yet ready to be used. It needs to be processed.

You have to wash it and pick out the burrs. You have to bleach it. You need to heat it up and let the dross separate. It has to be cut and polished.

Those are steps you have to go through to get from raw material to a marketable finished product, and they're steps that won't work on crap. It doesn't matter how well you dress it up or if you throw glitter on it or if you try and paint it gold, it's still crap underneath.

Writing (even the bad kind) takes effort, and that should never be treated as refuse. It should be treated with respect and handled appropriately for what it can become in the end if the correct methods are applied to it in order to utilize the raw material present.

Going into a new WIP, or working on the existing one, with the idea in mind that you've given yourself permission to write terribly just puts you in the mindset to not expect your first draft to be worth anything. But it is - first drafts are EXTREMELY valuable because they are the foundation of what comes after.

Time spent writing something you expect to throw away is time wasted, and writing takes long enough as it is without wasting time on something you don't intend to use.

Crap is a lousy foundation. It decomposes quickly and takes down everything on top of it with the void left behind. I refuse to allow myself to build my stories on crap.

Does that mean that my first drafts are perfect? No.

What is means is that, while I don't obsess over perfection (*looks around to see if anyone notices crossed-fingers*) with the first drafts, I do put effort into them, and I do strive to make them the best they can possibly be. Because, in the end, I'd rather sit down to create a diamond ring with rocks in a bucket than crap. And I know I'd sure rather put my name on something made from gold than garbage.

Great Contest Opportunity

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

3 Chiming In
CA Marshall, who is a freelance editor type person, is having a contest over on her blog for Christmas. YAY!

The prize is a substantial edit for an up to 100,000 word MS. Double YAY! (English MS, only, though.)

(This nifty little button should get you there if my coding skills have completely deserted me:)

a href="http://www.blogger.com/%E2%80%9Dhttp://www.camarshall.com/p/editing-services.html%E2%80%9D" target="”_blank”">

Pop on over and see if it sounds like something you'd want to give a try.

And since part of this is what you want/would give for Christmas --

For giving, unless someone tells me something specific, I go the gift card route.

For getting, it's a little weird this year.

If you've read this blog, you know I like vampires, and have since I was a kid. Well, what you don't know (unless you are a stalker and go through my trash) is that the "L" in my name stands for "Laura". At the store the other day, while shopping for cousin-munchkins, I came across "Monster High" in the toy aisle, and their vamp-girl "Draculaura". It's too perfect for inspiration.

:-)

Photobucket

Though, I'm fairly certain, even the doll is taller than me. :-P

THANKSGIVING

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

2 Chiming In
So, if you're in the States, tomorrow's the big day. It's the one day of the year, diets are allowed to go out the window, nutritionists are bound with shoe string potatoes and gagged with turkey drumsticks, and family members gather to stuff their faces while bringing up all those things everyone swears will... never... be... brought... up... again...

Since I will be at my cousin's overfull house full of overstuffed people, and since tomorrow even the banks and post offices are closed, I'll not blog tomorrow. Instead, I'll say HAPPY THANKSGIVING today instead of tomorrow.

All right, kiddies, you know how this works. Clockwise around the table, share your thankfuls:

I am thankful that I have my little blog following of lovely people who read these rambles I pound out at my laptop, and I am thankful that my WIP, all 3 of them, are in much better shape than they were a week ago.

So, how about you?

DUDE

Thursday, November 18, 2010

1 Chiming In
DUDE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I just realized I have 16,000 MORE words done on my WIP than I realized! I'm almost at 60K!!!

*does happy dance *

(Why are you all laughing at me?)

:-P

Rowling's Reach

Friday, November 12, 2010

4 Chiming In
Nathan Bransford has made this week one dedicated to the Harry Potter-verse on his blog. Today, he asked / challenged / suggested that people do their own Potter / Rowling posts to be linked back, so here goes...

I missed the Potter bandwagon. I have never purchased nor checked out a HP novel. I have never seen a HP film. And yet, I can't honestly say I know nothing of Harry Potter or J.K. Rowling. Like those arcane echoes of times past that remain in our common vocabulary as "cliches", Harry Potter has become something of a cultural standard.

The reach of these book, as well as their impact on our pop culture is evident, more so for those of us who never participated, I think, because it's through our experiences that you come to realize just how hard it is to escape the "Wizarding World of Harry Potter".

Even without joining the stampede toward devouring these books, I can name the main characters (and most of the actors who portray them). I know the over-reaching story arc and who the good / bad guys are. I know the themes of the books.

Some of this may be due to frequenting writing boards where JK Rowling is mentioned frequently, as is HP (every teen writer seems to think they have the "next" Harry Potter at some point.). I'm not sure if that's where it comes from, or not, but somehow I picked up a working knowledge of Quidditch, and well, that's weird.

HP seems to work a bit like the "boiled frog" analogy. (If you stick a frog in a pot of water and gradually raise the temperature, he'll boil before he even knows it's getting hot.) This is how the Potterverse has impacted pop culture, I think. Sure the glitz and fervor was highly noticeable, but the subtle changes came slowly and without fanfare. (by subtle, I mean the use of HP-words and phrases becoming "normal" words, etc.)

I'll admit I'm curious about what makes these books tick. (Who wouldn't be, right?) But the first time I was tempted to look one up on You Tube or the HP-wiki was when I started with that writer's board I mentioned.

The first instance was someone telling me my WIP read like a fusion of The Forest of Hands and Teeth with Dementors.

:-( <---- I looked like this. I didn't know what a Dementor was, so I was a bit disturbed at the idea that maybe it was a bad thing.

I hit Google and found out that a Dementor was a soul-sucking creature used as a prison guard in the HP-verse. Okay, so I was still slightly disturbed, but I was no longer upset. The person had meant it as a compliment. My point is that HP had become so pervasive, that it was being used as a descriptor to reference people's work.

(FWIW, there's no soul sucking involved in my WIP)

I saw it over and over again. People said "This reminds me of______" (fill in the blank with the appropriate HP character or descriptions. Scars were too much like Harry's. Characters acted too much like Hagrid. Mentors were "Dumbledore wearing a mask" (though, technically that should be Gandalf....). The "good villain" was met with -"Oh... he pulls a Snape! Gotcha!"

Unlike so many stories that seem to be popular, then forgotten, HP is transcendent. In twenty years, the impact will still be there. The words will still be in our vocabulary. The characters will still be studied as archetypes. The theme park will still be hosting visitors.

(It's got it's own friggin' theme park.... when's the last time a "book" rated that high on the culture-shock scale?)

And... I still probably won't have read or watched (I have a mental block on magic stories. Yes, I'm weird like that.)

The impact of those 7 books is enormous. (<--- obvious statement of the day). They made Rowling a household name (and made a pretty nifty career for the actors who portray her characters). They floated many an author whose books were suddenly not as big a risk thanks to the extra income HP generated for its publisher. They became the new bar to reach for.

I'm not saying that you should charge in saying "I have written the next Harry Potter! (In fact, don't do that. Seriously, I'm telling you not to.) But there's nothing wrong with stretching toward that goal.

When you compete against the best, you get better by virtue of trying to play in their league. And while publishing is NOT a competition between authors, using someone else's career as inspiration can have the same effect.

Do I smile whenever someone tells me a piece I offer for crit reads like it was written by JK Rowling? You better believe it. Even without knowing her stuff that well, I know it's a compliment. And if they see something in my writing that strikes the same chord as what they saw in hers, then yes, I do a little happy dance.

Happily Ever Apples

Sunday, November 7, 2010

4 Chiming In
I hate to say this, but I think we've all been poisoned.

Yep. All of us.

