SiWC Post 1: Power Editing with Robert Dugoni, and a Book Giveaway!

This past weekend was mega busy, and oh so fun.  I volunteered at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, and worked my butt off for them.  In exchange, I got to pseudo-attend the conference.

I went to a masterclass, panels, and talks, and met some amazing people.  I’m going to do several posts on SiWC, because trying to fit it all in to a single post would be madness.  Just like trying to fit a whole year’s worth of writerly-networking and craft-discussion into a single weekend.

So!  Before I give out my notes from the Power Editing Masterclass, do go check out Robert Dugoni.  He was an excellent speaker, and in addition to giving me some things to think about, he managed to sell me on checking out his books.  (You can also have your chance to check out his books, courtesy of me!  Check out my note at the end of this post about winning his book!)

Onwards!

Please note that this is a mix of Robert Dugoni’s talk and my own opinions.  I made bare-bones notes, enough to trigger thought processes in my own mind, so what you’re about to read is a mishmash of his teachings and my experiences.  It ended up being more about story structure than editing, but it’s all relevant.

Also note that these are notes from a masterclass– this is not day 1 writing.  I’m not going to explain some of these terms.  You can look them up!  🙂  It’s still pretty approachable.

My brain had a little trouble right off the get go.  He mentioned that he’d done 14 drafts of one of his novels.  FOURTEEN DRAFTS.  This was one of those wonderful (read: terrifying) moments when I wondered “Am I doing it wrong?”

I knew some writers (myself not among them) wrote many drafts.  But FOURTEEN!  I tend to write one novel, re-write certain sections of it, and edit the crap out of it.  But I also outline beforehand… People that write a lot of drafts tend to be pantsers (they write by the seat of their pants, without much outlining).  If you plan it out, you know where it’s going, and thus don’t need to rewrite the darn thing so many times.

Once I got over that little factoid, I got right into:

Where the author intrudes on the story.

1) Opinion

Inserting your opinion into the work will bring the reader out of it.  Your opinion can come in the form of narrative judgement or even in the opinions of your characters.  This is difficult, because characters need to have opinions; convincing the reader that it makes sense in the context of the character is imperative if they’re to believe that it’s not yours.

2) Info Dumps

Insert information into conversations, naturally, so it’s not just unrelated information.  Sure it’s great to do your research, but you’ve got to get it into the story in a way that doesn’t jar the reader out and scream “LOOK AT ALL THE RESEARCH I DID”.

3) Biographies

No one introduces themselves and gives their life story.  Give characters information over time, naturally.  And don’t give information on characters that don’t matter or that we’ll never see again.

4) Flashbacks

Flashbacks are tricky.  Chronology works well to help story structure, and when you mess with it, things are bound to get ugly.

Basically, get your info across through your dialogue.

Appeal to core motivations: fear, love, wrath, envy, lust, greed- if it’s a deadly sin, you can use it.  People will identify with your character motivation if it’s universal.

High stakes: make the story personal to your character.

At the climax (the failure of the quest, followed by the triumph), remind the reader: what is at stake?

What is the physical journey?

What is their motivation?

What is the public stake?

What happens in the world, for other people, as a result of the quest?

What is the personal stake?

What happens to our character, personally, as a result of the quest?

But I’m way ahead of myself.  Let’s talk about

The Beginning.  

Do 5 things in the beginning.

1) Set the tone.

The reader should get a good feel for how the rest of the book is going to go.  What kind of story are you telling?  Is it funny?  Grave?  Who is telling it?  Let them know what they’re in for within the first few pages.

2) Introduce the protagonist.

Who’s quest is this?  Who are we rooting for?  We need to know this right off the bat.

3) Create empathy for your characters.

We want to identify with characters.  As writers, we need to give our audience reasons to like our protagonist, to want to go on a journey with them.

4) Hook the reader.

Get ’em invested.  You need to communicate that this story is worth their time, and you do that by hooking them with the most exciting, most pertinent part of the story.  Why are you telling this particular one?  Why should the reader care?  Get them interested.

