Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Writing Wrap Up

Judas Dilemma Excerpt
This past weekend, I attended the Author Fair in Madison, Indiana. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to go to ConGlomeration since both events were at the same time. This was my second year at the Author Fair. This year, I'm probably going to Indie Gathering in Ohio. Depends on if my screenplay finaled. So far, it's been a bust in two screenplay contests. I have my agent shopping it around, and I plan to enter it in a local contest. Who knows? I might get lucky.

Speaking of which, I got a shout out from a speculative fiction author for my novella The Ripper's Daughter during the horror panel at the aforementioned Author Fair. High praise from an established author? Oh, yeah, I was positively giddy. :-)

That said, though, I had no time to rest on my proverbial laurels. Last night, I finished the extended draft of The Judas Dilemma. Originally a novella at 37,427 words, it's now at 84,308, although I'll probably knock a couple thousand off when I revise it.

Next project is expanding Cathedral Girl, which will also need about 40,000 words added. After that, Sins of the Mother, which currently clocks in at 65,000 words, so I'll probably add 10,000-15,0000 words. I never thought I could write long, but having an agent means I need to adapt if I want to have a chance of my books selling to New York. (Btw, none of these three books is Christian fiction. The first two are angel paranormal suspense and the last one is a political suspense-thriller.)

Not that I plan to stop publishing with small presses or self-publishing. My small press project includes helping edit an anthology which we hope to put out next month.

I'm also planning to revise and submit Serpent Fire and Devil Inside this summer, the two books in my three-book Angels of Death series that started with Death Sword. I have a spin off from Exterminating Angel, Hell on Earth, that I'd also like to submit, but since all are paranormal romance, and publishers aren't taking PNR, I'm stuck. Hopefully, not for long, though.

And then there's con season. Fandom Fest, Indie Gathering, maybe Film-Com, the Bullitt County Library Author Fair, Imaginarium, and probably one I'm forgetting. Would love to make it to Hypericon in Nashville this June, not as an author but as a reader. Couple of authors I know will be there.

There's always a chance. Like with anything, there's always a chance.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Ten Commandments of Writing #4: Thou Shalt 'Show' Not 'Tell'

"Show, don't tell" is a common refrain in my writing group. This is generally another way of saying there is too much exposition in the manuscript. Consider the following two sentences:

1. He was angry.
2. He slammed the door behind him and went stomping down the corridor, swearing under his breath.

They both say the same thing, but the second example demonstrates the character is angry without saying so directly.

'Showing' not 'telling' is a way of adding interest to your writing. You could open your novel by spending the first page describing your main character in detail, including personality traits, but it's far more interesting to spread this out throughout the novel, so that the reader can extract this information for themselves. If you want to tell the reader that your character is anxious and nervous, maybe have them gnawing on their fingernails in several scenes. If a character is a chain smoker, you don't have to tell the reader that. If the character lights a cigarette (or even several in quick succession) in every scene they are in, the reader will pick up on that soon enough.

An example of an author I think does 'show, not tell' well is Lisa Brackmann, who writes a series of crime novels featuring Ellie McEnroe, a young former soldier who was injured in Afghanistan. Though more or less physically recovered, Ellie is constantly drinking beer and swallowing pain killers with it, and these actions demonstrate aspects of her character quite clearly without us ever being told directly.

I think 'showing, not telling' is something that new writers often struggle with. It's something that a writer gets better at the more they practise it. If you want to tell your readers that a character is untrustworthy, how would you do it? This would probably be a series of actions in which they repeatedly demonstrate that they go against their word, or betray other characters. This would be more engaging for the reader than another character declaring, early on the story, "I don't trust Tom".

Here ends the lesson on the fourth commandment of writing. Join me next week when we will touch on the importance of heeding the rules of grammar.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Ten Commandments of Writing #3: Thou Shalt Not End With "It Was All A Dream"...

How many of you remember getting assignments to write stories in school? My heart always leapt with joy when that happened. Generally some people were always asked to read their stories aloud to the class. And there was always that one person who'd written some fantastic and implausible adventure, only to finish with, "and then I woke up and realised it was all a dream."

This is another of those tropes that was probably once perfectly acceptable, but it has been done so often that it has become too predictable. A similarly over-used trope is that one where the characters are actually dead and don't realise it until the end of the story. In spite of these two tired old tropes being over-used, there are nevertheless recent examples of both of them being used in TV shows (*cough* 'Lost' *cough*).

An author might decide to end their story this way to provide a twist to the tale. The problem is that it's been used so often that this revelation no longer comes as a surprise. To me, it rather smacks of the author writing themselves into a corner and not being able to think of another way of getting out of it. Plot twists and turns make a thrilling read, but avoid getting into a situation where you get your character into such a sticky situation you can't work out how to extricate them from it.

For fear of sounding like a broken record, this is why plotting is important. I have read more than one novel where strange things happen to the character, and I turned the pages eagerly, wanting to know why these things are happening, only to come across the "it was all a dream" ending. I interpret this to mean the author couldn't be bothered to think of a more original ending. I accept that much of this is personal opinion, but I have heard similar view expressed by agents, and ending in such a way puts a lot of agents and editors off any further negotiations with the author.