You. Me. And any other unsuspecting people and/or cats, dogs and gerbils that may have been subjected to movies the last few decades.

I'm not going to go off on a rant about sex, violence, and crude language / behavior in films that may or may not impact the public at large. No, the poison of which I speak is much more insidious and slow acting. You see, unlike the kid who might repeat an off-color joke at his Grandmother's 84th birthday part, this poison doesn't have any overt effects.

By the time you realize it's wormed its way into your system, it may be too late...

The poison, in this case, is from eating too many Happily Ever Apples. You know the kind I mean - they're what common vernacular calls "Hollywood endings" or "Disneyfication".

Indoctrination starts young, long before your average drool-bomb is able to form coherent sentences. They watch all manner of brightly colored, vibrant, and hyper-kinetic animated thing-a-ma-jobbies dance and sing on the TV while their parents go about their daily lives.

When they wake up and get ready for school, cartoons are on. When they do their homework, there's more. Parents line up in droves to take their kids to see whatever the highly-marketable cuteness of the minute happens to be.

And every friggin' one of them has a saccharine sweet ending that leads kids to think that's how stories are supposed to end.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was a horror story, but...

Not anymore.

The Little Mermaid is supposed to die...

Not anymore.

Snow White and Cinderella are dark, twisted stories involving amputated toes and heels and much blood...

Not anymore.

That's the poison at work, you see. It makes people accept that the "only" ending for a story is a happy one. The worst part about it is that most of us know we're being poisoned by the Happily Ever Apples, yet we just keep chomping away on them, thinking 'what could it hurt'. I didn't realize how far gone I was myself until I read someone's review of Mockingjay, the final installment of The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games is not a happy book; it's not supposed to be. It's violent and ugly at times. It's heavy and grey in a way not many YA writers dare to be. I know this, and yet, as soon as I started to read about the resolutions of the story in the early reviews, I got upset.

'No!' cried my inner apple eater when she heard that by the end of Mockingjay, readers would be wondering if it wouldn't have been kinder for all considered if Katniss had simply allowed her sister to take her chances in the Games.

I've said it here before that the happy ending isn't always the right ending, and yet I still got upset with the ending of the Hunger Games Trilogy. There's an inherent futility to the story's arc that triggers all of the side effects of Happily Ever Apples. Indignation, anger, and a feeling of being somehow cheated... but why?

Does the ending make the journey to reach it any less compelling?

No.

Does the lack of that maudlin happy moment where the heroine and her hero pronounce their love for each other and end on a new beginning make the story any less complete?

No.

Did the author accomplish her goal?

Yes.

And there it is. THAT'S the driving force behind the poison. It's not the authors pushing Happily Ever Apples, it's the readers. People conditioned to believe that unless their heros and heroines die for the masses or get their dreams handed to them, they (as an audience) have been robbed. But sometimes, that's not how the story ends.

Respect the author enough to know how their own tales should be told. Understand that they are the creators of their universes, not you. (That's what fanfic is for ;-P ) To many writers, characters aren't just pieces on a playing grid, they're real people without bodies, and by writing their stories down, the writer is telling those people's history.

The Little Mermaid dies and Pocahontas was a fourteen year old kid who didn't end up with John Smith. If you tell the tale of Jean D'Arc, she's going to meet a fiery end whether you like it or not.

Bad things happen - in fiction as well as real life, and it detracts from the story if you ignore that fact in favor of making everyone smile on the last page. The RIGHT ending is ALWAYS the best ending. It may be happy, it may be tragic, but even in fiction, that's life.

Good ending =/= Happy ending. They are not synonyms.

Sure you can hope for the best when you start a new novel, but you shouldn't automatically expect it as your due payment for cracking the spine.

If you don't like the way a story ends, then just wait. Maybe Disney will buy it, animate it, and then Jean D'Arc can exist forever with a trio of singing cherubs and a convenient Fade-to-Black before the first embers fly.

More NaNo stuff

Friday, November 5, 2010

2 Chiming In
If there is a coming explosion of sci-fi to the literary word, I blame the short title for this month's festivities. It puts nanites on the brain. (And anyone familiar with the concept of nanites knows that on your brain is the last place you want the little buggers to be.)

Now, on to the supposedly lucid post of questionable intent and value...

I'm trying to be a good little NaNo- blogger (I'm keeping my NaNo / NaNo, Mork from Ork jokes to a minimum, I swear... what's the emoticon code for fingers crossed behind your back?). To that end, I'll point out the little butterfly on an ivy string in my sidebar. That's my NaNoWriMo word ticker, which so far, I've remembered to update every day.

As it sits now, I'm at about 8,000 words (3K of which are most likely tripe, but, that's the fun of NaNo. This month we make messes. Next, we clean them up.)

Also, in a lull, I made an attempt at a longish query-type summary of Draconis:

Being helpful is not supposed to be this big of a deal.

Tanner only wants an excuse to talk to Keira Beckett so that maybe she'll forget about his too curly hair and his too skinny arms. Seriously, it's just a friggin' band-aid on a cut that's barely bleeding. It isn't supposed to lead to civil war... but that's exactly what happens when the blood from Keira's hand mixes with that from Tanner's.

Keira Beckett isn't the sweet, if somewhat aloof, teenager with an overprotective family that she appears to be. She's dragon-kind, and the last of her line, daughter of their ruler. In an attempt to make sure she remains the last, the head of a rival pride killed Keira's mother, and her father's second mate, ensuring that there will never be another heir born to that family.

But when Tanner's little act of kindness mingles her blood with his own, he's jerked out of the normal world and placed on the front lines of a war he didn't even know was being waged.

Now that blood from the royal line is in his body, he begins changing. Suddenly the vegetarian craves meat and his night blindness evaporates; he discovers that he's fireproof and has an endoskeleton of dragon scales beneath his skin. He'll have to trust Keira's father to teach him how to survive those who want him dead, because if he can't learn how to harness his new power and control the dragon that's been born in him, neither he nor his mother will live long enough to regret it.

It may not make much sense yet, it may be a bit redundant in places, and by the time I'm done, the story may actually change, but this is Draconis as it sits now.

NaNo Update

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

1 Chiming In
Here it is, day 3, and .... I haven't given up! Yay! (<--- you'd appreciate the severity of that statement if you knew me :-P )

Things are going in fits and starts, and I'm not going to give up the major WIP for the sake of NaNo, but I've got the NaNo novel started. It even has a title -- Draconis. Right now it's sitting on the fence between being MG and YA. I like the freedom of it being YA, because the characters could legally drive, but the MC is male, and that tends to do better with MG readers (so say "the experts"). Other than the freedom of movement issues, the age isn't really a big deal, so I guess I'll have to see what plot points develop to tip the scale one way or the other on the age issue.

The story far is shockingly coherent and complex (<--- again, if you saw my usual "process", you'd be just as shocked as I am), and I -"Hater of all things Outline" - managed to outline the first half of the book... 20 friggin' pages worth.

We've got:

* A tween / teen curly headed drama geek of a MC with night-blindness
* His loyal best friend (<-- all MG / YA must have at least one of those, otherwise the union gets testy, and picket lines get involved)
* An aloof girl-type person who is the catalyst of the Curly-Top's woes and triumphs
* said girl-type person's giant father and seriously scarred little sister. (It involves a fire, it's not for shock value. Her name is Brigid, if that gives you a hint.)
* Maternal unit with serious OCD issues
* Prefab housing
* Sacred gold
* A cat named for Edgar Allen Poe
* A principal who the kids actually respect, despite the bad comb over and extra hundred or so pounds. He's a great guy.
* Epic battles involving all manner of creepy creature and evil, power hungry (leaf covered) villains, and....
* A Renaissance Faire.
(Yes, at some point, there will be men, boys, and maybe even a goat in tights. I have worked a Ren Fest, believe me, stranger things have happened.)

