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Archive for March, 2011

First, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the death of Diana Wynne Jones last weekend. She was one of the truly great writers of young adult fantasy, weaving magic with her words. A very sad loss.

Second, if you haven’t checked out Farland’s Authors’ Advisory Conference Calls yet, tonight’s the night to do it. David Farland will be talking about How to Sell Your Novel.

Now, on to BLOOD WILL TELL:

I’m beginning to make good progress on my revisions, working through scene by scene. First making any changes I think are necessary, then working through the three full critiques. I’ve gotten some excellent critiques that have made me look at the story and characters in a new light. That’s invaluable. I liked this story before, but I think it’s going to be much stronger when I finish. 

My current goal is to work through a chapter a day. Some days I may get more done and some chapters or scenes may need less work. That should fill up about a month before I’m ready to return to SEVEN STARS for the second draft.

The question then becomes what to do with BLOOD WILL TELL. Last year, I sent out 34 queries on this one. I got two requests for a partial, both of which ended in rejections. That’s not a very good showing.

Now, I’ll never know for certain why all those agents chose to pass. I can’t tell if the new first chapter and the revisions to the early chapters might have gotten a better response. But in my gut I have a feeling that part of the problem is that it’s a werewolf story.

It’s only a guess, but I have a feeling that the agents and editors of traditional publishing (who have to think about a book that might hit the bookshelves of Barnes and Noble three years from now, at best) just aren’t interested in werewolf stories right now. At least, unless your name happens to be Patricia Briggs, Gail Carriger, Sherilyn Kenyon, Charlane Harris, or Stephanie Meyer. I suspect, even, that when they open their inboxes they find half a dozen werewolf or vampire stories every day and it’s just easier to hit the next button than to try to sort out which ones might be good. I know that I’ve seen at least one or two agents’ websites that said specifically something like “Please don’t send me any more werewolf stories”.

So, what to do with BLOOD WILL TELL? One option is to change the title, write a new query, and try again. Frankly, I haven’t found another title I really like. And I’m not sure it would make a difference, really. It’s still a werewolf story.

The other option that I am considering very strongly at the moment is to e-publish it myself, probably under a psuedonym. The pen name would be mostly because this story (and it’s sequels) don’t really fit with the rest of what I’m writing. It’s adult, probably new adult, and I write mostly young adult and middle grade.

It’s a decision I’m likely to take with one or two of my short stories, too. In fact, I’ll probably do the short stories first, just to test the waters.

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I’m finally beginning to get a little momentum going on the revision to BLOOD WILL TELL. Very little, but even that is a vast improvement over last week. After drafting the new first chapter, I stalled out almost completely on revisions to what is now Chapter 2.

Of course some of that had more to do with real life issues than motivation, but that didn’t account for all of it. I just hadn’t built up enough enthusiasm for the project. I’m doing better, now, although it’s still going more slowly than is usual for me on a revision. I made it through Chapter 2 and halfway through Chapter 3. That’s still slow, but it’s a start.

Some of it was perhaps just hard for me to do. I think it’s just hard for me to get deep into my characters’ emotions early in a story. Like the reader and I don’t know them that well, yet. (Even when I’ve been through this story several times and I actually do know them that well.) But strong emotions are what’s going to make the reader connect with the characters. It needs to be there, right up front.

That’s actually good. It moves me out of my comfort zone. It’s the sort of thing that will get easier with practice, I hope.

I’m making progress now and hope to build some momentum. However, the great thing about revisions is there’s more than one way to approach them. Being a discovery writer, I find I really have to go through the first draft pretty much in order. After all, I’m learning the story, too and it’s just less jumbled if I tell it in order. But there’s no such requirement for revisions. I already know the story. I can take revisions in any order I choose.

I normally do do revisions in order just because it’s neater. But I don’t have to. From this point forward, if I find myself getting stuck, I can just skip to some other part of the story that I’m more excited about. Knowing that should help get me moving.

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One of the biggest challenges about writing fiction is really seeing your own story, not the way it is in your head, but the way it really is on paper. Two things help with this in my experience:

  1. Critiques
  2. Time

Critiques help, obviously, because they give you insight into what someone else is finding in what you wrote. Sometimes, it isn’t what you intended. Sometimes, a critiquer will make that one comment that clarifies everything for you.

Time is the one I struggle with. I have a freakish memory that lets some things slip through like water and holds onto others like a vise. Things I’ve actually written tend to be in the latter category. This means that getting enough distance from my own writing to really see it is a problem.

I try to let things sit for a month between drafts, but that may not be enough. I’m finding that things I come back to after about a year are not as good as I remember them being.

Okay, back from the ER. (Mom has a UTI.) So, to finish my thoughts:

I found that with THE SHAMAN’S CURSE, which is what convinced me that that book (my first) just needs a complete rewrite. And I found something similar with BLOOD WILL TELL. Not, fortunately, that it needs a rewrite, but I did find more things that could just be better than I expected to.

So now the $64,000 question is: how long is long enough. A month might not be. A year seems like too long. This is definitely something I’m going to have to figure out, though.

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Revision Mode

I’ve successfully gotten myself into revision mode and back into the story and characters of BLOOD WILL TELL.

