Fast Forward

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If for some reason you’ve made the very poor judgment call to actually read this blog with any regularity, then I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: Holy crap Dave you’ve written two blogs in almost as many days! (I say almost because they were each posted at opposite fringes of two consecutive days). Now, if you’ve made the even bigger judgment error of continuing to read, here’s what’s on my mind:

I’m working on Wine Bottles and Broomsticks – all the way out in chapter 9, if you can believe that. So far, it’s been fun, possibly the most fun writing project I’ve had to date. However, I’m now staring at a problem. It’s not a major problem, like a terrible character or gaping plot hole or a plot that just isn’t going anywhere. Nope. That’s not it at all.

I just reached a stopping point.

Dave?

Yes?

You’re just a little over 30K in and you haven’t even gotten to the main point of action you’re building up to.

You can see why this is a problem for me.

Okay fine, it feels like a stopping point, make 9 a short chapter and move on.

Well, that’s the sticking point.

I really don’t see how – are you making this a bigger problem than it is?

No-no, it’s not like that, what I want to do is fast-forward a few weeks. To this point in the story, things have more or less gone day by day. There haven’t been any major breaks in time, however, I’d like to skip ahead to avoid some rather tedious and unnecessary repetition. I want to jump to a scene just before the action really starts to pick up again. In order to make that work, I’m going to have to recap the previous few weeks of time. I don’t see an awful lot going on in that span of time, and I need some depth of time to pass in order for later elements to really be believable.

I think you may have already made a decision Dave.

No. I haven’t, actually. By skipping ahead, I’m cutting out a lot of time in which I can develop plot and characters, it’s just that outline-wise, I don’t have a hell of a lot to actually drop in there. Not only that, I run the risk of throwing off the pacing and making the end of the story feel rushed. No proper build up.

Okay, you know what, you’re clearly not going to take my advice, perhaps you need to get a second opinion.

That’s a great idea. Any takers?

The anatomy of a re-write #2

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I wasn’t going to post another one of these, but as all my writing time, precious little as there is at the moment, I’m lacking in other observations or problems to rant about. So, last night (last couple of nights really), I’ve spent most of my free time watching Doc Martin and flipping through stuff on the interwebs. Not the best use of my time, I know. One of the things I came across is a series on Kristen Lamb’s blog (https://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/), called Anatomy of a best selling story. There are six parts to this, and I’m not going to bother trying to summarize, you can read it. Instead, I’d rather talk about the few things I took from those blogs.

Kristen Lamb started out by saying you should be able to give a synopsis of your book in 1-3 sentences. There’s no way in hell I could do that. After reading that series, I think I know why. My WIP isn’t about anything! – Ok, that’s not true, it’s just muddy, making a synopsis difficult. I’ve been much more focused on the plot of the series, leaving the plot of this book limp.

She pointed out a few things that got me thinking, and consequently helped me identify some weak points. Stripping away all of the pizza analogies, and sponge-bob pictures, I came away with the following:

Each scene, chapter, and the entire book needs to follow this basic pattern.
1.) MC has a goal
2.) MC is prevented from reaching goal by ‘antagonist’
3.) MC prevails over antagonist and reaches goal

On point 3, this is where the rule-breaking starts. You can always write a chapter where an MC fails to reach a goal. In the end of the book however, your MC must reach some goal, defeat some antagonist. An important thing to keep in mind, and this is the ‘bar’ for me, is that the MC’s success doesn’t have to mean saving the world from destruction. This can be a problem in fantasy. There’s this series I love by Bernard Cornwell called the Saxon Tales. At the end of each book the MC defeats the Danes, but at the beginning of the next book, there’s a new pile of, slightly more dangerous, Danes waiting to make their attack. It’s historical fiction, so it grounded on that score. The point is that the MC is not saving the world each time. The only important thing is that we are rooting for the MC, because he’s likable, and the story is written so that we care about the stakes. So, when the Danes are kicked out of Alfred’s Wessex, after a long and bloody fight, we’re satisfied with it.