Dragons, and Naga, and Wyverns, oh my!

And since I'm hung up on the whole "dragon" theme from the title, and spent far too much time googling "Dragon Quotes", I leave you with the one that's become my favorite (sorry Nietzsche, but you're almost a cliche now.) --

“Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

~ G. K. Chesterton

Nov. 1... you know what that means...

Monday, November 1, 2010

1 Chiming In
You probably think I'm going to say something about tomorrow being the elections - I'm not (unless you count this statement, of course)

No, today is the 1st of November, which means yesterday was Oct. 31, and today begins NaNiWriMo!

First, to Yesterday --

I'm happy to say the house survived the after-hours siege in tact and with no damage to the lawn. Much candy was passed out, many munchkins were denied their option to "trick" because of these treats, and our neighborhood did absolutely nothing to curb the juvenile diabetes or obesity rates of its minor citizens. However, since I didn't recognize even one quarter of the kids at the door (and not because of their masks, smart ass) a plethora of parents have now displayed by practical application that it's okay to take candy from strangers - especially if it's dark and requires approaching unknown houses to ring the bell.

No one seemed to appreciate my "Go blonde! Starve the Zombies!" campaign, but that's okay, I'll have the last laugh when they're the blue plate specials of the reanimated :-P

The best part of the night was when a little guy (maybe 6) approached the house with his older sister. I have an animatronic butler-ghoul (the kids call him Eddie) who responds to motion by speaking to the kids or turning to look at them and breathing. This little boy evidently wasn't from our neighborhood (he had on a hockey mask, so I couldn't see his face, and was dressed as a psycho blood-covered doctor with a machete) because he didn't know "Eddie". Most kids either respond to the butler with delight or fear, depending on their age and disposition, but this kid...
Eddie's head picked their arrival as the time to move and "look" at the little guy's sister. The kid glanced up, brandished his machete, and polite as you please, said: "Please stop staring, I have a knife, sir."

Baby brother to the rescue. (When the zombies come, me and my bottle blonde self will be hiding behind that one...)

Now, on to NaNo --

If you were around last year, you know I started strong, and fizzled. Hopefully this year will be different. The idea for the project is that by writing a little more than 1,600 words / day, you'll have a complete (50,000 word) novel by the end of the month. It doesn't have to be perfect (you aren't supposed to edit as you go), just the first and very rough draft.

So... we'll see.

I have my leftover (read: held back because the advancing horde stripped everything like a bunch of chocolate-seeking locusts) candy for energy, a shiny new idea, and a blank screen, so I'm good to go. And maybe, just maybe, there won't be a single mention of brainless blonde cheerleaders confusing the zombies with their ability to walk and talk.

(I was a cheerleader, I can say that. So there. For the record, ours were highly intelligent)

Have You Ever Seen a Story?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

3 Chiming In
Have you?

Have you ever been out and about in the real world (writers can leave said real world at will, you know ;-P ) and seen something that just makes you stop, stare, and think "There has to be a story there" ?

Imagine, if you will, the most stereotypical biker you can. A big guy in leathers with a black motorcycle jacket covered in patches. Long brown hair, tattoos over every piece of skin not covered by his clothes, two days worth of beard and an etched in granite "Don't *** * with me" look on his face.

Got that image? Good.

Now, picture the passenger on the back of his bike... I promise you can't do it on your own.

Think of a little girl. A pink princess, maybe 6 years old with sparkly sandals and a pink dress, complete with a fluffy backpack on her back. She's so small her legs hang barely past the seat, and there she is, hanging onto Mr. Hell's Angels' vest with her little hands and wearing what has to be his helmet on her head. (It's big enough that it covers her head and neck, resting on her shoulders.)

This was the scene I saw as this guy peeled out of the local Elementary school. And I was certain that there was a story there.

Maybe it's because writers are semi-self-trained to be better observers, but the details of something like that stick with you even from only a few seconds notice.

Obviously, this guy hadn't expected to pick up a little girl from school, as evidenced by the borrowed helmet and the dress (no one who has ever ridden a bike would put a kid on the back in shorts or a skirt - take it from someone who was short enough that her leg fell directly on the hottest parts of the bike below the seat..ouch) Yet, Mr. H.A. did it.

Maybe he was her dad or uncle or older brother, he could have been the nicest guy in the world who lived next door and did Mom a favor, or there could have been an emergency and he was the only available to pick the kid up -- who knows -- but that's the sort of "what happened" question that creates the first parts of a forming story.

The point of this seemingly pointless ramble, is that sometimes you don't have to go looking for inspiration. Sometimes it darts out of an alley in a 1954 Lincoln and almost takes off your bumper. And sometimes it's as shocking as a kid with a poodle backpack on the back of a Harley.

Tag! You're It!

Friday, October 15, 2010

3 Chiming In
And as this is freeze tag, and I've caught you, now you have no choice but to stay there and read my blog. Ha! I win!


When did dialogue tags become a "topic of concern" with writers? Aren't they supposed to be somewhat benign in the grand scheme of things?

I always thought so, which is why I'm usually surprised to see (major) questions about the "acceptable" number and types of tags "allowed".

(Before I go off on the bulk of this post, I'm going to point something out here -- you are not in English class. Even if you are a student who still attends class, and one of those classes is English, you're still not in English class when you're writing for professional reasons. Get the "rules" out of your head. There are no grades here and no one with a red pen searching for subtle irony and hidden themes.)

Now, back to our regularly scheduled attempt at sounding like I know stuff --


Dialogue tags are those little bits after a line of spoken word that identify the speaker, their mood, or actions. The most common, (and the one many will say should be the only tag utilized) is the standard "he said".


There are those who like copious numbers of tags:

"Tags," he said. "Are necessary to establish who is speaking which words at what time."

"Yes," she agreed. " Without tags, one would not know the conversation's participants without them.

"But it can get annoying when every single line is tagged for no real reason," he said.

"Quite," she said.

"And I mean every line," he said.

"I know," she said.

"Every. Single. One," he explained.

"STOP IT," she ordered. "You're annoying me!"

"Sorry," he apologized. (But he kept right on tagging away...)

And those who prefer their manuscripts to bounce around starkers:

"We are talking."

"Yes, my friend. It's a veritable verbal sparring match."

"I say my words."

"And I say mine."

"I might mention someone with whom I am familiar."

"I think I'll talk about my job."

"Who are you again?"

"I'm not sure, as the writer didn't think it was necessary to tell us who was speaking and in what order."

"But order is important! What if the reader can't follow the conversation without names? And why are we naked?"

"This writer likes the "starkers method" of dialogue tagging. It's supposedly very literary."

"But what are we doing while we're talking?"

"Standing completely still, I guess. And our voices must be monotone. In fact, you're lulling me into a stupor.

"Must leave conversation... too sluggish... "

"No action cues... feet won't move... goodbye cruel world..."

"And crueler writer..."

"All we wanted was a pair of pants..."

Tags are useful for pointing out unusual reactions, like laughter when the words being tagged would usually denote tears.

"He's dead." <--- on it's own, this is a statement that would include images of shock or mourning, and doesn't require qualification. "He's dead," she laughed.

"He's dead," he announced.

"He's dead," she said, trembling.

"He's dead," she asked.

"He's dead." His son fainted as soon as the words were out.

"He's dead," she explained. "Try someone else."

Different tags impart different energy to the scene and speaker. When the action or reaction doesn't follow logical paths, then tag away and make it easy for your reader to understand.

Making it "easy", brings me to the next sore spot:

"THROW AWAY THE THESAURUS!" some cry.

