Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A query and a raft

On my way to work I had an epiphany.  Don't worry, I was driving slowly.

A few years ago I was exploring somewhere I might not should have been. (this is not uncommon for me) I found a large stash of old, ruined lumber.  I did a little research and discovered who owned it and approached him to see if I could have some.  He said ok.

I got some folks together and we loaded down my car and brought it home.

the pile started off significantly bigger than this

First I nailed a bunch onto the treehouse, finally giving it defensible walls.  Then I decided to build a raft.  I don't know why.  Sometimes I just get ideas.

2 of the 6 sections in progress
All six sections, ready to go

Guinea pig, Jason, trying out 2 of the 6 sections

The only purchase I needed to make was several 4x4s and some wood screws.  Everything else (steel rings and dowels to connect, styrofoam to stuff it with, rope) was either found or donated.

So after a couple of weekends of work, the raft was completed and proven water-worthy.  I decided to take it for an adventure.  I plotted a course.

I've obscured some location details here... I don't know why, it seemed like the thing to do.  But if you're intent on finding this location, it actually shouldn't be hard.

Finally the day came to take the trip!  I had someone drop off my truck at the halfway point.  We planned to stop there... Going all 20 miles on the raft's maiden voyage seemed excessive.

I'm not going to go into detail here about who went or what happened.  A lot of those people may still be trying to forget the entire ordeal.  I will tell you this: 
We brought way too many people.  
We started way too late in the day.
It took 9 hours  to get from Start to Halfway; 4 hours in the daylight, 5 after the sun had set.
I had to convince every person, one at a time, why taking off through the woods is search of salvation was a horrendous idea.  
It was 2 am by the time we arrived at the Halfway point.  
Law enforcement from three surrounding counties had assembled on the bridge to wait for us (assuming we had gone missing) and I was told that in half an hour, they were going to send out helicopters looking for us.

I've apologized to the concerned parties.  It was reckless. But I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.  At times it was scary as crap.  At times it was cold.  But even in those times it was fun and exciting.

The raft has since been used several times on a lake (but it's a monstrosity to try to paddle around on it).  Now it has been disassembled and I used the pieces to build a pen in the backyard for my dog.


The point is, I put a lot of effort into something random and unheard of.  It's not the first time.  And I hope I'm still leaping at crazy ideas when I'm old and decrepit.  Like writing a book.  Very few people make a living as authors.  It's kind of a leap of faith for anyone to devote time and effort toward it!

That said, I have about ten queries floating around in cyberspace right now.  That number should double by the end of the month.  I've gotten two rejections so far.  Luckily, I'm used to things not always going as planned.  For that reason, this is not nearly as nerve wracking for me as I expected it to be.

All I can do is hope for the best and plan for the worst.

Afterall, the worst thing that can happen is they all say "not interested".  It's not like I might get bitten by a venomous snake while lost on the river in the middle of the woods at midnight.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

On Editing: Now and Then

Open your document.

Find the first instance of the word "now". (ctrl + f then type "now" for you MS Word users)

Read the entire sentence aloud.

At times, the word is necessary.  For instance, when used comparatively (then and now, years ago and now).  But sometimes (particularly when used as an indicator of sequence) it's baggage.

To be sure which it is, remove "now" and read it again.

Here's an example from my latest revisions.
1. Those who stood around ceased to laugh and now gathered to her, fear in their eyes.

2. Those who stood around ceased to laugh and gathered to her, fear in their eyes.

Here #1 sounds sequential.  Like you’re reading instructions.  I could see it working for third omniscient in some cases.  But I’m going for third over the shoulder of Brandal, who sits watching them.
#2. Makes it feel like, though written in past tense, it’s going on right now.  As far as Brandal is concerned, it is.

1. “Oh, simple boy.” She smiled. “He can’t hear you.  He was lured by the call of a duende and now awaits judgment in its grasp.”

2. “Oh, simple boy.” She smiled. “He can’t hear you.  He was lured by the call of a duende and awaits judgment in its grasp.

This one seems obvious to me now that I’ve singled it out.  She’s telling about events that happened in that order (lured by the call, awaits judgment). But the fact that she says it in that order, shows that the events happened in that order.  When she uses the word "now" she tells that everything else happened before... 
Well clearly it happened before!  It’s almost as if she knows she’s a character in a book!

1. Zuushe appeared exactly the same years earlier as he did now.  

I put this as an example of when the word is acceptable.  It is comparing two times, "years ago" and "now".

"Then" is another potentially problematic word.  Especially in action sequences.

1. Darke approached the wrought iron gate and reached to unlatch it but then stopped.  

2. Darke approached the wrought iron gate and reached to unlatch it but stopped.

I think something that new writers don't realize is that we, as readers, are distinctly aware that (unless indicated otherwise) events happen in the order they're told.  
In #1 "then" serves to slow things down.  It steals a bit of momentum from the abruptness of whatever made Darke stop.  Both #1 and #2 pose the question to the reader: Why did he stop?  But #2 does so with a stronger sense of abruptness.  You don't see it coming.  It shows that Darke didn't plan to stop.
IN FACT, #3 may even be more effective at this!