5) The first sentence poses a question, and early on, a story worthy quest is set up.

The following five questions can be used to describe any story.

Who?

What?

Where?

But when…

What stands in the way of their goal?

Let’s try it out.

Alan Grant is a palaeontologist who is invited to Isla Neblar to vet a new dinosaur theme park.  But when the attractions break free from their enclosures, he must help the others on the island traverse the facility and escape from the once extinct predators.

Who? Alan Grant. What is he?  A palaeontologist.  “But when”? Got it.  And of course, the dinosaurs are in the way of his escape.  Easy!  You can boil down any movie or book into these five points and get the basics of the story across.  It’s what makes or breaks elevator pitches as well.

We are at the end of the first page of my notes.  Good job!  Have a silly picture to give your noodle a break.

Ok, let’s get back to it.

1) Senses: appeal to them all to set the scene.  Put your reader there.

2) Goal: ever present.  Each scene is about realizing the goal, or about revealing character.

3) Obstacles: Escalating.  Each one reveals a new character trait; don’t show your character overcoming the same kind of obstacle over and over, challenge them in different ways each time.

4) Conflict.  Always conflict.

5) The final words of a chapter raise a question to keep the story moving, keep the pages turning.

On to The Middle.

The middle= the crossing of the threshold —> the climax.

Here is where we find out

1) Whose story is it?

2) What’s the through line of your characters?

3) How are they to achieve their goal?

4) Who helps them achieve it?

5) Who hinders them?

Which brings us to

The End.  

You must fulfil the promise, the promise you made the reader at the beginning (a story worthy quest, a character they want to follow).

The end must be completely inevitable, but unexpected.

The end must be satisfying.

The end has one more big obstacle.

Let’s talk about twists:

A twist is either an escalation, or a revelation. A twist is inevitable, yet unexpected.

There can be a twist of:

Character (like in the Wizard of Oz, the twist with ‘the wizard’)

Awareness (like in Planet of the Apes, when he realizes where he is)

Complexity (like in The Game, how everything was much more complex than anyone in the story or the audience realized)

Cleverness (like basically all of Sherlock)

Danger- the peril isn’t what we/they thought it was, it’s much, much worse, or different.

In the end, no new forces may be introduced, and no new characters.

When you’ve got all that (you did get all that, right?), then:

Go through scene by scene.  Ask yourself, do you need it?  Does it a) move the story forward or b) reveal character?

Raise a question with the first sentence of every scene.  We spend so much time on our first sentence, our first page; make every start of a scene that important.

If it can be presumed, it can be cut.  You don’t need a whole ton of description for mundane things.  He picked up the cup of water and took a sip.  No!  He took a sip of water.  There’s tons of actions that just don’t matter- cut them.

Readers’ emotions mirror the characters’ emotions.  If the protagonist cares, the reader will care.

Describing clothes: let details be revealed in motion.  Movement/action= active.

Her hair was red, her eyes were green.  No no no!  

Her red curls bounced behind her as she ran into the room; her green eyes darted from the gun on the floor to the knife in Robert’s hand.

And now one of those points that gets made that blows your mind (at least, it blew my mind, particularly because it has effected me and I didn’t realize it):

Secondary characters can be more interesting because main characters are too much like us.  My first novel’s protagonist IS too much like me.  And who did I pick to follow for the second book in that series?  A much more intriguing secondary character.

My notebook has a word that stretches the entire width of the page after that note…

DDDDDAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYUUUUUUUUUUUMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM

Looking at character development: just one step up the ladder is enough.

1) The character cares only about themself.

2) The character cares about 1 other.

3) The character cares about a group.

4) The character cares about a community.

5) The character cares about all.

You can have character growth that doesn’t involve them becoming a saint.  Just one step up in this little hierarchy is enough to show development.

You did it!  You got to the end!  That’s it for that class.  It’s all over the place, I know… Hope you found it useful.  I sure did.

Or if you were more like

then I thank you for stopping by nonetheless.  Sorry for the technical post; I hope other writers find it helpful!