Point #2 is, I think, what I learned the most on. It’s a simple thing, and it’s the root of conflict. The key here is that the antagonist, and this is exceptionally important, can be ANYTHING, Including the MC him(her)self. Kristen Lamb has some guidelines on this as well, but I’m not convinced. Done well, anything works – just keep in mind that certain situations are damn hard to pull off. The Antagonist for a chapter, scene, hell book for that matter, doesn’t have to be a person, it only needs to be something that prevents the MC from achieving his or her goal, and each of those layers in your book needs to have an antagonist.

Point #1 has the least wiggle room. If your MC doesn’t have a goal, you don’t have a story. Again, depending on the circumstances, the goal can be anything. It just has to be something the MC feels s/he must do or is somehow obliged to do. Turns out lack of a clear goal is a major problem in my WIP. It’s not that there’s not conflict, it’s that the antagonist of the book is not what I had originally imagined. For the broader series, however, the main antagonist is clear in my mind. I’ve written the book such that the MC is dragged along into a course of events (aren’t all heroes?) and so his goal isn’t always so clear. Without a clear goal, it’s hard to pinpoint what’s preventing him from reaching that goal (thus no antagonist). This lack of a clear antagonist makes some of my chapters, while interesting, lack purpose and punch, which leads into issues with the overall plot.

All that said. I’ve found a problem and some of the causes of the problem. Now what?

First off, the realization that I’m missing some important structure had me asking who is the antagonist of the book? Well, it’s not who I thought it was. Furthermore, it’s not even a person. It’s a bit more obscure than that. While my main ‘bad guy’ certainly helps kick off the action, he’s not defeated in book 1. Not only that, he’s not standing in the way of any particular goal for the MC, at least not as far as this book is concerned.

With that in mind. I’ve decided that revising the last few chapters might be a waste of time until I go back through and revise the entire book to highlight the real ‘antagonist’ of the book. Many of the early chapters should become stronger and give the MC an opportunity to come out stronger as well.

To bring this around, how does this get me to describing my story in one sentence? I still can’t quite get id down to 1, but I can distill it. Provided I re-work my story well, it’ll read something like like:

The road of shadows, abandoned and quiet for over five hundred years, haunted by the ghosts of long dead soldiers, has awoken. In an effort to seize control of the kingdom, Lord Feorun has begun to muster the evil of the road. Neoth the Rogue, exiled son of a duke, has been drawn into the fight, the untapped power within him is the only thing standing between Lord Feorun’s army of ghosts and the fall of the kingdom.

Meh. Needs work, but Rome wasn’t built in a day either, and I’m still editing anyhow.


photo credit: Don’t be afraid! via photopin (license)

Deflating (how the hell does a new author get published?)

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You might expect that I danced around the house beating my chest and being generally insufferable after finishing my first draft. Nope. I barely got warmed up before my ego was popped like a giant over-inflated balloon. While I may have been insufferable for a good fifteen minutes, I hadn’t quite gotten to the ‘beating my chest’ stage of things before sitting myself down with a nip of whiskey. Just as I was about the raise the glass and salute myself for being awesome, my wife looked over her own glass and said, “Congratulations. So what’s your next step?”

I really can’t think of a statement that is at once so supportive, non-critical, and utterly deflating.

The amount of work remaining is mind-boggling. In total, the book is 21 chapters long. There’s every bit of editing and revision you can imagine and more. On the bright side, I’ve already been sharing some of this work with friends and so the first half of the book is pretty well polished. I’d put the number of revisions on most of those chapters at somewhere between 1 and 2 dozen full rewrites. These are at the point where they really just need a bit of polish before going off for another round of beta-reading. Then, I get into the technical editing.

