Letting go of the Prologue

September 14, 2009

In the Breakout Novel Workbook, Maass mentions that a prologue or flashfoward at the start is a red flag that the author doesn’t have confidence in their first chapter. My first chapter has had the worst growing pains. I always had problems with it and everyone who read it had problems with it. So I wrote up a prologue that starts with Nighthawk (the guy who seems to be almost everyone’s favorite 😉 ). And I know it was because I wasn’t confident in my first chapter.

But I was feeling good about some changes I made recently so coming to the critique meeting was awesome — to hear those specific changes pointed out as A+ and that it was really hard to find anything to critique. What helps more is that we found a solution to something that has been bugging me and it solves a few problems I didn’t even notice in addition to that! With that in place, I feel that not only is the prologue unnecessary but its a hindrance. It’s getting in the way of starting the story with the main character, it’s getting in the way chronologically, and reveals too much too soon.

Proud moment 😀


The Step by Step Guide to Writing a Novel that Kicks Ass

September 12, 2009

“Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook” by Donald Maass. Get it. Love it. Live it.

Practical, effective, explains the reasons behind the do/don’ts to help you avoid not only common beginner mistakes but really polish what you’ve got to make it thrilling and meaningful.

My only issue with it was that I didn’t always agree that the examples were effective because some of the examples didn’t follow his own advice! He mentions being specific but in his pitch example he has vague “dangerous cargo” and something like ‘must make an important decision.’ Same with the first line/last line list… I thought it was a trick question, that he was giving ineffective lines and on the next page he would show some ways to transform them because I found them average at best. Admittedly, none were specificly sci-fi/fantasy and I’m a hugely biased geek for those genres so it may just be me. Still, I went to the bestseller shelf a few weeks ago, only a few were my genre, read the first paragraph of every book, was was much more captivated by what was there.

Additional writing resources

“The Fire in Fiction” by Donald Maass. An excellent guide to building tension, with (mostly) practical prompts at the end of each chapter. This is more than just a ‘do/don’t’ book. He shows you what works, explains why it works, and then goes a step further to show how and why breaking the rules can work equally well.

Absolute Write – This bottomless writing resource includes a plethora of articles in addition to a forum frequented by writers of all shapes and sizes (bestselling novelists, newbie screenwriters, freelancers, variety of genres).

A place to find competant beta readers and get your own reading material as well. I’ve found some seriously grade A stories, diamonds in the rough just needing some editing to make them shine…can’t wait to see them on the shelves (:

My writing ability has skyrocketed since critiqueing others. There’s just something about seeing ineffective techniques in someone else’s work that really clarifies them in your own. I had no idea how redundant I was being nor how confusing my fruit basket of characters was. It’s amazing to see someone’s work brighten as they edit…now it can be frustrating to read books from the library because I can’t tell the author how I feel or what I think might work better ;p

Plus it’s just nice to come to a community of writers after spending hours locked to no one but the keyboard.

Then there are, of course, good ol’ writing classes and workshops. I have to thank my English degree for something 😉


Query dreams, the end is nigh, dreaming big, writing workshops, where are they?

September 7, 2009

By the time I post this, I will have finished my hardcore edits. I HOPE D:! Below you shall be blessed with my unique brand of procrastinating from writing: …more writing….(and more, and more…)

OH GOD CRAMPS D:

haha usually I’m dedicated, but not THAT dedicated… crampytime tends to be the only time I tear myself away from the computer to do something like play video games (Bioshock, incidentally, is very well written) or watch a movie.

but today the writing MUST GO ON!

besides, Jennifer just got back from the hospital and wrote us all a huge long email…..if she can do it post-surgury then I have no excuses ._.

Onward and upward….!