I'm not quite sure why they're passionate enough about the issue for it to warrant tears, but whatever floats your boat. (Though if you throw them away, then many, many trees will have died in vain and the planet will hate you. Not to mention that there are so few dinosaurs left in the world that the senseless slaughter of the only remaining abundance of "saurus" out there is just wrong. <-- sounded funnier in my head, but I'm not backspacing, so deal with it.) I think it's a fair guideline to say "stick to words you're familiar enough with to have as part of your daily vocabulary" rather than grabbing a thesaurus to find alternatives. "No!" she interjected. "You shall never wrest my shiny word bank from my hands! It makes me sound intelligent and literal."

"I think you mean literary," her opponent elucidated. "And you're wrong. It makes you sound stupid and stilted. Why would I wrestle you for a book? We'd just get dirty. So, unless there's cash involved, I'll pass."

"Ha! I am triumphant," she vociferated.

*snicker*

"You just vociferated in public!"

"So what?" she beseeched in a questioning manner of asking her interrogative.

"So next, you'll be asserting, bleeting, and dare I say ejaculating things into the conversation!"

(seriously, why do people do that? It's hardly mixed company conversation... unless of course you're into that sort of thing... Personally, when I see that one, I think some twelve year old has learned a new word from Daddy's "collection" of "vintage photo art" and thinks it's funny to use it. You know, the way twelve year olds laugh at toilet jokes.)

"Hmmf! You're just envious because you lack the fortitude and lexicon of jargon to do it!" she declared with all the declaration an exclamation point could declare.

"Sure... that's it... yeah..."

The "no thesaurus" advice is usually sound, IMO, but it's not just for dialogue tags. You shouldn't be tossing around words you don't use regularly enough to know their connotations. Words are like musical notes. They have pitch and key and tone, and if you put something sharp where you want a flat, then it's going to sound wrong.

One of the best compliments I've ever gotten from a beta reader was the woman who said my prose was full of "big" words, but it sounded natural as though that was the way I speak, and because of that it made things flow. Well, it is the way I speak. I don't walk around sounding like a Word-a-Day calendar, but I generally try to make wording precise. For me, using more common words will make me stumble.

If you're going to use the less common ways of saying things, make sure they sound natural when you do it, otherwise you'll end up typing page after page of useless lines.

"Oh, my phalanges!" The writer decried the pain in her aching fingers after a twenty hour type-a-thon.

"Your phalanges and my cranium," her poor, beleaguered reader lamented.

"Why are you remonstrating? It was my oculi which had to countenance the strain."

"You sound almost sanguine that you've made me endure this ultra-violent strain of frou-frou flu!" The reader was not at all sympathetic.

"But think of what it will do for your vocabulary!"

"You mean the part where it makes me think the words, while technically correct, mean things they weren't intended to convey?"

"Shut up," she said, remembering this was a post about dialogue tags and quickly adding one. (see, I'm on topic, really.)


The "purple prose" method of tagging isn't nearly as annoying to me as the "Captain Obvious" method. I can only assume that this is some cast-off love child of the "using said" advice and whatever remnants of English Lit are knocking around the writer's brain from High School.

"Somethings don't need explanation," she said. <--- the standard "said" tag. While it's obvious she is saying something, as this is dialogue, these little "saids" can help keep the speakers straight. That is in no way justification for any of the following. "Really?" she questioned, questioning her need to ask when the question mark was right there in plain ink.

"YES!" he exclaimed, using an exclamation point to drive the point home.

"I can explain," he explained, "The explanation is lengthy and very near infodump territory, but I shall explain it none the less."

Some things don't need to be tagged. The reason we have punctuation is so that the intent of the statement is carried through without having to add extra words to explain the connotation. Just like you don't have to tag a line with an action that's made clear by the dialogue itself. (If the dialogue says what comes next is an explanation, then you don't need a tag to say it as well.)

The Secret to Writing Success

Saturday, October 2, 2010

6 Chiming In
Yep, you heard me. THE SECRET TO WRITING SUCCESS.

Since it seems that this is the number one question asked on writing sites, it appears that there exists a large group of unpublished writers out there clinging to the idea that there's a formula for publication. They ask and wheedle and bribe to find out the "real" steps needed to get published, because it can't be as mundane as:

1. Write a good book.
2. Edit it until you realize the ink in your pen has turned to blood.
~wait~
3. Get a Beta.
~wait~
4. Edit again (possibly get a transfusion if this step requires massive edits; see #2)
5. Query
~wait~
6. (hopefully) secure representation.
7. Edit again (you know your blood type by now, yeah?)
~wait~
8. Go on sub. (if the edits work out)
~wait~
9. (hopefully) sell.
~wait~
10. Get advance; do ridiculous dance of joy in your socks.

No, that can't *possibly* be the secret to getting published. It sounds too much like work, and writing is not work. Writing is life and breath and instinct and all those lovely, flowery, drively (<--my word, and no you can't have it!) things people like to dream about. Secrets are supposed to be spectacular and sneaky, and cut you through most, if not all, of the steps at once.

So, since I have officially read past my limit of whingy annoyances who get defensive with those who have experience, rather than thanking them for their time and insight, I'm going to break the cardinal rule of the wannabe writers' silent agreement with the universe and spill.

The Secret to Writing Success (which will guarantee you epic accolades and best-seller/movie fodder status) is....

Time Travel.

No, I don't mean books about Time Travel, I mean actual, Quantum Leap time travel.

Seriously, folks, it's not that hard. You take a bag, fill it with say a decade's worth of best sellers, run around the planet the opposite way (ala Superman) until it spins backward on its axis, and then (assuming you didn't overdo it and end up back in the Carter Administration) you type out "your" masterpieces and preempt their original authors. (Who probably weren't their original authors, as this is a well known and utilized tactic. There are seriously 3 authors in the world; everyone else just takes their stuff and runs really fast in reverse.)

Now, this may require a bit of sacrifice (Ack -- typewriters!), but you have to persevere. Trying to pass off a bound book with copyright information printed at the beginning will not be conducive you making people think you wrote the book ten years before it was published. And it'll all be worth it when you can march into an agent's office and say: "I have Harry Potter for you!" or "I have Twilight for you!" or "I have The Hunger Games for you!"

This is the point things get tricky.

Whoever you speak to at said agent's office will give you a funny look, and say something akin to: "I'm sorry, but we don't do in person solicitation. Please submit a query and sample to our mailing address."

To which you tearfully reply: "But... it's Harry Potter..."

And then (still not having blinked, and now considering calling security) they say: "I'm sure Mr. Potter has a lovely story, and if you'll have him send a query to our mailing address..." All the while, this person is making a note NOT to read anything with the name Harry Potter attached to it because HP is obviously a whacko stalker who can't follow simple instructions.

You see, before he was "Harry Potter!" or before Twilight was *cue sparkles* "TWILIGHT!" They were manuscripts. By writers. Who had never been heard of before. They meant nothing to anyone in the industry, and neither did their authors' names, which means.... *gasp*.... that they had to:

1. write
2. edit
3. beta
4. edit
5. query

etc... etc... etc...

Do you see where I'm going with this?

If there was some super sekrit formulaic formula to writing success, then the people who already have books out there would be using it. They'd use it every time.

The fact is -- NO ONE knows what will sell or what will click with the reading public. Maybe Joe will get a multi-book deal with a major house that never earns out because people took offense at one of his characters. Maybe Jane will self-publish something that gets Tweeted by a celebrity and becomes an international best seller. Maybe Stan will have an ugly cover that turns people away in droves. Maybe vampires will remain the single biggest draw in literature; maybe the majority will shun them for twenty years.

No. One. Knows.

