Friday, April 30, 2010

The Dreaded First Page

I say the dreaded first page, but it really starts at the first word. The first sentence. The first paragraph. I'ts all tied together in a delicate balance that must be synchned perfectly or the whole thing comes crumbling down.

What am I talking about? Well the list of firsts in a novel. There are books on the subject so I'm not going to rant on what has alrady been discussed. Instead allow me to rant on my thoughts about the subject.

1st. Is the first word. How simple can that be? Surprisingly not simple at all it seems. I once, a long time ago, read that you don't want to start any work with the first word as "the". It went on to explain why, but suffice to say I have an adversion to starting work with the word. So what else are no-nos in my mind. Well - names are next on the list followed by quotes. Oh and let's not forget words that are three letters or less. Now its narrowed down and we find out first word.

Next we move on to the first sentence. The hook. That first word has to fit with the hook to make it work. The hook has got to jump off the page and grab the reader on the nose and drag them into the second sentence. Of course the hook would not be complete if the first paragraph doesn't complete the thought that the hook genereated.

That first paragraph will be setting the tone - introduce your voice, the POV, and your pace. Yikes! That's a tall order. And that is where I am having the biggest problem. But this isn't where it stops. Now we have to finish out that first page. The first page will continue to enforce the pace, introduce the opening scene, and most importantly tease the reader into turning to the next page. If we can't get the reader to move past that first page - we are sunk.

So here I sit - struggling with that first page. Making changes - sending it to my few trusted readers and stir in agony until they reply. Man does it kill me to wait. Is it good enough, will they hate it, will they even respond. There is 299 more pages beyond that one all riding on the first.

It's enough to drive a person mad!!!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What to Do Next

Been debating on where I should go next. I'm in a lull until I get responses from beta readers, so I feel like I should be doing something. Should I begin book II of the Alice Chronicles, or work on the companion to book I, or outline several other stories that have been rolling around in my head for the past two years? So many choices - I think that I'll head over to the gym and run a few miles to clear my head.

Yeah I'm strange that way...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Draft 3 - Done

Last night I finished up the revision on the final chapters. It feels like another step closer to getting this book published. I did manage to get the word count down below 100K and hopefully its enough for more serious offers. So what next??

Well I'm going to do some editing based on comments I've recieved from the writer critique groups I'm involved in then I'll compile it into a single pdf file. I'm actively looking for beta reader and hope to get the pdf out to them by the end of the week. While I'm waiting for comments from my beta readers I'll be reading the book myself - and out loud. Once it's polished up from the reviews I'll start sending out queries and pray.

Interested in being a beta reader? Let me know.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Wondering and Watching

Several months ago when I queried my monsterous 180K novel I got a form rejection on my full manuscript less than 24 hours after sending it in. Being new to the game I wasn't about to accept a form rejection on a full. I mean, their okay for a query but for a full? I want more than that. So I snapped off a polite email asking what specifically didn't pass the muster. I got similarliy formal response about how the writing didn't "grab" him and that the business is "subjective". Yada yada yada. But then something caught my attention.

He said that there was a lot of "wondering" and "watching" going on.

Huh? I was kinda stuck by that. Well yeah, people watch and people wonder - what's the big deal?

Well as I approach the ending of my latest draft I'm fully aware of what was meant. Here is an example of what I just edited.

original: "Alice watched as Emily lifted the door and put in front of the fireplace."
As I look at this now I see that the "Alice watched" is redundant since the chapter is taken from her POV anyway. The line could do just as well without the "Alice watched as". Which is what I deleted. Wow - three more words off my count.

Throughout my manuscript I have noticed where I have done that. Adding a "wonder" or a "watch" - even the "looked" (or what ever other synonoms I managed to find) significantly added to my word count. More importantly it slowed down the pacing of the story like a literary speed bump. Pacing in stories are so important in today's literature. If the story is paced too slow the reader is going to put it down. No matter HOW interesting the topic is - or who the writer is. Honestly, I stopped reading Stephen King because his pacing has gotten sooo sloooow. It's a shame because I love his ideas.

When I am done with the draft, I'll have to go back and read for these "speed bumps" in my writing. I wonder does anyone else have examples of "speed bumps"?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Where do Ideas Come From?

I've read that people ask that question all the time. I've also seen book on the topic of generating ideas - or breaking through a mental block. From these tidbits I assume that the problem is out there, but I wonder "really?" Is it really hard to come up with ideas. I mean I get so many ideas for stories that I don't know what to write sometimes.

Take for example as story from the latest webNews. Richard Zimmerman, a cave dwelling loner in Idaho dies at 94. WOW! The obit goes on to explain that "Caveman Dick" has lived in his apartment complex of caves since 1947 - without t.v., a telephone, or electricity. The possiblity of stories from that man's life is so bountiful. Next story on the list announces lucrative summer jobs. Seriously. A job on a cruise ship! "Die Hard on the High Seas".

Ideas are all around us, we writers just need to know where to look and "how" to look with our imagination. We can even find ideas within our dreams (um... "Twilight"). I've had a few of them, though I have yet to make them into full stories.