I live by a few phrases:
You make your own happiness
Do unto others as you would want done unto you
Hope for the best but prepare for the worst

Given the last one, I’m currently in a safe zone with my writing. Near enough to the end and experienced enough to know I’ll finish the novel and I’m damn proud of my writing. As I hardcore edit the last few pages and then do my last read through, I’m taking a self-indulgent moment to day dream that querying will be magic. That (haha!) every agent will request my full – I can hear myself screaming and sure hope it’s not something I find out at work. I imagine them calling me because they adore it and we chat over my WIPs which they also love, I must struggle valiently to pick the agent that meshes best with me. I can’t help but casually mention ‘Why yes, I DO have an agent’ to a few choice people who I might fling a few other choice words in the face of. From there I’ll immediately get a wonderful publishing contract with such a large advance that I can walk into the bubble tea place (uh, that no longer exists ): ) and treat everyone in there to tea, that writing will become my career, the book will be in stores from small to huge, that I’ll couch surf around America doing a tour and stop by critique groups, I’ll set up writing workshops (there aren’t nearly enough out there), attend conventions, do interviews that reveal parts I loved but had to cut, and write write write write~!! Fabulous!

Right now I have the opportunity to indulge myself but when I start querying that’s when I go into ‘prepare for the worst’ mode which means I cut myself down, expect nothing so I can let rejections roll off my back and so if/when I get request(s) it’ll be a pleasant surprise. And all the while working my ass off on the next book as preperation for ‘the worst’ which would be no representation (yet).

This mentality serves me well. It’ll be my second time querying (previously the book was too long and the query didn’t have enough personality) and last time the rejections honestly didn’t bother me. I don’t go through the rollercoaster writer’s talk about. It is what it is. I actually was working on Deep Within and thinking that Lightning Spliced had unpublishable qualities–Karen and a few other fantastic beta readers kicked my butt in gear, got me to edit out parts I used to think were essential. It was like shining the rough till it becomes a diamond (is that too cliche?) I’m confident in my novel, if agents can’t see that it’s great then I’ll just keep writing and eventually one of my novels will strike someone’s fancy 🙂

As I write this, I wonder if an agent will google my name from my query and judge me on it. Do I sound too blase? Do I look lazy because I didn’t look up how to add the accent on blase? Do I look crazy because I wrote a sentence to explain the lack of accent when it would have taken less time to look up the accent? Do my questions make me appear self-concious, does my questioning my questions damage my image of confidence? Does my assumption of confidence smack of egotism? etc etc etc

I don’t know. I like to think I’d fit well with an agent with understands Web 2.0, that the draw of social media isn’t just the presense but the depth….personality shines not in the perfection of a Hollywood commercial but in our flaws. Not that we shouldn’t be polite and put on our best face but we shouldn’t neuter ourselves in the process. Everyone can relate to flaws but who can relate to being perfect? Haha but since no one is perfect and since beggers can’t be chosers, I’d be happy to land a reputable agent who is happy to represent my work 😉 everything else is just details.

I got really excited for a day because there’s a writer convention going on in DC around the time I’ll be up there………but I was wondering why I’d never heard of any of the guests. Well, looking closer it’s a short story focused convention 😛 I HATE SHORT STORIES. I know it’d be good for my career and good structural practice to write some but damnit I can’t stand reading them let alone writing them. They’re all so freaking high concept but I want vivid characters. If they do have those, I feel cheated because the stories are over so fast but I want to spend a series with a good character.

A rare symbolic and writing related dream:

I was on a metal stair case much like the one in MGS near the Hind and also much like the staircase in GAMA leading to the roof at the end of the novel. There was a light on where I entered the staircase (which was about halfway up the building), I ran up a bunch of flights, ran down a bunch of flights, back and forth, kept coming back to the place with the light on, couldn’t find anywhere else with the light on. It’s hope for my query, the light is that there’s one line that almost everyone liked… but I can’t seem to hammer down any of the other lines 😛

Hmmm April Rain by Delain sounds like April THUNDER OF DOOM. <3metal.

I have an addiction to describing eyes. I'm really enjoying Zcythe's right now. Originally she had purple contacts. I like purple but how ordinary for contacts….so I searched special effects and came up wiith BIOHAZARD contacts. They glow in UV light! I hate yellow so I don't use it much, but what a great use for it.

