Category Archives: darklight

Writing a proposal for your novel

junior-devI’ve been writing Darklight for six years now. At first, it was things like Deep Point of View (POV), cutting out adverbs, and other bits of writing craft. Then I yanked out things like explaining too much, removing every expression, every phrase, every word that we redundant. I’ve never faced writing a proposal for my title.

Well now that I’m shooting to reach either an agent or a publisher, I must change gears and put my full attention on writing a proposal.

darklight-query-letters-piling-upThere are two key things to pursue:

  1. Don’t stop
  2. Read submission guidelines carefully.

As for the first, just go and read Steven King’s On Writing if you want to see what struggles he endured to get published.

As for the second, it’s important to know that each agent/publisher are looking for slightly different things.

So I started writing multiple query letters, each one a little different. Some people want a two-page synopsis, some want four pages. Others want a chapter-by-chapter, 1-2 sentence synopsis. And then the worst: comparable titles. You can see in the snapshot I have LOTS of query letters. I never throw anything away. And further down are my two different synopses (which, BTW, took considerable effort!)

But buried in many submission guidelines is more evil, most nefarious, most bedeviling requirement of all: Comparable titles

Stop what you’re doing and go find 3-5 titles that are kind of similar to your own handiwork in some aspect, aren’t too old that they’re worthless, illustrate that you’re book would sell well like those, and yet doesn’t trample on your own originality. (Try to read that last sentence out loud, without taking a break!)

CedricSo I have an eight page proposal written up for a nice, clean SFF publisher I feel I have a decent shot with. I have nicely listed the details of my platform, past/future published works, and the two-page synopsis I wrote a few months ago. Yet I feel blocked on coming up with three titles that I deem comparable.

I’ll figure it out. I always do. But the whole process, from beginning to end, is never easy. It’s never simple. I saw the following in a CreateSpace forum and was sad.

“Yes, I don’t like the marketing end of it at all. I just want to write and let someone else get it out there. Guess I won’t get that unless I get picked up by a publisher.” –CreateSpace forum user

It’s sad knowing this won’t work. The only people that actually get real marketing budget are, as is commonly known, only given to the authors that don’t need it. Nope, those of us that want to get into writing have to do ALL of this legwork ourselves, and it begins with doing our own research of comparables. The first signs of understanding our market, because at the end of the day, publishers are in business to make money, not publish our pet projects.

Good luck and happy writing!

Darklight critique by best selling author @JerryBJenkins

The thing you can never do without is getting solid, concrete feedback from a bestselling author. You can see my Darklight critique by Jerry Jenkins below.

I have the webinar keyed up to where he digs into my story and pulls no punches. The points he makes are amazing.

The blind leading the blind

If you meet up with a handful of wannabe authors, the odds of getting solid feedback aren’t stellar. Your chances begin to rise when you meet with published authors. Those that have been through the wringer of editors, publishers, and proof readers may have more usable stuff to chew on. Find an author with 21 best sellers, and you’re no longer hear “your story is wonderful, dear,” from your spouse or your mother.

Okay, enough glee on my own story. I really recommend you go back and watch the whole thing from the beginning. There is one other 1-pager that gets picked apart like mine. The points he makes are great.

  • Avoid on-the-nose writing (telling us about stuff we all know).
  • Focus on nouns and verbs to keep it snappy and tight.
  • Don’t explain everything to us. Give the reader credit, a.k.a. give the audience 2+2. Let them figure out 4.

 

From Beat Sheet to Synopsis: How Writing Tools Pay Back with Interest /cc @DanielRMarvello

undergroundersAbout five years ago, I learned about structuring your novel. It started when I read Evolution of a Beat Sheet. I found the article quite interesting, and it lined up perfectly with my analyzing/organizing nature.

A Beat Sheet is basically an outline done on a spreadsheet. You can use any structure you want, but a common one that many will testify to is sometimes known as the Three Act Story. In essence, you lay out the most critical parts of your story. Then you start to fill in other scenes. Sooner or later, you have laid out a nice arrangement of your story. From here on, you can start writing your story. Writing a Beat Sheet isn’t easy. I think I spent a year at it. At one stage, I was stalled out because one tiny aspect of my world was unresolved, and it blocked me for some time.