The most common question I get now is "where did RABBIT SLAYER come from?" Sure you might THINK it was "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" but the truth is the idea came from a song. Many years ago I found an MP3 clip of a song that was a parody of Elmer Fudd hunting rabbits. I thought "how cool would it be to see something like that in story form?" Then while taking a shower I fused the song with Carroll's book to get a little story for my daughter. The little story has now morphed into the book and series that I call "The Alice Chronicles".

My point is: ideas are all around us. We just need to look with our imagination - asking ourselves "What could I do with it?" There we go an idea is formed. Try this little exercise - go out into our local city square, some place populated and watch what goes on around you. What catches your eye - then let your imagination take over and create a snippet of a story showing that scene.

That is just one exercise I use to keep up the creativity. There are tons more. What exercises do you use to help generate ideas?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Active & Passive writing

As I've been editing/revising I've begun to take notice of the "voice" of my sentence structure. The voice I'm referring to isn't the writing style that voice is usually associated with. I'm referring more toward the tone of the voice. I know that there is a better way to explain it - I'm just too ignorant to know it. So I am going to use an example from a line I currently revised.

"The view of the gathering was revealed to Alice when the executioner fell forward."
This was my original line. I once read that when revising you need to identify "active" or "passive" in your writing. An active voice has Cause then Effect while a passive shows the Effect follow by the cause. In fiction writing the writers wants to build tension and the active voice helps build that down to the sentence level. My example above shows the effect "gathering was reveled" before the cause "the executioner fell forward". This is a passive voice. So I switched the cause and effect - here is my revised sentence.

"The executioner fell forward revealing to Alice the view of the gathering below."
With this revised sentence even though the story is told in a past tense the reader gets the feeling of the action happening - thus the active voice. Now that I've written it this way the second sentence will need to be revised - and the rest of that paragraph. Regardless of the amount of revisions if I keep the tension of the writing up the reader will be compelled to continue with the story.

I'm not an English major (or been very attentive in High School English) so I might not be using the correct words for the "active" and "passive" writing. Feel free to correct me. The fact remains that we need to keep a look out for lapses into "passive" voice (not to mention the use of our "crutch words"). We writers want to hold our reader's attention so that they can't put the book down. If we can do that, they'll want to pick up another of our stories. Which means a demand for future books. See - the salesman is taking over.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

An April Update

Just a quick note to record my progress on the revision/edit of draft 3. I'm currently working on chapter 22. I have cut out a large portion in the center that has no bearing on the revised "trimmer" story line. It's relevant to the overall story happening in Wonderland, but we're saving that for the next book aren't we?

I've edited the first section of the chapter and I have also jumped to the last section and switched the POV from Beth to Emily. The last section was mostly dialogue so the revision was a snap. I think next I'll work on the King's death scene. Originally I wrote it from the POV of the Queen of Hearts. With the new story line it's not going to work. I'm debating on just how much of the scene Emily is going to see. I can only put in what Emily sees because Alice is occupied with killing guards.

Well that is where I am at. Anyone want to share their current status in "Revision Hell"?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Artist and The Salesman

I've been struggling over my last few chapters for the editing/revisions. Many "writers" have said that they write to tell the story they want to tell and I've also read where agents/publishers purchase books that can sell. I can see both points of views "the artist" and "the salesman". So I am caught between the two - which is right and which is wrong.

The artist's philosophy states that you write the best that you can and tell the story that you want to tell. You then hunt down an agent that likes the story. If no agent buys into the story you "trunk" it. The point is that the story is the tale the writer wants the reader to see. Much in the same fashion that a painter creates a portrait and presents it to buyers. If no one buys it then it's their loss. But what he doesn't do is go back and try to fix the painting.

The salesman on the other hand states that the writer needs to write what he can sell. The agent (our salesman) is in the business to make money. He looks at quieries and manuscripts much the same way a car deal will inspect a potential trade-in. If he (or she) won't make money on the car it's passed over. The salesman knows his/her market and knows what will sell.

So the question is does a writer write as an artist or as the salesman. I do believe that we as writers are considered artist in a way. The construction of our prose is our brush strokes, words - the paint left on the canvas. But we have one advantage over the painter - we can correct and change the way the paint sit upon the canvas. It is part of our craft. I'm beginning to realize that we write to tell our story, but we must keep the salesman in mind when write. Writing just to write is indeed a passion but a hobby. Writing with the intention to publish is a bit more involved. Other variables must be considered when writing a story that you intend to publish.

I've been thinking this over during the weekend. I am at the climatic chapters of RABBIT SLAYER and had to face a decision. Do I write (edit rather) the story I originally wanted to tell or do I compromise my original story in order to create a sellable manuscript? It took a lot of soul searching and a lot of advice from others to make my decision. The story was orginally written for my daughter and I think I have achieved what I had originally set out to do. She has her story (even if she doesn't want read it). That goal has been acheived my goal now is to publish. In order to achieve that goal I'm going to have to modify the story (and those climatic chapters) so that I have a product that is marketable.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Consistancy and Sacrafice

I think the key to writing - nah - writing well - is to write consistantly. I've been neglecting that consistancy as of late - thus the sparseness of my blog entries. Work has dragged my attention to the point that I don't even want to turn on the computer when I get home. But all is not lost.

