Archive for December, 2010

New Year’s Resolutions

I’ll spare you the mundane ones practically everyone makes–and breaks–every year, like lose weight or declutter the house.  Just the writing-related ones.

  1. Get MAGE STORM out on submission.  I’m doing a polishing edit, with a bit of revision in the middle, right now. Also preparing the query letter and synopsis.  I want to start submitting this no later than the end of January.
  2. Keep writing and submitting short stories. It’s not the primary focus of my writing, but it is good practice. The publication credits wouldn’t hurt, either.
  3. Finish two books this year.  Current candidates (subject to change without notice) DREAMER’S ROSE (which is in rewrite) and SEVEN STARS (which will be a first draft)
  4. Learn.  There is always more to learn.  I happen to know I’m getting a couple of books on writing YA fiction for my birthday (coming up in a few days). And I still have two or three good writing books from last year waiting to be read. I wish it were feasible for me to go to one or more writing conferences or seminars, but that doesn’t look likely for this year. Someday.
  5. Read widely in the YA genre. (That’s actually an easy one.)
  6. Never give up. Never surrender.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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I’ve reached a couple of chapters in my rewrite/revision of DREAMER’S ROSE in which the villain, or more appropriately, the antagonist, is developed.

In this story, because of the way the chronology works out, I actually get to show what make the bad guy so bad. What were his original goals, what obstacles blocked him, and how did he turn out so evil?  Most of the time that’s backstory.  Not in this one.

It’s fun.

In my first attempt, I was warned that his motivations might make him a little too relatable for my target audience. I think I’ve fixed that.

He’s a chip off the old block. He wants to accomplish the same thing Daddy did, if for somewhat different reasons. But unlike Dad, he’s not quite brave enough to go back for a second attempt after finding out just how much this is going to hurt. And so he finds another way, a less honest way, a manipulative way.  That’s going to be the cause of the rift between him and his father which drives the rest of the story. 

I think I’ll positively take care of any chance the reader will like him when he kills his sister to steal her power. 

Hm. Come to think of it. Drat. I may need to go back and make the sister a little more important, and sympathetic, character in the early chapters so it’s shocking when she gets killed.

There’s always another complication with this story. Maybe that’s why I like it so much.

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The Sandwich Method

The last post was about the value of harsh critiques. I stand by that.

But, the problem with critiques of all sorts, harsh or not, is that they have to be received to do any good at all. Otherwise, both parties are just wasting their time.  And a truly harsh, if truthful, critique can have the effect of making the recipient shut down or get defensive. That doesn’t help the creative process at all.

One way around this is the sandwich method. Put simply, you start by saying something good about the story. Anything. Anything at all.  There’s bound to be something–a bit a particularly evocative description, one scene that was spot on, the perfect title, good dialog, a unique and interesting premise, whatever.

Then you give the more blunt part of the critique–what didn’t work. For me, at least, it’s always helpful to include as much reasoning behind this as possible. Even examples of ways it could be done differently. These aren’t intended to rewrite the writer’s work, but to provide jumping off places for new inspiration–a kind of slow-motion brainstorming, if you will.

Last, you close again with something that you liked about the piece.

Basically the critiquer is helping to apply the balm to that sting that the critique is going to cause.  And it does often help the critiqued to accept the criticism in the spirit it is offered.

I’ll confess, I probably don’t do this often enough, myself.

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Harsh Critiques

They sting, there’s no getting around that. No matter how thick a skin you think you’ve developed. But sometimes a blunt critique is the very best gift you can recieve. Someone who’ll tell you flat out where your story fell down and couldn’t get back up. If nobody tells you, how can you fix it?

This may be particularly true with query letters and synopses. Hopefully, your actual story doesn’t have plot holes you can drive a truck through. If you’ve honed your craft, you should have found most of those yourself. But it’s not so easy when you’re trying to condense all or part of a story you’ve lived with for months into 250 or 1500 words. It can be much too hard to forget all the complexities that lay behind those few sentences that your reader can’t possibly know unless they’ve read the book. Even then, there are likely details you know that never made it onto the page.

That’s where someone who doesn’t know (and hopefully already like) the story is so helpful. They can tell you the impression the couple of paragraphs of your query really give, so you have a chance to go back and refine it before an agent sees it.

So, take a deep breath, rub a little balm on the sting, and sincerely thank the people who will tell you the truth about your writing.