No one.

All you know is that you have a book in you, one you want to share with the world. So write it! Make it shiny! Then work your tail off to make people realize it's just what they've been looking for.

(Though if any of you figure out how to do that Superman running backward thing, I wouldn't mind hearing about it... it might make a good book.)

Blogging is HARD!!!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

4 Chiming In
(Whinging is EASY!!!)

So, um... yeah...

It's now almost the end of September and the book that should have been finished in July is hopefully going to be finished in October.

I know I haven't put up a new post in a while (yes, I'm alive ;-P ), but I have a really good excuse...

Sort of...

Maybe...

*looks around to see if there's a convenient way to escape the conversation*

*whistles a bit*

*refuses to make eye contact*

GAH! You caught me! I have NO excuse!

I just... DIDN'T BLOG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

There, I said it. I didn't blog. Ha! I willfully chose not to log in and type words on my screen! And while I don't have a good excuse, I do have a pathetic one... I didn't know what to blog about.

Seriously, that's it. I couldn't decide on a topic.

I guess everyone hits that point at some time or another, especially those of us who aren't yet published... either that, or I'm alone in my wish-washy world of "why would anyone want my opinion on things?"

It's a bit strange committing posts to virtual paper. I've never been the sort to start conversations, or even participate if I can manage to hover on the fringes without looking like a crazed inmate ready to make a break for it, and it's hard to consistently start "conversations" (which, in a way, is what these posts are.) I keep "hearing" my posts in my horrible twang that automatically drops my perceived IQ by 20 points and imagine anyone who pops over here with the strangest look on their face as they make their own hasty exit.

So, yes, Blogger the Terrible has made her return. I'll try and keep her in check from now on, and thanks to everyone who didn't unfollow this blog in the interim.

BACKSTORY

Sunday, August 22, 2010

4 Chiming In
Or...

How to not lose your friends before you make them.

Okay, so I am by no means an expert on writing. Honestly, I'm not sure anyone ever really is or can be because it's such a subjective thing, but there are skills associated with writing that can be generalized. One of those skills is the handling of backstory.

Backstory can turn into a serious thorn in the side of any author. There's so much to the characters that we want the readers to know and enjoy that it's tempting to put it all in the story from the first paragraph. We can delude ourselves into believing it's needed information and indulge our "creativity" by letting the backstory choke the "real" story.

When writing a story, think of it like making an introduction to someone you've never met - that is, after all, what you're doing. You're introducing readers to the world you've created. Imagine sitting down at a table to introduce yourself and, rather than just converse, the person you've just met starts rattling off their ENTIRE LIFE STORY without preamble or reason. It doesn't matter that this information is the basis of what made this person who they are; you don't need or want to hear it. Beyond that, it's just weird and rude to talk about yourself like that.

Yet, so many times, that's what (especially new) writers want to do with their characters.

Readers don't need a front-loaded version of the character's history any more than a new acquaintance needs the Cliff Notes Guide to You. If you treat a readership like a friendship, and share the information when it's appropriate, then everything will come out when it needs to. There will be mystery and intrigue, and the kind of secrets and kept back information that make a person unique (and tolerable) to those around them. Readers will seek to discover more, rather than force themselves to trudge on.

People can read books written either way, but most will choose to revisit the ones that don't force feed them information like a boisterous guest who doesn't know when it's time to leave the party. Just like people are more apt to visit friends than annoyances.

Storytelling

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

6 Chiming In
GUESS WHAT? I'M NOT DEAD.

Woot! *tosses confetti*

July, unfortunately, turned into a useless string of days that sapped all hope of completing my WIP due to that annoyance we call "LIFE". It's like some people out there don't realize I have a very import blog to blather on. They expect me to actually DO something and participate in activities that don't center around my laptop. Sheesh. If someone had told me up front that family was a long term arrangement....

;-P

Now for the (slightly more) coherent part of this post:

Since I'm trying to convince my brain it needs to pay attention to the words on screen again, I'm going to unabashedly (<--- GAH! only a month and the adverbs are cropping up like kudzu!) lift my blog topic from Nathan Bransford, who I am more convinced than ever is a robot or an army of clones.

What is storytelling? What is writing?

They can be the same or polar opposites. Writing is what you learn in English lit, but not too many English classes teach you how to tell a story. (Thankfully, I was blessed with 2 English teachers who did just that: Ms. Rob and Ms. Soriano.)

On Nathan's blog, I wrote some sort of nonsensical attempt at literary analysis that said: Writing is pouring your blood on paper and breathing life into your characters, while storytelling is allowing to breathe through you. Sounds kinda pretty, but doesn't really say much, and for some reason, the topic wouldn't leave me alone.

My admittedly (<--- WHY with the adverbs? WHY???) chaotic thought processes started swirling around, pinging off every mention of storytelling ever cataloged in my long term memory before settling on two references:

1 - tribal storytellers

2 - Scheherazade

I suspected my subconscious was trying to tell me something, as it bounced from those two topics to Homer and the bard minstrels, and then finally (<--- okay, someone slap my hands away from the "l" and "y" keys already...) I figured it out --

Storytelling as a silent medium is a fairly recent development. Storytelling existed LONG before the novel (Robinson Crusoe, arguably the 1st work of written fiction was published in 1719). As writer's we're trying to capture lightning in a bottle, and it doesn't want to be contained. It wants to leap off the page and coil around the readers like the scent of sweet smoke tossed into a campfire for effect.

Scheherazade would never have survived her wedding night if she'd thrown a book at the Sultan and said, "just read it". The words are only part of the performance, and that's the key - storytelling is a performance contained in a static medium.

Telling a tale is taking the reader's hand and dragging them behind you like an excited child who can't help but point out every unexpected delight as they run along. You're wanting to show them what happens, they want to explore, and intend to come back after their first read to see what wonders they missed. It's the last bit of magic in the world that refuses to dim and encourages those who stumble across it to clap with all their heart's belief and relight the fire.

It's a thread that connects the past to the future, and the voices of those long dead who continue to live through the words they spoke into being. Their breath catches the next voice and the next until they're spoken out 2,000 years later.

And I think that's why people get frustrated when they discover that the ability to write isn't enough. They look at a book and to them, it's an object still and cold. It has no life or purpose or personality. Sure, you can put pen to paper and write down events, and so long as you have a basic understanding of your chosen language, it's technically a story. But that doesn't make you a story teller; it makes you a scribe.

To tell a story, you have to see beyond the page and feel the breath behind the words that makes the pages rise and fall even when they're closed on the shelf. Books end; stories don't. They go to sleep and wait for the next set of eyes and hands to wake them up. They search for that spark of magic and reach out to fan it high. They pull the reader out of themselves and into the tale so they can see and taste and hear it all.

As haunting as any ghost, a storyteller's words will stick with you long after the covers close. You feel their joy and share their pain. You grieve the loss of those you loved when they die in the tale, but rejoice knowing you can find them again at the story's beginning.

Storytelling is a master's craft.

Anyone can learn to play the violin, not everyone can stand before a full house on a opera stage and inspire utter silence.

Anyone can take shop, not everyone can feel the natural grain of wood and find the masterpiece that was always there within it waiting to be released.

Anyone can grab a paintbrush, not everyone can trap a piece of their own soul on canvas.

Anyone can learn to sing a song, not everyone set their tears to music so the listener cries their own.

Anyone can learn to write. Sadly, most will never learn to tell a story, or realize that the two are not the same thing. They will shake their heads and curse the inability of others to understand when they are the ones who refuse to see beyond the two-dimensional construct in which they try to contain a world that has no natural boundary.