One of the side effects of my new focus at work is that I have seen an increase in energy levels. I may not want to be on the computer when I get home, but I don't want to sit still either. Prior to starting RABBIT SLAYER I was an advid triathlete. With the changes in my life on and around the decision to write my interest in triathlete training waned, which resulted in crashing my energy levels and an explosion in weight around my middle.

So with my new found energy I have begun to get back into training. As a result the revisions have slowed. I must learn to balance the interests and still remain consistant on my writing. I know the balancing act is percarious and is a trick that must be planned out. I can do it - I know I can. I am certain that people all over the world have learned to create this balance - or have they?

Most likely, if you are reading this you are a writer. At least I beleive all my followers (all 12 of you) are writers. If so, I have a question for you. How have you learned to balance your life repsonsibilties with your passion of writing OR have you let things suffer to give you more time to write?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Rant of the Day

I am so glad that work is over today. I feel like I've been put through the wringer and then hung to dry. Frustration level is high and I've got more stress tonight for the dress rehearsal for the orchestra. Seriously, how much stress can one person take in a day. And now as I am sitting here writing at Borders someone has to park in a spot in such a way that the sun light is beaming directly into my eyes. - Yeah Isabella I know that you would like to have more sunlight in the UK, but that is why I am in TX; for the sun. NOT

Okay, so today is a rant session for the blog. My ranting really has nothing to do with writing but it does help relieve my stress so I can focus on the tedious job of editing. The rant for the day is work ethics. This week I had to release three people from employement because of unprofessional work ethics. Is it really too much to ask for a new employee to come to work, pay attention to the intructor, and do the word assigned? Work is not a social club - it is not there for the pleasure of the employee. And when they make a mistake OWN up to it. Take responsibility for you actions. One of the things that will aggrevate me the most is the "it's not my fault" excuse.

Then to continue on the rant. If you don't pay people much AND you only give them a quarter of the needed training AND there is no previous experience DON'T expect full production! Come on people give me something here. You can't have cheap labor, massive production, happy employees, and good quality work. It doesn't work that way. Pay people, give them the tools they need, and provide positive re-enforcement for a job well done.

Okay. Now that I've bored you all with my ranting I'll go and do some editing. Only 7 more chapters to complete. It wouldn't be so bad if I didn't have to change POV in several of those chapters. Crap.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Crutch words

In order to keep the editing momentum going I'll keep tonight's blog short. My discussion for this entry is the use of 'crutch' words. I'm not sure if there is specfic term for the phrase so 'crutch' will have to do. So what is 'crutch' words. Well, they are the words that comes naturally while writing to simplfy the process.

These words are not entirely incorrect in their usage, but they seem weak.

The sentence above is an example of using crutch words. The underlined words are crutch words. The above sentence implies the use of the words create weak sentences. While editing I have been attempting to keep track of my crutch words. I first noticed their use when working on the second revision of RABBIT SLAYER. In fact I have begun to create a list of these words so that I can keep an eye out for them during my current revision/edit. I think that to create a more polished piece with stronger writing we writers should be aware of our crutch words and strive to minimize their usage.

Here is a list of some of the words I rely on too much. 'but', 'seem', 'just', 'probably', 'no doubt', 'had', 'as', 'she', 'he', and 'still'.

These are but a few words I watch, though there are tons more. I'm curious - does anyone else have 'crutch' words?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

More thoughts on my nemsis - Editing

Finally!!! My thrill of finishing the revised Chapter 20 is short lived though. I have opened up my mail and recieved comments from my friendly critique from across the pond. Not that the critiques were spot on (and surprisingly light), but they did point out a particular perspective of editing that I have neglected to include in my editing/revising process.

It had dawned on my while reading her comments. She pointed out that a few of my paragraphs were disjointed (my words not hers). As I mulled over her comments I realized that my lapse in flowing prose throughout the chapters were a result of my lack following through with what I know I need to do. Specifically I am referring to reading ALOUD my work - completely.

As we edit (okay maybe it's just me) we do so with the time we have. An hour here, 30 minutes there. No matter how much time I manage to grab it is never enough to finish a chapter. In fact I think Chapter 20 has taken me nearly two weeks to complete the revision. Meaning that it is bound to be choppy in place. I know that the fix is to read through the whole chapter in one sitting. Aloud and with a pencil in hand. But for some reason I have an adversion to reading aloud. Why this is I have no idea. I just do.

I have done this exercise in the past. I have read sections to my wife and the mistakes or the rough spots stuck out like a red suit at a funeral. I know it'll work, but I have to find the right time - and when no one is around (except for maybe my wife - if she can stand it).

So let that be a lesson to all my writer friends - after editing read what you wrote. Read it aloud and from a paper copy so that you can make quick marks as you move through the prose. Don't try to fix the problem then - just mark the spots that you have to come back to.

Now for those that do practice this method - what other tips can you provide as I near the point that I'll have to do it myself?