The last half of the book, however, is another matter. It’s in mixed condition. For me, the first full draft for me simply means that I’ve finally got at least a full draft of each chapter in the book up to the end. All but the final two chapters have already been re-written at least twice. Chapter 16, for example, has been with me for more than two years, starting life as chapter 5. It’s undergone tons of rewrites, and reads pretty well.

Dave.

Yes?

I think you’re rambling.

I’m getting there.

Are you sure? I mean, if you’re not going to get to the point, perhaps I should move on to another blog?

Just be patient. You can’t rush a really good rant.

It’s not really the editing that was so much deflating, though it’s a major thing to deal with at this point. What’s got me twisted in knots is what comes after that. Beyond revision and editing, which I expect to dominate huge swaths of my summer, I’ve got to start thinking about publishing*. To be perfectly clear, my eventual goal in life is to become a full-time writer. I recognize this is not an overnight thing, which is why I’ve got a pretty damn good day job.

For now, I’m staring down the barrel of two equally daunting possibilities**: I can self publish or try to go ‘traditional’

If I were to choose the ‘traditional’ route. I can polish this until my knuckles bleed, without any real guidance as to whether or not the polishing is even making the damn thing shiner in the eyes of a publisher. Then, I get to spend weeks developing query letters and synopsis, and whatever the hell else agents and publishers want, before shipping it off. At that point, I get the joy of waiting for months and months hoping, and praying***, some magnanimous agent or publisher decides to go out on a limb and take it up an author without a platform. In the mean time, I’ll be waiting months for rejection letters before trying again. Provided most of the accounts I’ve read on this process are accurate, I’ll get to continue revising for months before receiving a little bitty advance, and if I work very, very hard on social media, I might actually get some royalties on top of that. Once I manage to finish book 2, I’ll have to repeat the process, hoping that all of the effort I’ve poured into setting this series up doesn’t go up in smoke.

Traditional doesn’t sound so good from this perspective does it?

So, what if I go the self-publishing route? I could do that. I just need some beta readers to start – we’ll just assume the advice they give me is in-depth enough to address issues of character, plot, theme, and setting in the work as a whole. Then, I need to hire an editor. I’ll just assume my decision here is the right one, I mean, what’s a couple grand *COUGH*. (No problem, I’ve got a spare kidney.) So, that’s line editing taken care of – I don’t really need the other sorts of editing do I? So, whats left? Ah, some cover art, That should roll in at around 500 bucks, (hmmm, do you really need two kidneys?) Once all that’s set, I can get a copy of indesign. Shouldn’t take me but a month or two to get myself professionally comfortable with that, and all that’s left is to work out how to navigate Amazon. Then I hit ‘publish’ and wait for the dollars to pour in right? No… wait I have to work very, very hard on social media, and quite possibly invest some cash in advertising, (people don’t have three kidneys do they?) to see a few copies sell.

You know, in looking back at that to-do list and the associated costs, I’m not really convinced on self-publishing either.

So, then what are you going to do Dave?

I’m extremely conflicted on this point. It seems to me that going through a traditional publishing house gives you a bit of a leg up on the platform building front. I’d like the opportunity to tap into that. To be honest though, I actually don’t think there is a real option for a new author. I mean, I could go through the process of submitting to agents and publishers, waiting for months for each painstakingly mass-printed rejection notice, containing a carefully crafted one-size fits all ‘no thank you’. Sure, new authors do get published in this manner, but many more very good writers do not. I have no expectation that I would somehow be amongst the lucky handful. Of course, I could self-publish, but this is another special version of an up-hill battle, and not one that I’m convinced will lead me to my goal.

Did you get to an answer in there?

No, but if you could help me find a thoroughly convincing argument to go either way, it might help.


* Yes, I know that I’m not done yet, but summer will come and go quickly.
** Don’t bother splitting hairs on indy publishing houses here, there’s no point.
*** I am not a particularly religious individual, but if I needed to pray for something, it would save it for something other than a book.


photo credit: The Gears via photopin (license)