After resolving that, I was suddenly writing at full force. Words flew out of my fingers. The detailed character profiles I had written combined with my structured story made it simple to crank out my novel. Being the software geek that I am, I added the extra ability to estimate total word counts at the end. I spotted half way in that my story was light, so I went back to the spreadsheet and crafted a subplot that happened to fill a big gap in the story. Blam!

Now here I sit, prepping for the Clarksville Writer’s Conference later this week. My plan is to schedule a slot to chat with an agent. I would like to show him my query letter and synopsis to get a read on how good or bad it is. Ever try to take an 80,000 word story and boil it down to 750-1000 words? Yikes! People say this is harder than writing the query.

But I had a secret trick in my backpocket. Each scene summary in the my beat sheet! I grabbed all the text from my beat sheet and pasted it into a document. I swept through it in ten minutes, picking paragraph chunks. Poof! 2800 words that depicts my story end-to-end. Now I just need to walk through it again, clean up the sloppy language, and throw out redundant or unnecessary stuff. This should get it into range for a proper synopsis.

To top it off, I’m hoping this entire process will help lend me towards writing the query itself. This is when I can whip out that one-sentence summary I wrote a long time ago based on the Snowflake method.

Happy writing!

It’s 11pm at night. Do you know where your POV is?

medieval-townLast night, around 11pm, I wrapped up a long edit on Darklight. Ever since the Clarksville Christian Writers started meeting early this year, I have gotten in gear for cleaning up my manuscript.

One of my fabulous beta readers, a published author, spotted my issue with POV (Point of View). I head hopped all the time and used the style of a narrator. “Clarel heard soldiers approaching”, “Clarel felt people brush past her”, etc. This puts distance between the reader and Clarel and also becomes wearisome. It’s better to write “Booted feet filled Clarel’s ears” and “Someone brushed past her”. Why? Instead of narrating what’s happening and TELLING the reader what is being thought, seen, and heard, you instead must SHOW them through the character’s eyes, ears, and words.

A nice side effect of Deep POV is that extraneous sentences melt away. When showing a scene through Clarel’s viewpoint, sentences that share another character’s thoughts must be purged. If their thoughts, ideas, and motives are still critical, they can be brought back in either dialog or facial expression. It would be maddening if Clarel asked a character a question, and that character pauses! Naturally, Clarel would ask a question to squeeze out an answer. This leads to tension and the type of communication we all embrace everyday.

I also cleaned out a whole lot of “helper” verbs. Grammatically speaking, “helper” verbs are things like “will go”, “could buy”, “and should pick up”. In my sloppy writing experience, I add on things like “seemed to be walking”, “appeared to be want to buy”, and more. I felt guilty at using them EVERYWHERE. In the process of boiling away all these unnecessary words, the story I wrote becomes leaner and meaner. This is also known as tightening up the manuscript. By only providing the minimal words needed to communicate the story, the words that remain become more powerful. I am proud to say that what used to be almost 77,000 words has now slimmed down to 70,000+. 6500 fewer words has yielded what I feel is a MUCH better story.

One of the hardest things for me to pickup were sentence fragments. Years of english taught me to always write complete sentences. But when I picked up and read “Killing Floor” by Lee Child, I noticed that not everything was “perfect”. In many situations he used sentence fragments to punch up the language. The amazing thing is, I didn’t notice! I was too busy flipping page after page. to keep up with the action. Since that’s what I want my own readers doing, I relaxed my own discipline on this arena.

“What are we going to do? He’s coming!” she continued to worry. Cold night. Wet feet. None of it distracted her. She was too caught up in the news she had learned from one of her nefarious contacts. She approached a familiar street corner and slowed down. Snitch saw a group of people from the Raiders gang. She looked behind herself and realized it was too late to back up and find another route.

In the excerpt above, I have highlighted a small bit where I used sentence fragments. Your english teacher may crack your knuckles with a ruler if you did that on a test. But this type of stuff builds riveting acting. People often cite Steven King’s “you must know the rules so you know when to break them.” Steven King taught english before becoming a hit novelist, raking in $40 million a year.

Indeed we need to learn things like Deep POV, show-don’t-tell, and proper usage of grammar and words. Because once we master it, we can then bend, twist, and put language to work for us.