Hardcore edits have finished, Query Hell round #666 will commence tomorrow. Thankfully absolutewrite.com is up after major construction time over Labor Day weekend.


Critique Worksheet

August 14, 2009

We had an epic mess of a meeting that started with Metro Coffee House dropping off the face of the planet in the pouring rain and ending with us playing musical tables in order to find a power hook-up for Tammy’s laptop. My tea was also four freaking dollars. AND HAD NO BUBBLES. And it had a shot of caffeine since it came from Starbucks which means I was passing out on the way home (yeah, caffeine puts me to sleep…seriously. Part of why I avoid soda is because it knocks me out!)

ahem.

A few of us did eventually fall back to B&N aka The Arctic and got through our critiques but didn’t get to our topic of the night, how to critique. I made up an outline of what I usually look for because I’ve been getting feedback that I critique well, yay! It’s tough to outline it though because I’ve developed so much over the years that I write what I notice, I don’t actually go by a work sheet.

A good suggestion Sheila made was that we make a list of the main points of the critique so we can keep organized, move quickly, and give something to focus on so we don’t get overwhelmed with the little details.

Below is my worksheet.

General
#1 – ALWAYS find something positive to say! Comment on what works just as much as what doesn’t work—authors need to know what to keep too, sandwich principal (start and end with something positive = tasty)

Explaining WHY something doesn’t work is more helpful than just saying it doesn’t work

When explaining your critique to someone while a group is present, focus on issues that may be beneficial for others to hear (for the most part, no need to comment on grammar/punctuation as those will be in the hard copy critique and are self-explanatory) *sometimes the situation calls for it…. we had a great discussion today passive voice and on the punctuation for “and the amount of chores they asked him to do was ridiculous” – “and the amount of chores they asked him to do, ridiculous” “do–ridiculous” “they asked him to do? Ridiculous.”

Is the author effectively showing or telling?

Is the tension natural and exciting?

Is anything redundant? Authors like words but less is more!

Is the POV clear? This seems to be a pet peev of enough agents that it’s something to be very careful of. Some don’t like ANY point of view switches

Tune out your personal bias – instead focus on what works or doesn’t work given the author’s choices. What could make their choices more effective?

Balance – is there too much or too little of any element? Dialog?

Narrative? Romance? Even action can be dull if there’s too much

Texture – is the author invoking the five senses? Or are we only getting visuals?

Plot

Pacing – does the tension pull you forward? Do you have questions that urge you to read on to find out the answers?

Logical structure – do the events make sense, is the movement of the plot natural?

Chronology – does the flow of time make sense in relation to the events that happen? Character reactions over time?

Setting
Is it clear when and where we are?

Is the setting meaningful to the character? – tying the setting to specifics the character knows, feelings, memories, etc can help make it meaningful

Character
Consistent personality

Are there traits we can relate to or can you at least understand the character’s motivations?

Defined appearance – is there something really memorable about the character?

Logical character arcs – let the plot help the character grow

Vivid traits – do we want to read about this character compared to any other person who could be in this situation?

Dialog

Is there subtext?

Are these conversations exciting enough you’d want to eavesdrop on them?

Does it move the plot forward? – even character building can be mixed with plot to create a balanced story

Is there conflict? – each character has their own opinions, goals and perceptions about the other

Does it show characterization? Are dialog lines interchangeable or are they so unique to the character that you don’t need tags to distinguish who is speaking?


“I’m writing, I swear!” she says, holding a Playstation 2 or xbox controller

August 13, 2009

As a writer, is it weird that I reference Bioshock instead of like, Charles Dickens?

I wonder how I survived my English degree given that I consider most classic lit that I’ve read good primarily as a paperweight.

In one of the critique meetings, we talked about the target audience and how it’s evolved given new media. Best sellers from years ago could afford to take up hundred of pages with nothing more than setting with a hint of character development. People had nothing better to do. Now we’ve got the immediacy of youtube and the constant explosions in Transformers.

It can be hard enough to use only words to compete with the visual medium, let alone the instant gratification of the internet where there is something for everyone 24 hours a day.