And now dear readers, I offer you a chance to win a book!  The first book in Robert Dugoni’s David Sloane series, The Jury Master, could be yours!  Just leave a comment below, or head to Reddit and comment in this thread in /r/books.  If you do both, I will count you in for two entries!  I will draw one person at random in one week (on Wednesday, November 6th), and I will contact you for your details.  And then you will have the first book in this thrilling series!

I will congratulate the winner in next week’s post.  And if you don’t win this time, I’m planning on doing more of these, so you’ll have more chances with other great books.  🙂

Next up: Surrey International Writers’ Conference Idol: Crushing Hopes and Dreams in front of Hundreds of People for Fun and Profit!  (j/k it was actually really useful, interesting, and fun!).

Thanks for reading.

Heidi out.

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Kells and Reasons for Rejection

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  The Book Of Kells is free on iTunes today.  I don’t know a thing about it, but I will soon enough.  Enjoy!

And today, author Michael J. Sullivan posted some interesting insights from another author, Marion Zimmer Bradley, on Why Stories Get Rejected.  A good read, and something every new author needs to internalize.

I have it down pat by now.  Though I think this can be a problem; this insidious expectation of rejection has effected me in a way I didn’t anticipate.  I have four things that I’m really excited about right now: my novel got a full request at an agency I would love to work with, my screenplay is being considered for the Nicholl Fellowship, as well as a contest to get me into Pitchfest, and also a short story of mine has been shortlisted for an anthology I’m excited for.

This is a lot of excitement.

Usually it’s just a lot of little things, various stories out for various anthologies, and the trickle of rejections come in steady and constant.  No big deal (anymore).

So when I actually have things to be excited for, I realize how oppressed this expectation of rejection was making me.


Sometimes we need to step back to see things more clearly…

The danger of getting excited is that it makes the rejection just that much worse.  I’m finding this creeping into other aspects of my life; I’ve stopped getting excited for movies (movies that I would have gotten excited for in the past!) because of past let downs (not a rejection, but the same feelings are at play).

Last week was the most difficult I’ve found meditation.  My mind kept racing forward to the future, and I’d have to pull it back.  Sit.  Stay.  Not terrible, but it got me to realize just how much I’ve been not been letting myself get excited.

So I’m excited.  Even if none of these four amazing things happen, it feels good to have so much possibility laid out before me.  And even if a single one does happen?  Well damn.  Things are pretty swell.

 

Silly kitty.  My own is hiding under my blankets, scared of the wind.

Right!  So, hope all is well with you, dear reader.

Thanks for reading.

Heidi out.

Remove Head from Sand

I get so focused on writing that I forget to see what else is going on.  There’s a ton of great blogs out there, and I don’t read them as much as I should (if you’re reading mine, you have my deepest thanks).

So I was doing some catching up, and found the following:

Robert J. Sawyer is doing a book tour.

Query Letter FAQs!

Patrick Rothfuss had a good video to post about Ira Glass on art (get well soon Mr. Rothfuss!).

And as for me, well, I’ve spent the last three days reading over my first novel, book one in the Spell Carriers series, a fantasy epic.  I am so pleased that it is not terrible!  My writing has evolved, for sure, but it still flows, and holds me in a way that surprises me- to not be able to put down a book that I wrote?  What is this fresh narcissism?  I genuinely enjoy it, and am really relieved to see that it holds up against my newer works.

And it’s the first time I’ve read it in my new program, Scrivener.  I had to teach it all the new words, all the new names.  And that first time I right click a name and say “learn spelling” is rather magical; for I can see into the future of the characters, and know what a journey they have to come, and it’s wonderful.

Characters I introduce in book one go on to have major parts in book two, and to see their conception, when I didn’t even know how great they would become, leaves me glowing.

So yes, reviewing, and removing one’s head from the sand.  I will try and do this more; there’s a lot of great stuff being posted about this great and mad endeavour of writing.

Thanks for reading.

Heidi out.

Victory Hot Chocolate: The Melting of Kings

So I made those marshmallows, and they turned out great!

Making Marshmallows.

Cut them into cubes with scissors.

