Stay On Target

Sorry for the long time between updates!  I have a draft of something I was working on, but I won’t post that yet.  For now, news on the novel.

Things have been smoking along at quite the clip.

I have another day of read-through and editing to do, and then my manuscript will be ready for the beta readers!  I am so excited.  I’m already feeling relief; I have written so many challenging things these past few weeks, and I really will be glad to be done.

I have to make a tough call tomorrow about cutting a piece.  The fact that it’s on the chopping block means it’s probably already been chopped, but for some reason my current self hasn’t accepted it yet, so I’m still “considering” it.  I am being careful not to say the same thing twice in this book… so I need to really look at what I said and see if I come at this part of the event at two different enough angles.

Of all the segments I had to write, the pregnancy miscarriages and deaths of infants was one of the hardest.  In the insomnia apocalypse I’m writing, children get a pretty shitty deal.  I wanted to cover it but not dwell on it- because it might come off as shock-value- but damn.  It really took it out of me.  And I fricking wrote the damn thing twice.  One from a paediatric nurse working the neonatal unit, and one from a medical hypnotist.

Guess which perspective is more interesting?

See, it’s obvious.  But my stupid writer brain is clinging to the nurse.  It took so much time to pull that off, it was haaard, it thinks.  Cram it brain, the Hypnotist is better.  But the nurse shows it better.  The Hypnotist is all about The Hypnotist.  

Ugh.  Cutting is hard sometimes.

Sorry, this is all abstract.  Here’s a bat.

This is the most challenging thing I have ever written, and keeping it held together in my mind, dozens of stories, vignettes, characters, locations, research- it’s messing with my brain.  …And my life a little.  Like missing appointments, shifts at work… my brain is just about at its limit with this one.

I got four hours of sleep last night, then went to the cafe, and spent five hours fervently writing (one segment completed) and editing (perhaps 45,000 words read-through/edited.

Once I get this book done I can go back to the methodical agent researching.  I already have notes on several whom I’d love to work with- I hope one of them loves my project enough to work with me on it.

A new apocalypse scenario, who would have thought, right?

Onwards.  Oh god I just devoured The Handmaiden’s Tale.  Man alive, that one will stick with you.

Banished is an amazing medieval city building game.  If you like resource management and seeing your villagers die of starvation, this game is for you!  T_T

It is hard as butts.  But addictive, and also fun.

And also we’re getting another kitty, a kitten.  Will post pictures, of course.  It’s going to be a toss up between news about this book and a kitten.  …I will try and mash them together, maybe like a cute kitten photo with a caption that’s all business.

*

Today I got a full manuscript request from the most amazing agent ever!**

*not my kitten

**is only a caption example, has not happened (for this particular manuscript, yet, as it is not finished).

Ta ta for now, beautiful readers.  I will have a tidbit of good news to share with you soon.  😉

And then, hopefully soon, the best news.

Thanks for reading.

Heidi out.

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.

“Luka and Iso”- Top 10% in The Nicholl Fellowship!

Hello wonderful blog readers!

I received an email from the Nicholl Fellowship today.

Every year, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences picks five writers and pay them, based on the strength of the script they submitted, to produce another feature length screenplay.

I didn’t make the cut for the Fellowship, but my script scored in the top ten percent!

7,251 entrants, and I’m in the top 10%?  Pretty awesome, but of course, disappointing not to advance.

Ah well, I’m hoping I can find someone out there as excited about the story of the first genetically engineered dragon as I am!  Perhaps this will help me along.  It will make a killer film.

Congratulations to everyone that is advancing.  I’m sure there are some amazing scripts, and how they’ll ever pick just five is completely beyond me!

In other news, I received my second ever royalty cheque!  Seems that A Quick Bite of Flesh is still selling.  Want some zombie flash fiction?  Then this book is forrr yoooouuuu!

I am waiting on an awesome agent for a new book I’d like to see in print.  Paranormal romance/urban fantasy here I come!  I’m well into the sequel already, and hitting short stories out of the park on a daily basis.

I’ll keep at it until- BWA HA HA YOU CAN’T STOP ME

Thanks for stopping by.

Oh what’s that?  This is my 100th post?

Hurrah!