So maybe it’s not so bad that I look to newer media for inspiration and writing tips.

One of my favorite storytellers is Ragnar Tornquist, the writer for the Dreamfall and The Longest Journey games.

Some games rely on their interactivity and skimp on story (I’m looking at you, platformers and generic RPGs!) but those games that really develop the story as any other writer would become memorable–iconic even.

I just finished playing Final Fantasy 7–it’s a legend in the gaming world, almost a crime if you haven’t played it. Despite the ancient graphics and glitchy system, the story shines as a rite of passage in the lives of many gamers and I now understand why.

Well-scripted games are just another type of literature. How many writing books have you read that suggest starting off in medias res? FF7 does exactly this. You are thrown into a group of people in the middle of blowing up a reactor, the whys trickle in. Since storytelling is limited to dialog the writers can’t fall in that trap of narrating things like character relationships–the dialog must say it all and it does. Within moments, I understand that Barret is the tempermental leader impatient with me (Cloud) because I’m just a mercenary while Barrett is passionate about the rebellion.

While there are some instances of telling that extensive backstory the game has, the writing really shines in every moment where the backstory comes through directly in the present action of that game.

Portal is another great. It’s experimental even in the gaming world. There is only one speaker in the game–imagine trying to write an interesting novel full of tension and conflict when you only have one character and the environment as your storytelling tools. Portal does it and does it brilliantly. It helps that the voice actor is very talented! The writers manage to make a cube something you feel affection for….and guilt too. Each moment of humor builds your sense of dread and desperation to escape the test center. You wonder–am I jumping through GLaDOS’ hoops or am I really on my way out? You find hints of other employees who tried to escape…cans of food, and writing on the wall in red: the cake is a lie.

As a hobby, I voice stuff online for fanworks…radioplays, flash animations, etc. Since I’m a writer, I’m really picky about writing quality. I can figure out in two sample lines of dialog whether a character will be interesting to voice or not. I ran across one project recently called “Cracks in the Armor,” based on the Metal Gear Solid games, and instantly fell in love with the original character Olivia. Lucky for me, the director (who just so happens to live in Savannh!) also instantly thought I was perfect for the role 😀 She has finished putting the project together so I thought I’d share it.

I’ve been really impressed with her writing. She’s mostly done fanfiction, but she already has a strong grasp on some writing essentials. Every line was a blast to voice because there was so much subtext, each personality was very vivid. She started out with a bang–not just literally but through the relationship between the characters as well. She leans more toward character building than plot so sometimes it feels slow but most of the time she keeps that thread of tension going.

I’m proud, and not surprised, to be able to say that the project has gotten 13,000 downloads on itunes! You can find it there by searching “Cracks in the Armor” or you can access it here.

Going back to the games topic, as thanks for being in the radioplay she gave me the three Metal Gear Solid games since I’d never played them. I’m about halfway through the first game and already I’m seeing why she’s developed into such a good writer. She’s spent a lot of time obsessing over these games–obsessing over these incredibly well-written games.

One of my issues as a beginning writer is that I’ve read some ‘okay’ books, some outdated market books and I learned things to do from those ‘okay’ books not realizing that they were handicapping my writing as ‘just okay’ when I could write differently and be more ‘GREAT!’ She’s been exposed to this top notch writing and it shows in all her work.

There are no wasted words in the Metal Gear games and every character, even if you meet him only for a boss fight, has a depth of history that has made him who he is and he shows it, not by telling you about his childhood (…too much) but in his reactions to you. And for a story about a betrayed soldier, there’s a ton of humor in it. it’s never cheap, always woven naturally into the personalities of the characters.

Video games are an art just like any other form of writing and I feel privileged to learn from them.