Melting into the hot chocolate…

One for Aaron too.  🙂

*Gloop!*

Perfect

A great way to end the week.  It was brain intensive; I didn’t anticipate that big of an edit before my Nicholl Fellowship deadline, but, well, the script is way better for it.

And now, I’m off to Bon’s to meet a friend for breakfast, and then another friend I are are continuing down the ‘tiny-food-making’ path, and decorating *tiny* cakes.  Of course, pics to follow.

If you’re looking for a short story to read, I suggest “All Quiet on the Temporal Front” by Bennett R. Coles.  His Sci-Fi fu is fantastic.  Now that I’m not in the thick of editing, I’m going back to read his “Virtues of War“, which is incredible so far.

Cheers guys.

Heidi out.

“Why Stories Should Never Begin At The Beginning”: A Xpost by Chuck Wendig

Why Stories Should Never Begin At The Beginning.

He makes his point quickly, and he makes it well.

The point is that I got to the fucking point.”  

Just give it a read.  It’s fast and it stabs right at the heart of the problem that oh-so-many writers experience, myself included.

I also have a counter to it though…

I loved this post and thought it was great advice.

That being said, this trend of starting right in the action, with you main character in the worst trouble of their life, has me of two minds.

On the one hand, it makes for compelling reading that draws you in lickety-split.

But on the other, what is happening to exposition, to showing characters how they are *before* they are fighting for their life? So often we’re dropped right into a compelling tale without having really any idea of *who* the main character is, what they’re like normally.

I’m hearing more and more editors and publishers saying you have to hook your audience on the first page, in the first paragraph, in the *first sentence*. Well ok, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to go back and give a little exposition after I bait the hook.

I don’t write my books like I’m telling the story to a friend in a bar, because that’s not what I’m doing. They’re reading a book. And if the story is compelling enough, I want them to be able to have the attention span to read what’s going on a little bit before my character is bleeding to death on the steps of the art gallery.

Thanks for reading.

Heidi out.

Pals of the Pen Variety

I got myself some pen pals!  So far I’ve written two letters (hand written) on the topics of the destruction of mankind, and the colonization of space.  I’m expecting the first letters from two others, for a total of four pen pals!  I’m excited.

Well, the hunt for an agent is… happening.  I want to say going well, in that I’ve found several agents who I feel would really dig my book, AND who I’d like to work with.  So yes, in that regard, it’s going well.  As ever, the rejection letters are trickling in.  I had my fastest one ever today; 24 minutes!  It seems fast, but then, if it’s not right for someone, I’d rather know sooner rather than later.  🙂

I’ve been trying to get to know the agents I’m submitting to a little more before I contact them.  For some, it’s a bit hard if they don’t have a big internet presence.  They best ones so far have been agents with blogs, and that have done interviews.  My favourite has been Eddie Schneider, who did this fantasic AMA on Reddit a while ago.  That was really great to read, not just to get to know more about him as an agent!

Also happening on Reddit right now, is an AMA by author Michael J. Sullivan.  I have great respect for him; everywhere he shows up in r/writing he imparts so much wisdom, so many useful tidbits.  He answered a lengthy question of mine today! Thanks Michael.

On the non-writing front, The Walking Dead.  Is.  Fantastic.  I haven’t cried that hard during a TV show in quite a while; this last episode, “Killer Within” had me bawling my eyes out.  MAN.  What excellent acting.

I participated in the Reddit Halloween exchange.  My gifter sent me this:

Fun!  I sent my match some interesting candy, including White Rabbits, a Double Decker bar, and a few other yummies.  Oh, and a big fake spider.  >:)

DELICIOUS.

This years Reddit Secret Santa is live!  Sure to be a record breaker.

…You know what else is delicious?  Pizza.  I’m making a meat lovers tonight, from scratch.  Using sausage I made myself.  I’m excited.  And then tomorrow, a Hawaiian.  Then the next day, Veggie Mediterranean.  Gosh, pizza is awesome.

Pics to follow.  🙂

Cheers guys.  Thanks for reading.

Heidi out.