I’ve even drafted the new first chapter. I tried to do two things with it:

  1. Start the story off more as the urban fantasy it is.
  2. Show some of my main character’s strong emotions earlier.

I don’t know how well I’ve succeeded, yet, but that’s what first drafts are for. I’ll get a few readers in a couple of weeks (after it’s had time to sit a little and I’ve gone back over it) and then decide whether this works or if I need to do more.

I think the strong emotions are key. My main character starts out sort of bottled up, very controlled. But that’s what’s shows on the outside, not what’s really going on on the inside. I need to dig deeper and show more of her inner turmoil early in the story. She has reasons for keeping her emotions on a tight leash, but there are still things she cares deeply about. That both builds conflict and should help readers to identify more with her.

Aside from that, my goals (for now, subject to change as I get going) are to:

  1. Enhance one of the side characters. She’s shy, but, like her cousin the main character, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a lot going on underneath. I need to show her strengths earlier and probably give her a little more time as the point of view character.
  2. Add more suspense to the climax. Right now, it doesn’t feel enough like the good guys could really fail. I have some ideas for that.
  3. Reduce or elimate certain other points of view in the story. I think the antagonist is getting too much point of view time. It’s making him seem a little bumbling and not a serious enough threat. (See the point above.) There are a couple of other minor characters who get point of view scenes, too. I’m going to give a hard look at what I need–and don’t need–in those scenes. Some will be cut.
  4. There’s a longish section near the beginning that leaves the urban fantasy and goes off into an alternate world. I need it. But I also may need to cut it back, some.

Those are my main goals for this revision. Of course, certain specific scenes or chapters have additional goals for the action that occurs there, as well.

On to revisions.

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Having recently completed the first draft of SEVEN STARS, it feels like a good time to explore how ideas develop in a story. As mentioned in a previous post, I’m largely a discovery writer, so this evolution happens while I’m writing. I’m sure pretty much the same thing happens to a plotter/outliner, though. Just at a different point in the process.

So, fairly early on in SEVEN STARS I had my characters isolated. There’s a war on and because of some imprudent behavior by one of the characters, they’re cut off from their main army, from the capital city, and from the hidden fortress where the women and children have been taken for shelter. I knew from the beginning that at some point they would make it to the fortress through a system of caves.

When I got to that point, I had an idea to have a little fun with them. In battle, the female character is more prepared, more experienced, better trained and not afraid of much. The male character is learning, but he’s never been in this situation before. So, I decided that when they went underground, it would be fun to switch things on them. He’d be perfectly comfortable in the caves and she’d be claustrophobic.

From there, the caves became a sort of almost religious experience for him. It’s like an initiation, but only he feels it. His confidence increases in the caves, which leads to a couple of interesting side effects.

Well, at this point, the caves started to become almost another character in the story.  I decided that the caves actually were responding to his presence and that their guide would notice it. When they reach the fortress, the guide proclaims that the caves, by affecting the character in this way, have indicated that he is the heir. He’s the youngest prince, the one nobody expected anything from, and now this guy’s saying that he’s the heir because he liked the caves?

This introduced some more world-building. Not just the caves, but the notion that through the caves the land is supposed to choose the heir. The current king has been trying to circumvent that by not sending his younger two sons into the caves and suppressing the knowledge that the oldest son failed to even get through the caves.

Those ideas only come to me when I’m writing. I would never get that idea while making an outline. 

Now, of course, I have to go back and introduce a few elements a little earlier in the story to foreshadow that revelation. That’s okay. It will make the story richer. And it won’t actually take much. A couple of sentences here and there, maybe a paragraph.

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Yesterday, I finished the first draft of SEVEN STARS. Now I’ve spent a little (very little) time savoring that feeling, it’s time to shift gears.

Today, and possibly the next few days, are going to be about putting myself in a different frame of mind. SEVEN STARS needs to rest so I can approach the second draft with fresher eyes. Now I’m going to start another round of revisions on BLOOD WILL TELL (which may also get a new title in the process).

I have to drag my mind away from one set of characters that I’ve gotten to like and back to another. I need to change my focus from new writing (altough BLOOD WILL TELL will almost certainly get a new beginning) and prepare to do revisions. I have to get myself out of a second-world young adult fantasy and get into the right frame of mind for an adult urban fantasy. Piece of cake, right?

But that’s exactly what I need to do–focus on something else for a while–so I can come back to SEVEN STARS and really see it.

I’ll probably start by reading through BLOOD WILL TELL one more time. I swear there are parts I could probably quote from memory.

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I have three chapters left to go on SEVEN STARS. It’s been going slower than anticipated this last week or so. It’s not that I’ve lost enthusiasm for the story or don’t know where it goes from here. Maybe it’s spring fever. Or maybe I just don’t want to finish it. Sometimes, I think, like reading a good book, I just don’t want to get to THE END. I want to stay in the sandbox and keep playing with these characters.

Of course, on a first draft, THE END isn’t anywhere close to really being the end. There’ll be several revisions. I’ll only be saying goodbye to these characters for a little while. It’s just a brief vacation so I can come back to the story with fresh eyes for the second draft.

So, what I have to do now is just pull my (figurative) writer hat down firmly on my head and power through. I know what happens next. And the writing doesn’t have to be perfect or even close to it in the first draft. That, after all, is what revisions are for.

If you want to be a writer, you can’t be a wimp about it. Some days it’s just butt in chair and get the job done, like any other job.

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