Outside Eyes

Thursday, July 22, 2010

5 Chiming In
I think it's very easy to underestimate the importance of fresh eyes when you're writing, and I don't mean giving yourself a break and coming back to a set-aside project. I mean getting an outside opinion. Yes, beta readers can do this well, but I've also discovered that having someone read a section of an in-progress story has its own merits.

Yesterday, I got some feedback from a contest entry on one of my WIP. (Yes, the one that should have been finished 3 weeks ago. Life gets in the way of art sometimes, as do migraines./whinge.)
Most of the things the person who read it pointed out were *face/palm* moments, and thankfully, most of them I'd already caught, so I'm not a total loser. (I will, grudgingly admit to having missed some spell-check proof mispellings... GRRR.)

The thing that this person's insight did, was pinpoint something that was inherently wrong with a particular scene. It was something I couldn't find, no matter how many times I read it, even though I knew there was something slightly off with the presentation.

I tried fiddling with word choice and tone, but I liked those they way they were. I added dialogue, but that didn't help the awkwardness of the situation. It did help the characterization, so it stayed, but I was no closer to figuring out what I'd screwed up.

Then BINGO. The person who gave me feedback pounced on it straight off. There was a component of the scene itself that made absolutely no sense given the world building. I had a secure bunker (like a fallout shelter) without running water (for a reason). That worked, but the fact that none of the adults had ever thought to stock it with supplies didn't. THAT was the thing I snagging myself on. Everything, everywhere else, was so carefully planned and plotted that finding these kids in a bunker with no food or water (One night only, don't flay me.) was totally out of character for the entire cast of characters.

I probably would have sat in front of my computer for another month before figuring that out on my own.

When we read our own work, we often read intent. Others read results. If you want to better your results, then you're probably going to have to let go of your "baby" and send him to the sitter for a few days.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go break into a secure bunker and drop some cookies and juice boxes for the munchkins.

FANFICTION!

Monday, July 19, 2010

6 Chiming In
Why yes I did use the "F" word...

Okay, so I know not everyone is familiar with fanfiction. I wasn't until a couple of years ago. Basically, fanfiction is when people who like a particular book, TV-show, movie, etc. make up their own stories using an established universe and its characters.

If you've never read a piece of fanfiction, try taking ten minutes to look at a site like Fanfiction.net for a better idea of how it works. (You'll also get a better idea of how the slushpile looks, btw, because while there are some terrific pieces out there, most of it's garbage with a capital trash.)

Technically a no-no (darn copyright!), it's generally a don't ask/don't tell situation because if the copyright holders were to shut down the fanficcers (<--- Yes, it's a word. Dictionaries don't know everything.), they risk alienating their hardcore fans.

The point of this post isn't to vilify or praise people who write fiction based off other people's work, but more a matter of curiosity to see others' opinions of the practice.

Before I go any further, I'm going to point out - again - that, yes, I've written fanfic. It was for a couple of TV shows I won't mention, and it was fairly popular given the size of the fandoms. (Neither show went more than a season, so they were small fandoms.)

Don't confuse fanfic with licensed tie-in novels for things like Star Wars or Star Trek. Those are professional books that have the permission of the rights holders. They're edited and must adhere to canon.

In a legal sense, it's not even the same as those "mash-up" novels like Pride and Prejudice... and Zombies. The book used in that case was in the public domain, and once again, it was edited.

Fanfic is no holds barred, mix n' match, alternate universe, fix everything you hated about the original story-telling that can be done by anyone old enough to type.

Don't like the fact that an author killed off your favorite character? Fine. Change it.

Think the MC would be better of with another partner? The best friend? The gay friend? Yourself? Have at it (though, self-insert stories are pretty much a joke...)

Absolutely love a minor character with no backstory? Write one for him!

Hate the fact that your favorite show got canceled? Organize a "virtual" season!

That's the essence of fanfic.

You can't sell it because it can't legally be published for profit. And it's very rarely edited. It's also highly addictive because of the almost instantaneous response and the fact that even some of the worst (as in obviously written by 12 year olds with a crush on the actors portraying the characters) pieces out there get praised and encouraged.

Then there's the other side of it.

Everyone who writes fanfiction does so without the permission of the original creator. For most, it's meant as a tribute to characters they liked so much they wanted to keep alive. They at least try to keep them in character as the author wrote them, and as strange as it may sound, most ficcers I know would immediately remove anything they wrote if the original authors asked them to.

My experience is a little different in that it's TV-fic, so there's not one creative person in charge of the whole thing. It's already a joint effort, and in this case, the people involved read and enjoyed the fans' pieces. They even incorporated several of them into the series finale, which was cool.

With a novel, however, you're in a playground built and maintained by one person. They alone know the motivations that never make the page, and they alone know where they want each character to end up. I see a definite difference in the two kinds of fanfic.

I can also sympathize with authors who cringe at the sight of their beloved characters going against type. Way back when, one of my "babies" (okay, so he was a 6"6' Russian, bear of a baby who was more of a brick wall, but that's not the point) that I used in many stories (a character of my own creation, not something from canon) was seized upon by several other writers, declared "fanon", and therefore fair game. He promptly became a pod-person; I hardly recognized him.

The biggest chunk of fanfic is like that. The characters don't play by the original authors' rules. They either don't "sound" right, or they start staring in porn-style stories with no plot other than "One day Hero and Heroine wondered what would happen if they...."

Granted, most writers know better than to read fanfic based on their stuff, but still. It's weird.

I guess I've rambled long enough, so what's your take? Would you be flattered by fanfic of your novel? Horrified? Angry?

Where do you stand?

A Story on The Alchemy of Writing

Thursday, July 15, 2010

5 Chiming In
Over on Bryan Russell (Ink)'s blog, he posts 500-word short stories submitted by readers. Today he's posted one of mine. It's neither YA nor fantasy, but something a little different. A little quiet, a little melancholy, and hopefully something to make you think.

Here's the LINK

Enjoy!

Accidental Synchronization

Saturday, July 10, 2010

4 Chiming In
Have you ever been driving along with a great song on the radio and suddenly, you look around, and everyone seems to be moving to the beat? The guy in the car ahead of you bobs his head in time to your music, the windshield wipers (if it's raining) swish to the beat, random jogging man or chattering tweens in a cluster shuffle their feet like you've just walked into a musical and queued up a spontaneous choreographed dance number.

You know there's no way it's on purpose, but for that one moment, everything and everyone is in synch.

I've found that the same thing seems to happen with writing.

Remember being in High School English and the teacher would drag out whatever classic served as the week's focus? He/she would start in on the symbolism and foreshadowing and all that stuff that made your eyes glaze over because you knew someone had already written it down in the Cliff's or Spark notes, and a droning voice would fade to the background of your own mind which was screaming "they're making this up!" or "It's a shoe! A friggin' shoe! You put it on your feet and all it means is that your feet don't get cold!"

No offense to the educators out there, but the longer I work at finishing a solid WIP, the more I'm coming to realize that the little voices were probably closer to right.

Sometimes things just work. That's it. They fall into place like windshield wipers snapping to the beat of a song it can't hear. Maybe it's subliminal planning, or maybe it's coincidence, but it happens. You'll write something down and, upon editing, realize that it dovetails seamlessly with something you wrote a hundred pages earlier and forgot about.

Your MC has a skill that he's playing around with in one chapter, and come the climax, it's saving his life. Anyone who reads it after the fact is thinking you did it on purpose, but you'd forgotten when you put a throwing knife in Hero Goodguy's hand that he was playing around with a penknife to show off in front of Beautiful Damselgirl in the second chapter.

Someone drops dead, and you forgot the first time they appeared in the story they had a stomach ache... well, of course they died of appendicitis... planned it all the time... (and you'll never prove otherwise.)