Oh man, if I’ve been this into my small successes so far, when I get my first novel picked up I’m going to be happier than a kitten with a feather.  More excited than a porcupine with a banana.  You do know porcupines love bananas, right?

Anyway, thank you for stopping in and staying with me on this long, long journey to authordom.

Heidi out.

Weekly Top Lists and Polls!

Hey guys.  Sorry I’ve been bad about updating; it just feels like I can only post “I’m working on it” so many times.  😉  But yeah, the manuscript is done.  I’m now waiting for my beta readers to get back to me, and their notes are trickling in.

I met with a high school book club on Monday, which garnered me 10 contacts in my target audience!  I’m extremely pleased but also nervous as butts.  Writing it is one thing, having other people read it is entirely another.  Good ol’ Alot of Doubts rearing his stupid ugly head again…

Onwards!  I have decided, to keep my posts regular, that I shall post a Top 5 list every week, with an accompanying poll for all you awesome readers to take part in.  I’m hoping this can get us all thinking and talking about our favourite whatevers!

Why top 5?  Well, top 10 seems overdone, and much too easy.  I tried to just do top 3, but that was far too hard!  I ended up with runners up, which defeats the purpose.  So, I have settled on a top 5.  Each choice pertains to my ‘elemental’ theme, with each selection relating to the ‘element’ I pair it with, if only esoterically, and often without explanation  Earth, Fire, Wind, Water, and, sort of the runner-up category, Heart.

I was going to call it the EFWWH List, but that felt like tripping at the finish line.  So I’m going to go with “The Captain’s Five”.  Aside from the obvious Captain Planet reference, it sounds cooler, and more sci-fi.

So I give you, without much further ado, the first “The Captain’s Five” List and Poll!

The Captain’s Five:

Top Sci-Fi Novels

“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card

This is a quintessential Sci-Fi read.  Compelling and extremely well written, it has characters that get under your skin, that get inside your head.  The story follows a boy bred for Battle School who must take charge and lead the other children as they prepare for another war with the alien “buggers”.  The whole series, and the shadow series from another character’s perspective, is at the top of the sci-fi food-group pyramid.

“The Hyperion Cantos” by Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons’ “Hyperion” and “The Fall of Hyperion” are just, absolutely, stunning.  Sci-fi at its best.  Set in the far future, the first book contains the stories of the pilgrims sent on the suicidal Shrike Pilgrimage to face a terrible being who contorts time and breathes death.  Beautiful and terrifying, it is full of wonder.
“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley

It may have been the timing of me reading this one, namely in the formative grade 8 adventures into more ‘adult’ lit, but this one really struck home.  I think my English teacher was rather horrified when I championed some of the ideas in the book.  Eugenics to steer the future of the human race?  What’s not to love!  Oh, maybe not the way they taylor the classes, people bred to be stupid, you know, for slaves.  0_O
“Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus” by Orson Scott Card

I know I know, two OS Card’s on the list?  Well, he *is* my favourite author.  And the two I picked are knight and day different.  Pastwatch goes about the business of studying humanity by peering back through time, literally spying on people as they go about their lives, unaware they’re being watched by the future’s anthropologists.  But when the earth reaches the tipping point where we’ll be unable to survive on it, Pastwatch embarks on a mission to save it by sending people back in time, to strategic places, to try and correct the mistakes of our past.  Absolutely fantastic.  This is my most lent, and most bought-as-a-gift book.
“WWW” (“Wake”, “Watch”, and “Wonder”) by Robert J. Sawyer

I think Robert J. Sawyer is brilliant at seeing the world, and telling us how it’s going to be.  Or rather, how it’s going to be if just this one thing happened.  In WWW, that one thing is a sentient being coming into existence in cyberspace.  It’s gripping, and asks some truly important questions on what it means to be human, and what our reaction to such a scenario is likely to be.

So, thus concludes the first ever Captain’s Five!  I hope you enjoyed it.  Mayhaps I’ve left you with a new book or two to find and read?  🙂

Now: take the poll!  Let everyone know what *your* favourite sci-fi book is.  Results published along with next week’s “Captain’s Five”!

…Please ignore “Sample Question 2″…  Ain’t nobody got time for that.  >_<