Writing Effectively

August 13, 2009

30 pages left to edit of The Resistance! (lul, before I do a read through from start to finish, anyway 😛 SIGH)

So close and yet so far! I’ve busted ass over Nighthawk’s battle with Gandon so I doubt much of that will change (THEN AGAIN…)

I always loved Jack’s meeting with Maria. The writing has changed dramatically over the years. Like today. I literally deleted the chapter and rewrote it, keeping only the best lines from the previous versions (of which there were like, three) But despite that, the soul remains the same. That’s what learning how to write is about–not learning how to change your ideas into sell-out formulas, but learning how to most effectively get the heart of your story across to your readers. CRITIQUE MEETING TONIGHT AT THE BUBBLE TEA PLACE WHOOO WHOOO


Reader Involvement

July 19, 2009

Video games one up books because by their very nature, the player is involved. While I read a lot growing up, when I think back on the stories that really affected me… I think about a lot of video games. I miss Zoe Castillo from Dreamfall like missing a best friend. I still laugh over getting double-crossed by a dancer in Skies of Arcadia. I’m playing through Metal Gear Solid and the dialog drips with delicious tension. Every smart ass comment Snake makes about the situation they put him in–I’m there, literally I’m sneaking around getting shot at ;p

When writing novels, we want to get the reader involved as much as possible. You can break the wall of text and grab the reader through multimedia but for most of us beginning writers that’s not practical. We don’t have the artistic skill, connections or funding to develop something that extensive. We’ve just got a word processor and our imagination.

Instead we focus on vivid characters that a reader can understand–better if they can relate to them. We suggest sympathetic antagonists who meet frequently with the protagonist. But there is a way to take it a step further. It’s tricky and I’m working over in my mind how best to achieve it in the current WIP.

Let the reader know something the characters don’t. Let the characters misinterpret each other. Make the reader want to jump in there and say ‘but, if you only knew….!’

Sounds easy, right? The trick is to avoid coming off as contrived.

In my critique group, Tammy is writing a novel that has a great scene where two characters meet. There’s an instant connection between them. A teacher catches them, is going to write the boy up for fighting. Although they’ve just met, they pretend to be in a relationship because the girl has no history of fighting so her reputation protects him. He sees her staring at him lovingly….. he thinks she must be a great liar. But WE know that she’s interested! We want to step in and say, “Jess she’s not lying, she really likes you!”

She writes this beautifully–there’s a distinct reason why the information is hidden and the misunderstanding occurs. It’s not just fun, it’s believable.

Later on Tammy is thinking about making Jess’ caseworker Cacey’s mom. So Jess has this history of fighting and he wants to see his mom but his case worker, just doing her job of course, is getting in the way. Jess, trying to stay out of trouble but sometimes being forced into it, would naturally complain about his case worker to Cacey. If we know her mom is a case worker and we know he has a case worker…..we can put two and two together and BAM! We’re involved, we want to yell at Jess, “don’t say that! It’s her mom!!!”

I was watching John Tucker Must Die yesterday and there was one of those scenes where girl A is spying on The Guy, pretending to like him. Girl B is helping girl A and sneaks into a car with girl A to give her some advice. But before Girl B can escape unnoticed, The Guy gets in the car so Girl B must hide. As the audience WE know Girl B is still in the car, Girl A knows Girl B is still in the car. The Guy doesn’t. Hilarity ensues as he reaches in the back for CDs, nearly grabbing Girl B. This is a totally cliche set up, but it gets me EVERY time. I just can’t help watch or read on, wanting to know if the person hiding is going to get caught or what kind of craziness will happen as the person tries to avoid being caught. Even better when The Guy and Girl A leave the car……….and Girl B’s skirt gets caught in the door. Now we watch anxiously, wanting to give Girl A suggestions for how she can keep The Guy distracted while Girl B tries to get her skirt free.

The tactic can also be achieved by characters just being themselves and acting out their flaws. My friend Amanda wrote a great Metal Gear Solid fanfiction where Otacon’s awkwardness pretty much makes him shoot himself in the foot and just keep digging the hole deeper. Her original character (who I play in a radioplay based on a different fic), Olivia, is blunt to a fault and thinks his awkward overtures are meant as a joke.

It makes you really want to get involved, to say, Olivia…damnit, I know that’s how you are but poor Otacon!