The convenient need for an opening location instills your character with knowledge he needs later, but it wasn't planned that way. (Like having a kid take Karate lessons or gymnastics that give them an upper hand later, or maybe they're Quizbowl geeks who learn arcane facts that save their life in the end.)

This happened to me the other day when I was writing a scene with a background character who is the sibling of the main character. I couldn't remember his name, but I didn't want to stop and look it up because I'd loose momentum, so I gave him a placeholder name and figured I'd change it later. Then I started to like the placeholder, and decided that if the original name was so great, I wouldn't have forgotten it, so I'd just change it to the placeholder... only, when I looked it up, the placeholder WAS the original name.

It makes me wonder how many times "classic" authors did the same thing. They used a place or an object, not because it was intended to have some deeper meaning, but because it was convenient or simply the first thing they thought of. I also wonder how they'd react to all the story analysis devoted to their works.

Editing vs. Changing Voice

Monday, July 5, 2010

7 Chiming In
I think anyone who's ever written any kind of serious piece knows that editing is hard, irritating, infuriating, &#(*&%*&#ing, etc.

I'm pretty sure, too that more than a few of us have "over-edited" sections so that they're polished to the point you buffed off the luster or the voice has been reduced to a monotonous drone.

So where do you draw the line?

Another way to look at this is to find a novel (preferably one that's popular and you don't like yourself), take part of a chapter and edit it as though it were something of your own. Now compare the voice of your version to the original and see if you can figure out what makes it different.

Is it word choice? Sentence structure? Or do you impart something into the characters 0r plot that you thought was missing in the original?

I've done this, and decided that I can't turn off my internal editor... it's ruining what could be fun reads. A number of books lately qualify as what I'd call "good story/bad writing".

What it amounts to is a writer version of back-seat driving.

When you read a commercial novel, no matter what you think of it, the novel's been edited. Someone's gone line-by-line and found the mistakes and an enormous amount of time and effort to make it the best it can be while preserving the author/character voice.

When you read a book with an eye for enjoyment, that's enough of a polish to make the ride smooth. But, when you read it with a critical eye (this is worse when in "edit" mode on your own WIP), all that registers is a bunch of jerks and stops as the story snags on things you might not think have any business in a published book. It makes it difficult to enjoy the ride.

I've come to the conclusion that voice is like a Jenga tower.

One or two changes can leave you with an edge-of-your-seat, interesting formation with unexpected gaps to give it character. Change too many things, and the whole thing falls apart and isn't any good to anyone.

Hopefully that made sense. Editing's sort of fried me.

I Didn't Melt!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

5 Chiming In
But it was a close one.

Show of hands -- Who knows it's hot in Texas?

Now, who among you knows how much hotter the hot gets without a working air conditioner?

Just in case you're among the uniformed, it gets hot enough to make the ceiling sweat. (Not literally. Literally what happens is when the AC decides it wants to be backed up, it sprays water in the air until it soaks through the ceiling and drips on the floor leaving not-so-lovely water rings that have to be repainted... yay me.)

This all happened Thursday, which is why there was no Teaser Thursday. (I know, I know, you're devastated ;-P )

Anywho, now that I can breathe without danger of spontaneous combustion, and my "finish" date has been pushed into July (Phooey!) I can get back to finishing my MS.

Thanks for all the wonderful comments you left on my last post.

Woo Hoo!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

17 Chiming In
Two things to mention today:

1 - I officially have 100 FOLLOWERS!!!!! YAY.

*does silly victory dance that may or may not include moon-walking and the robot*

Where's everybody going?

This is another reason I NEED TO GET PUBLISHED. That way when a milestone hits, I'll have shiny book shaped things to give away to people!

2 - I WON Sophie Littlefield's contest on her blog! YAY YAY YAY!

*dance gets sillier and possibly dangerous to onlookers*

This means I get a 30 page read from Barbara Poelle! (That's "slithery" Barbara Poelle if you read Janet Reid's blog.) Woot!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I may have sprained a never before heard of dancing muscle...

The 5 Stages of Editing

Monday, June 21, 2010

10 Chiming In
Thanks to a question posed on Natalie Whipple's blog, I now have a post subject. YAY Natalie! (She's a ninja. You should fear her.)

Once your book is done to the best of your ability and you're itching to send it out to agents who will undoubtedly love it as much if not more than you do, there's a critical step you can't afford to skip. EDITING.

Yep. I used the "e" word, and I did it in public. Now I'll really blow your censor button and use the "b" word, too -- get yourself a BETA-reader.

More feared than "Ni" in a Monty Python shrubbery hunt, the mere mention of the e-word or b-word can make even the most self-assured writers quiver in fear because while we all hope that the person reading our opus will love it, those of us who aren't suffering from the delirium of Golden Word Syndrome know that there will be suggestions of things to change.

The book's finished. I want it to stay finished. I don't want to make changes which will mean it's not really finished at all. And yet, someone will find something I either missed or didn't consider.

The easy fix comes first - obliterate typos.

I don't know why I compulsively type "widow" for "window" or "Herny" for "Henry", but both are my most common mistakes. (I no longer use characters named Henry, but dang it, you just can't have a bunch of buildings with no windows. It's weird.)

After the easy fix is when the hard stuff comes in, and when most authors slip into the 5 Stages of Editing, which I have unashamedly parodied from the grief cycle.

Stage 1 - DENIAL

My book is perfect and shiny, therefore no critique could possibly hold any merit. I shall ignore them all as haters jealous that they didn't write it first. So there!

Stage 2 - ANGER

How dare you think YOU can tell me better than ME what goes in my book? You all want me to fail!!!! Audacious haters, I shall ignore you and laugh about the fact that your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries! Losers!

Stage 3 - BARGAINING

Okay, so I should at least LOOK at the suggestions because they probably took a really long time and it's not like the betas were getting paid or anything. Wow, these make much more sense than they did yesterday. What strange faerie magic is at work here?

Stage 4 - DEPRESSION

Ack! These are good suggestions. A LOT of good suggestions that I hate myself for not thinking of myself. Why did I EVER think THAT went THERE when it's so obviously better elsewhere. My book sux. Where's my shredder before I lose my mind and inflict this travesty of the written word on someone else? Delete key, you are my new favorite friend. *huggles delete key*

Stage 5 - ACCEPTANCE

Eventually I step off the ledge and realize that, unlike my Junior year English teacher's red pen scratches, these are SUGGESTIONS and not ERRORS. I don't have to change anything I don't want to change. Ultimately, it's my vision and my book, so I can pick and choose what I think fits into the story I want to tell. Not everyone will agree with every decision I make concerning the story or characters, and they may not like where I steer either, but so long as it's the right way for me to get the point across, I can live with imperfection. E-mail back-up quickly replaces delete key as my favorite friend. *huggles e-mail*

Once the hormone roller coaster that is novel writing has run its course, now I can start on the easy part... querying.

(Could someone please lend me a crowbar? I think my foot is stuck in my mouth.)

Teaser Thursday - Dialogue!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

6 Chiming In
Instead of me just tossing up a piece of whatever I happen to drag out of my WIP folder, I think I kind of like doing a Teaser Thursday with a focus. And this one's focus comes from a discussion on Twitter yesterday about dialogue in writing.

There's a bit of a conundrum that happens when people try to write dialogue.

Rule #1 : it has to sound real.
Rule #2 : it can't sound like people actually speak.
Rule #3 : you aren't allowed to let your head explode reconciling 1 & 2.

I believe I have an advantage when it comes to writing dialogue because at one time I wanted to try screenwriting. (I was a teenager and screenplays were shorter than novels, shut up.)