3.  Darke approached the wrought iron gate and reached to unlatch it.  He stopped. 


Notice that delivery of the line becomes more effective the less words are used!  

New writers, I can't stress enough how important this is!  We have a tendency to slather words over an idea, scene or emotion like we're slopping bbq sauce on a grilled rack of ribs, not realizing that excess words are the fat and bone, not the flavor!

4.  Darke approached the wrought iron gate and reached to unlatch it but then stopped abruptly in his tracks.

NO!!!  Exterminate the cliche "in his tracks" (whatever that even means) and the rotten adverb!


Acceptable use of "then" :

1. Over the next hour they finished cutting the logs and then retired to the house where Rose sat in a rocking chair in the bedroom, mending a shirt with a needle and thread. 

Let's keep "then".  I think it could be comparable to "over the next hour."
BUT, get rid of that pesky "and."  It's baggage.

2. Over the next hour they finished cutting the logs then retired to the house where Rose sat in a rocking chair in the bedroom, mending a shirt with a needle and thread. 

I hope you find some of this useful and I'd really appreciate your feedback!  
This blog is the result of a personal editing epiphany.  I did a "Now run" through my manuscript and deleted about 70 "now"s.

As always, I'm willing to consider your opinion if it contradicts mine... After all, why else would I post this online?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

I'd like to contribute.

I use the term "draft" lightly.  I'm not 100% sure what it really means.  For the sake of this blog, use this:
"A state of a manuscript that has achieved a specific function, usually the result of a comprehensive edit with certain goals in mind."
I just finished the fourth draft of A Sawmill's Hope.  Then I sent it away to the test readers.  I'm glad to be rid of it but it literally wasn't ready until that moment.
I learned this the hard way.  I started the novel a year ago, having never written much more than was required at school then college.  I finished in six months, squeezing writing time in between everything else that made up my life.  I wrote often, but I believe I could have finished it sooner.  I could have taken advantage of more late evenings or early mornings.
But I did finish.  And it was a mess.
By this point I had listened to podcasts, watched videos, read books, read blogs, joined websites, and so on.  Basically doing everything I could to better my writing knowledge.  I tried to figure out the reasons behind the 'rules'; don't be passive, don't use adverbs, etc.  I started my own blog and practiced showing off words I had written for the approval of others.
I started my second draft.  In this one, I wanted the personality of my characters to stand out.  During this, I added two more points of view (to already existing characters) and began to weed out passive voice, and I added flavor to voice in general.  This draft was finished in three months.
But I still wasn't thrilled with the book.  I knew very well that it needed work.
In the third draft, I re-evaluated 65 chapters and compressed them to 20.  This works for my book because it is a fantasy, not a thriller / suspense / horror (though it has certain elements of each).  I don't end each chapter with a cliff hanger.  Some I do, some I don't.  I realized I was seeing themes begin to emerge in the chapters.  I took this into consideration and gave the chapters names.  I also began to write the antagonist into the book.  I did this in the form of letters to his father (1st person), interspersed throughout the book.  The beauty is that the themes of each chapter remained applicable.  For example, in the chapter I introduce the friends and family of one of the main characters, I also introduce the best friend of the antagonist.
This draft took two weeks.  I wasn't quite done.
It was then about ten months since I started the book.  I had been writing notes in a notepad in my phone.  Sitting on the couch, driving to work (I know, sue me), working, hiking, riding, whenever.  These were ideas, fixes or consistency issues that I realized needed to be applied to the story.
This is why I began the fourth draft.  I caught all these fixes with relative ease.  Then I simply read through, checking one last time for consistency and theme delivery, relationships and chapter breaks.
I also did a "now" run.  (I'm going to write a whole blog on that.)
I wish I had taken time for an "and" run.
I finished the fourth draft in about 24 days.

My point is that regardless of where this book goes, regardless of where my career in writing goes and regardless of how few people may actually take the time to read my ramblings, I have learned things in the last year that I want to share.  I want to take what I've learned of writing, editing, genres, critiques, and whatever else I can think of that might help and get it to you.

That said, keep your eyes open.  I will start soon.

If it turns out I'm a fool who speaks foolishness, don't stop reading, wise men (and women) can learn from fools.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012

I am so close to being done with A Sawmill's Hope.  I feel like I've worked on it for ever.  I decided to lay off blogging and vid games and other things just long enough to finish it.  I wanted to be done several months ago.

This is all beside the point.  I have new motivation.  Nanowrimo means start a new one for me.  In this case it will be one of two ideas that have been idling around in my mind.

1.  Super Mario Bros + UFC + Gladiators (the real ones... who kill each other)

2.  Insurance + Post Apocalypse

Did I make these sounds vague and possibly idiotic on purpose?

It's just that the more specific I get, the tighter the walls are around me.  I want to be an outliner... But I have deep seated personality traits that make writing from the seat of my pants come naturally.

This will be my first project since A Sawmill's Hope.  And when I started that I just knew it was my Magnum Opus.  My first and last great work.  But that wasn't true.  I want to make a career out of this.  And I feel like I get better with every new draft (Yes, I'm still on draft 4 of A Sawmill's Hope).

I will finish my current work before I start writing the next.  This means Nanowrimo will get ahead of me.  Hopefully I can catch up.