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Darklight joins @pinterest

I recently got excited about Pinterest. My wife put together a great board for her debut novel, that is being published in July. I had a small set of pictures related to Darklight, so I took the plunge and signed up. To the right is a link to my board. I had a couple images based on my thoughts. But most of all, I spotted a woman decked out with a style that perfectly looked like the Snitch I have been writing about since 2010. Enjoy!

Follow Greg’s board Darklight on Pinterest.

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World building can be a bugbear

medieval-townIt’s always entertaining to see how different authors handle world building. In case you didn’t know, any story needs to paint a backdrop. The closer the world is to our own, the easier this can be. Adventures on alien planets with alien beings wielding alien artifacts can be the worse.

I have been reading The End of Eternity the past few days by Isaac Asimov. It’s one of his titles that isn’t so well known, and hence never found in bookstores. It is only in this digital era that I stopped to buy an e-book version. The story is incredible. The world is very different, but as always, Asimov paints just enough world to pull me in. And he leaves just enough out to surprise me along the way.

Fantasy books often dig into this arena. The risk is that by slowing down to describe the physical surroundings, the rules of magic, the history of the people, and everything else, you will slow down the action of your story. In an interview with George Lucas, he clearly fires a shot at prior science fiction movies as wasting too much time “showing off” their world. After hearing this, I’m convinced he was thinking directly about 2001: A Space Odyssey.

2001In that movie, they clearly show off the future when a space-aged flight attendant walks around with velcro shoes, when a ship does the “waltz” of aligning itself with the landing platform, and when Dave Bowman runs through the centrifuge of the ship to exercise. These bits did little to advance the story, but instead focus on world building. Us geeks dig it, but when I talked my wife into watching this movie, she found it BO-RING!

Regarding Darklight, I have a detailed collection of notes with the backstory of every character. I have a detailed history of where this world came from, where the relics and magic come from. And how these things are intertwined with each other. But I can’t just lay it in the reader’s lap. Instead, it is up to me to release bits and pieces at the right spots, using the context and understanding of the characters at hand. This is truly a challenge and something I have edited MANY times. My goal is to have an exciting canvas to paint this story and many more across. I didn’t realize there were a couple dozen sub-gre

Happy writing!

Editing Darklight left and right

undergroundersIt is about three weeks from the Clarksville Writers Conference. My wife and I are signed up. As part of this endeavor, I have pledged to complete a top to bottom edit of Darklight.

It is tough. I have been writing this novel for about five years. The last big push was about two years ago when I finished it. I sent it out for feedback from a couple beta readers and slowly waited for comments. Since then, I haven’t been real active on processing it. First of all, I got engaged in writing Learning Spring Boot, which took a big bite out of everything. Next, editing can be real boring. You aren’t creating but instead polishing.

Well, I finally got things in gear when the Clarksville Christian Writers group was formed several months ago. We’ve been meeting weekly and it has been a fantastic opportunity to critique each other’s work. I hunkered down and started editing one scene at a time. And I realized how dreadful some of my writing was! I have gotten a lot smarter on POV, show-don’t-tell, simplified tenses, and the overuse of adverbs. What seemed challenging to notice before now stands out like a sore thumb.

I have been hacking away at my story, but then decided I wanted a polished up manuscript to take it to the conference in case an opportunity presents itself. At the time, I was on page 30 of a 122-page manuscript. The math didn’t line up, so I have stayed up late almost every night to knock out 3-5 pages. Last night, I hit page 66. Still don’t know if I can make it, but I sure am punching a bigger hole in this problem. I feel like every scene gets tightened up and more compelling. I have boiled away words without losing the meaning. Side effect: better. Much better.

Happy writing!