One of the very first things I ever read as a "how to" for writing was a Screenwriting course book: Screenwriting 101: the Essential Art of Feature Film Writing, by: Neill D. Hicks. I *love* this book. It's short, to the point, and crystal clear in its approach to writing. And the absolute best thing about it is that the writing exercises geared toward screenwriting translate to novel writing without a hitch.

I've read it, scribbled in the margins to do the exercises, marked those scribbles out and re-scribbled with a new project... For me, the approach clicked, and the biggest part of that approach is learning how to handle dialogue.

If you try and write a section of dialogue the way people actually speak, what you'll end up with is a series of broken words, pauses, "um....", "like...", "you know....", that all add up to something less than eloquence. (If you want proof of this, find a couple of transcripts of taped conversations and count the awkward pauses.)

Dialogue isn't "talking", it's speech as dance, and it's up to you, as the writer, to the rhythm.

Dialogue in a book should read like dialogue in a movie sounds. It should flow in a set cadence that fits the character, setting, situation, etc. If any one of those things changes, so should the speech pattern. Dramatic monologues have their place, but so does rapid fire arguments and witty banter.

Personally, I like to do the dialogue first and then figure out what happened to make them say the words.

Rather than a traditional outline, what I usually end up with is a slugline scene heading and a conversation that I go back and craft the action around. Something like:

INT. Cafeteria -- Lunchtime

Adora and Keyan approach a table where four others are already seated. This is obviously the "Goth" table as the colors fade to monochrome. Keyan drops into a seat; Adora takes the one beside him. Introductions begin.

RHETTA
Yes! We are no longer outnumbered! The estrogen
levels have returned to normal!

LUCAS
Excuse me?

RHETTA
Keyan finally managed to snag another girl for the table.
I was about to choke from the testosterone fumes.

KEYAN
(apologetic)
That's Rhetta. We usually ignore her.

Rhetta sticks out her tongue revealing a piercing.


And yes, it usually looks like that because I use a screenwriting program (Celtx is free). What I end up with is a dialogue heavy segment with a few clues as to appearance and action that I flesh out later.

I know that no method works for everyone, but this isn't one I've seen described often (or ever), so I thought I'd toss it out as an alternative. If you're interested, here's the final (for now at least) result of the scene snip above.

"Yes!" a smallish girl with tight black curls and a pixie-face exclaimed as I sat down. She acted like someone had just scored a touchdown. "We are no longer out of balance. The estrogen level has returned to normal."

"Excuse me?'

"Keyan finally managed to snag another girl for the table. I was about to choke from testosterone overload."

"That's Rhetta," Keyan said. "We usually pretend she's invisible."

She stuck her tongue out at him and a green barbell popped into view to match the loop in her eyebrow.

"Guys, this is Adora," Keyan said.

He sat down on a hard red bench that was bolted to the table at the end of a metal arm. I took the blue one beside him and a quiet rumble of "fresh meat" rounded the table, followed by fork pounding and insane laughter I can only assume they thought was intimidating.

"No, bad Lucas! Down!" Keyan swatted the hand of the guy closest to me who was attempting to poke one of my pink hair tufts with a finger. "She survived the buffet line and is now a confirmed vegetarian. There will be no references to meat made at her expense."

Finger-pokey guy.. er... Lucas hit him with a roll.

"Fine, you rescued the poor stray out of the cold. We'll be nice."

"No, you'll at least pretend to be human until she gets to know and love you for your freakazoid self." He threw the roll back and Lucas caught it before wiping it off on a not quite clean shirt and ripping into it with his teeth.

"Best manners, I swear." He held the mangled roll up for an oath.

"Well, she didn't run. That's one point." A monochrome girl across the table wiped a few flecks of bread mush off a large notebook covered in marker art. She clicked her pen into action and started scribbling with the pages tilted out of view.

"You're not hungry?" I asked.

"Have you smelled the food in here?" she asked me over the top of her book. The dark purple beads woven into her black hair obscured most of her face.

"Ignore her," Rhetta's voice said from the other side of Keyan. "Violet thinks if she eats something with actual caloric value that her blood count might rise making her less anemic. Then she'd cease to be tragic and pale."

"Plus she'd lose the ability to fit into a size double-zero..."

"Shut up, Rhett," Violet snapped.

"It's true," the pixie-faced brunette whispered behind her hand. "Maintaining two pounds over organ failure is the only thing she has to make Madison Ellis hate her. If she lost that, she'd have nothing to live for. And since we all know she doesn't have the guts to actually kill herself, she'd have no purpose left in life."

"Keep laughing Rhett, one day I shall eviscerate you with the written word and the only you anyone will ever see is the you I show them."

Violet gave her notebook a particularly vicious stab with her pen and flipped the page.

"She's really a sensitive soul," Rhetta whispered.

Sensitive. Right. Meanwhile, had the book been flesh it would be hemorrhaging all over the table.

Copyright -- Josin L. McQuein; 2010

Reading into Writing

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

8 Chiming In
No, I didn't intend for that to be some clever turn of phrase, it was just the most succinct way I could think of to sum up the topics in this post.

Last week a discussion was started on a forum I frequent. The discussion started when someone posted an alarming "find" in a book where the author had "obviously" interwoven his/her own beliefs into the fiction. I have no idea what book the person was talking about because they didn't share the title, but it got me thinking about just how "obvious" this was.

What I'm wondering is if the "obvious" viewpoint in this case wasn't that of the character rather than the author.

Sure, it's possible that an author with a particular world view crafted a novel in such a way that his/her view is carried like a standard from start to finish. Most of the time, unless the author says up front that their novel is a celebration or denouncement of [touchy subject or belief system], readers pick up on this pretty quick and it rarely has the effect the writer hoped for. In general, readers want entertainment rather than soapboxing and finding the former masquerading as the latter can lead to reflexive book tossing.

I think it's far more likely that the viewpoint in question was the belief of the character, and that's where the "problem" comes in.

How do readers separate the beliefs of a character from that of the character's creator? A devout believer can write an Atheist, just an Atheist can write a faithful priest if such a character fits their narrative. Bigotry can run amok in a book written by someone who finds the practice distasteful, and the words uttered by the characters will be just as hateful as if the author was writing from behind the eyeholes of a white hood. Cowards can write the heroes they never were and the outcast can build the perfect prom queen. It requires research, but that's true of most anything.

Do you ever worry that a reader might mistake something fictional in your book for a very real part of yourself? Have you created a distasteful or repugnant character that's so real the people around you began to wonder if there was a darker side to your personality they'd never encountered before?

Convincing characters, and those that are multi-dimensional have to be real enough to jump off the page and that can't happen if writers water down their personality for fear of having a character's personality traits assigned as their own. And it truly surprises me when people have a hard time separating fact from fiction. (Worries me as in I start to wonder if they think Stephen King really has monsters in his closet and a rabid dog chained in the backyard.)

It's fiction. By definition it's false.

Yes, writers put a bit of themselves into everything they create, but what they put in is their effort and heart and creativity. Bias and opinons are necessary evils to make characters as realistic as possible. Without them, there's no chance of an antagonist because no one thinks differently than anyone else.

(This, of course, assumes the writer DIDN'T intentionally set out to showcase a specific viewpoint. There are propaganda books that do this. There are allegories that do this. There are satires that do this. They have their audience, and the readers who open those books usually know what they're in for.)

It's a bit of a two edged sword hearing that a character resonates so well with a reader that the reader sees them as a real person. On one hand, you've done your job as a writer and created something where the readers can immerse themselves for a few hours. On the other, you know there's that kernel that makes the same reader who enjoyed the book look at you in a different light.

Apparently, a writer not only puts him/herself into a piece, but takes a bit of that piece into him/herself, even if that wasn't their intention.