So, here we have the third commandment of writing: thou shalt come up with a better ending than "it was all a dream".

Join me next week, when I shall be exploring the difference between "showing" and "telling".

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Mission: Improbable?

Last week I mentioned I landed an agent. Tomorrow I'll meet her for lunch. After that, I'm heading downtown with two friends to watch the Kentucky Wildcats in open practice. (I've got a basketball-themed mystery idea but I need to research the sport more before I write it.)

Anyway, I sent my agent the first three chapters of a book I'm working on, and also pitched another story I'd finished. Unfortunately, both are too short and I need to double their lengths. I'm working on one, and finding I hate my beginning. Openings are my bete noire, and I often end up writing different scenarios before finding one I like.

I'm debating putting this one story aside and working on revisions of the other one. Or maybe plotting a new book. But part of me doesn't like to give up on what I consider a challenge to my imagination.

Maybe a day away from the book will give me a new perspective. Maybe talking with my agent will give me some ideas.

Now if I could write faster.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Ten Commandments of Writing #2: Thou Shalt Avoid Conversations Starting With "As You Know"

For the next few weeks in this series of posts, I will be focusing on things that you should not do in your writing. As a disclaimer I will add that you will always find examples of these in published work. Thus proving that if you bring in a huge profit for your publisher, you can pretty much get away with anything you want. But for unknown writers, trying to get a contract, there are just some things that will put an editor off. And these are the things that I want to share with you. The things that I have learned - generally the hard way - not to do.

The trope we are dealing with today is the situation of having two characters discuss something they both already know for the sole purpose of telling the reader about it. In my writing group we tend to refer to it as "As You Know Bob" syndrome or a case of "So tell me again, Professor, how your time machine works."

Imagine, if you will, a novel that begins with the sentence:

"As you know, Prince Edward, your father, King Henry, has been at war with the neighbouring kingdom of Ilyria for nearly twenty years," the prince's aide said.
There is a lot of information here, but since it is all detail that Prince Edward (presumably a major character) already knows, this is a clumsy way of relaying it to the reader. If I were to read a novel starting with this sentence, I doubt I'd get beyond that first line.
The 'TV Tropes' website goes into more detail about this particular literary tool, giving examples from film, TV and literature that are guilty of it. Sometimes it can work, but generally it doesn't, and it is one of those tired old tropes that has been used so often it would put a lot of editors off if they picked up something from the slush pile that uses this. There are generally better ways to get vital information across to the reader. Perhaps one of the easiest examples to pull from popular contemporary TV is Dr Who, where the Doctor's companion generally plays the role of the 'Watson' - the character who is assumed to be less knowledgeable than the audience, and therefore is the mechanism used to allow the main character (ie the Doctor) to explain things, to both the other character and the audience.

To go back to the 'Time Machine' example, let's think about one of Hollywood's more famous time machines, Doc Brown's DeLorean in "Back to the Future". Imagine if the conversation went like this:

MARTY: So tell me again, Doc, how your time machine works.

DOC BROWN: Well, as you know Marty, it is the flux capacitor that makes time travel possible.
Let's go over once more how it works....

In the film, this is not at all how it goes. An ordinary teenage boy plays the perfect 'Watson' to Doc Brown's intellectual 'Sherlock', giving him someone to explain everything to. The audience learn about the time machine at the same time Marty does, when he is summoned to the Twin Pines Shopping Mall one October night in 1985. We never find out exactly how the flux capacitor works, but we don't really need to know - it's enough to know that it is the magical gadget that makes time travel possible. And it works.

And so there it is, the second commandment of writing - Thou shalt avoid conversations starting with "As You Know". Join me next week when we explore the third commandment, which is all to do with how not to end your story.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

I Got an Agent! Now What?

2015 started out on a rather momentous note. In January, I had shoulder surgery, from which I'm still recovering. (The entire healing process will take about a year, including physical therapy.)

I also landed an agent in January. The agency is small and new, but my agent has fourteen years of experience in the publishing world. Turns out she'd read a collection of my short stories and liked them well enough to ask me to submit something to her.

Now I'll be the first to tell you I never thought I'd get an agent. I figured my writing career would consist of submitting to small pubs and self-publishing. But that was until my small press publisher became an imprint of a New York publisher. So that adage about "never say never"? Yeah, I need to remember that.

What does getting an agent mean for me? First, I'll still submit to small presses and self-publish. But I will also be working on selling my writing to traditional publishers. (Or, more appropriately, I should say my agent will work on selling while I work on the writing part.) This means I have to do things that I hadn't had to do before, such as write longer books. It's funny, I can write short stories, and I've had fellow authors tell me they can't write short because they find it too difficult to distill a story down to its essentials. Me? I'm the opposite, and I've had to work hard to make my stories longer. But if I want to advance my writing career, I need to push the idea I can't do it out of my mind. Before, I never thought I could write a 100,000-word novel. Well, I did. Once. Granted it ended up being 35,000 words after all was said and done, but the point is, I did it. The third book in my Angels of Death series, Devil Inside, is 68,000 words and my 2014 NaNoWriMo political thriller clocked in at 65,000 words.

I can do this. That's what I have to keep telling myself. Because rehearsals are over and it's time for the main show.