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Killing the Pace

Unfortunately, a lot of that new material I said was flowing in my last post had to be cut.  It was just killing the pace.  That’s bad at any time, but worse in a young adult novel. And horrible at the beginning of any novel, when readers aren’t fully engaged, yet.

Well, no writing or inspiration is ever wasted.  It did sort of take the wind out of my sails for a bit, though.  I really did like the couple of scenes I’d written.  This first part of DREAMER’S ROSE has given me more trouble. I really do think I’m on the right track this time, but the key is to show just enough and not get bogged down in it.

For the moment, I’ve gone back to some fine-tuning on the beginning of BLOOD WILL TELL before I go back to DREAMER’S ROSE.  That’s why it’s a good idea to have more than one thing to work on.

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I’ve been in revision mode for a couple of months, now, and while I don’t really mind revisions, it’s not the same as writing the story in the first place.  The creative juices just don’t flow quite the same way.

Oddly enough, starting a different revision has got the juices flowing again.  That’s probably because the revisions to DREAMER’S ROSE amount almost to a rewrite–which means a fair amount of new material.  The chapter I’m currently in will be almost all new.  And ideas, snatches of dialog, bits of plot are swimming in my head just like I was laying out a whole new book.  I sometimes have to stop what I’m doing to jot down an idea for further along in the chapter or in the story. 

This is the really fun part of writing. Discovering new things that happen to your characters.

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Off and on, I have been trying to decide what to do with my first novel, THE SHAMAN’S CURSE.  For starters, it needs a rewrite. It rambles too much and it got over-edited to death.  However, I still really like the characters and the story.  Plus, it’s a very rich world that I developed for that series.

One of the problems is that I think THE SHAMAN’S CURSE itself probably should be young adult. Several first readers asked if it was YA from the beginning. The main character and many of the problems he faces fit YA very well, but, if it was going to be a four-book series, then the main character would quickly get too old to be the hero of a YA novel.  What to do?

Yesterday, inspiration struck.  As usual, at the most unlikely time.  When I rewrite THE SHAMAN’S CURSE, I’ll do it with an eye towards making it YA. 

I’ll have to ditch, at least for now, the middle two books. THE IGNORED PROPHECY is written and the plot for TROUBLED COUNSELS is laid out.  That’s okay. I learned a lot from writing–and rewriting (several times)–THE IGNORED PROPHECY.  That effort will never be wasted. Someday, inspiration may strike and I’ll revive it.

For now, however, I will plan to move on to what would have been the fourth book, still untitled. However, I will focus on two younger characters instead of the main character of THE SHAMAN’S CURSE. He’ll still be there, but his kid sister will take more of the role of main character, thus keeping it firmly in the YA camp.

Ha!  No telling how long it will take me to work back around to this project, but at least now I know what I want to do.

I love it when a plan comes together.

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Listening to David Farland talk about the parts of a story persuaded me to add back part of the epilogue to MAGE STORM.  Not all of it, only about a thousand words.  So now, MAGE STORM is 59,000 words–a hair long for middle grade, but hopefully not fatally so.

He laid out the parts of the story very neatly. It was his discussion of the denouement that convinced me I had cut off Rell’s story a little too abruptly. Even though there is the potential for a sequel or two, there were a couple of conflicts left dangling that I really wanted to wrap up in this one. I’d just taken too long about it in the first book, so I cut it down to the absolutely necessary scene and stopped there.

Where did I hear David Farland talk about the parts of a story?  In Tuesday’s Author’s Advisory sponsored by Farland’s Writers’ Groups.  You can find the link in the side bar.

Wish you had known? Sorry you missed it? You can listen to a recording of it on Robin Weeks’ blog (also in the side bar).

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Not YA

Well, the results are in (or as close as they’re likely to get at this busy time of the year).  Four votes to one that BLOOD WILL TELL is not young adult.

In my opinion, I’d call it closest to New Adult.  The characters are the right age.  In the course of trying to escape from the unknown would-be assasin, they’re forced to leave their usual support system behind and set up for themselves–finding an affordable place to live, finding jobs without being able to use previous employers as references (because they don’t know who to trust), etc. Unfortunately, that’s a category only one publisher recognizes (and they don’t take unsolicited submissions) and there are no shelves for it in the book stores. 

It’s a relief to have that settled, at least, but it does take away one of my excuses for why this didn’t generate more interest than it did.  I still believe in this story.  For now, however, I’ll be moving on.  I’ll start querying MAGE STORM after the first of the year.

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