I saw something beautiful today… /cc @sarat1701

Last night’s writing prompt: I saw something beautiful today…

***

I step out onto the driveway. The smell of gasoline fills my nostrils. Today is perfect. The sun is shining. The birds are singing. No rain for two days. I can see blades of grass spread across the entire backyard. No dandelions. Looks like that stuff really worked. I have my old sneakers pulled on. Cheap t-shirt. Workout shorts. I crank up the mower and start pushing. The sound fills my ears and provides a soothing feeling. I round the corners, lopping off blades of grass. A thought for a sequel to “Darklight” pops into my head. Would that work? Hmm. What about a title? Nothing there. What if I had one of the old characters make an appearance? Sure, but this one needs a bang. Jack Reacher’s debut novel had a big one. What if this old character appears and is killed. What if that is the discovery that puts my main character into action? I finish the back yard and move to the front. Kids are playing across the cul de sac in their year. Shooting hoops. Just me and the mower. No kids chasing me. An idea for an opening hook fills my mind. I HAVE to write that tonight. I wonder if I could write it in 1st person? I’m not sure, but if I did, it would punch it up. Mower stalls out. I stop and clear the chute. I resume. Sweat is dripping down my neck as I polish up our yard and get it ship shape. Just one thing. I need to finish up “Darklight” and get it published before I embark on the sequel.

Show don’t tell and character POV

undergroundersAmong the great feedback I’m getting from a couple generous beta readers, I’m getting a real primer on show-don’t-tell.

In case you haven’t heard, there is an old mantra in writing. Instead of having the characters enunciate what they are seeing, hearing, and feeling, i.e. telling, you instead show what’s happening. There are many reasons for this approach. It often connects the reader more intimately with what’s happening. They are more plugged in as if they were there, instead of hearing it retold through the character after the fact.

I’ve worked hard to shoot for that, but being so close to the work, I didn’t realize how many times I veered back into telling and got away from showing the action. Look at this example.

She heard some scurrying motions. She looked around, trying to see what their unit leader was going to do. “Are we going to back them up? How many are there?” As she looked to the front of their wave, she could see three of the men communicating with hand signals. “Blast, I wish I had paid attention better so I could know what they were saying.” One of them had pulled out a small tablet and was scribbling marks on it.

“She heard” puts distance between the reader and what’s happening. Try this instead.

Booted feet scraped the tunnel floors, scurrying to the front of the group. “Are we going to back them up? How many are there?” Three of the men at the front of their wave furiously exchanged hand signals. “Blast, I wish I had paid attention better so I could know what they were saying.” One had drawn out a darktablet and hastily scratched on it with a stylus while pointing back towards Base. The second man nodded. The third shook his head.

Which one draws you in and makes you feel like your really there?

Character POV

In my experience, a side effect of telling and not showing is that I was letting the POV (point of view) slip in various scenes. There are different ways to write such as 1st Person POV, 3rd Person POV, Omniscient POV, and others. 1st Person is “I saw. I walked. I whatever.” 3rd Person is “Clarel saw. Clarel walked. Clarel whatever.”

Whether you write in 1st Person or 3rd Person, it’s quite common that in any given scene, you are only able to know what one character knows, observes, hears, etc. Omniscient lets you know everything, but few people seem to use this one. It can get confusing as you bounce around between different characters. In a few of my scenes, I errantly floated between two or three characters. It was hard for my beta reader to track that.

Why am I talking about POV and show-don’t-tell? Because by focusing on show-don’t-tell, it forces me to only show what can be seen from the scene’s POV. It intensifies that character’s POV which tightens things up for the reader. I feel this leads to better action and suspense.

Now as I skim certain scenes, I can see how various parts are more sloppy than others. As part of the my follow up to these critiques, I am going through an tagging each scene with the character’s POV. It’s obvious that certain scenes were written across a few days, and I lost focus of whose POV it was. My goal is that by sifting through the manuscript and cleaning up POV with show-don’t-tell, it will improve the story tenfold.

Verb tenses

Another smaller item I’ll have to evaluate is past present and past perfect tenses. In general you need to pick the tense of your story and stick to it. Books are commonly written in past tense. But there’s more than one past tense. “She was pausing” vs. “She paused”. This is past progressive vs. simple past tense. Simple past slims things down and doesn’t sound so tedious.

I try to avoid past perfect (like “She had paused.”) because it’s not only tedious, it also denotes something that happened in the past before something else in the past. The only time I use it is for flashbacks in my story. This way, the flashbacks are clear and easy to spot. It also fits in with the concept that a flashback occurred BEFORE the “current” past tense.

On a side note, I have been studying German for about three months. While exercising my usage of English past tense, I am also learning about German past tense. Here are a couple types. “Ich habe das Buch gelesen” literally means “I have the book read”. Rearranged for Enlglish grammar, it translates to “I have read the book”.

An alternative is “Ich las das Buch” which means “I read the book. These are past perfect and simple past. In German, they are often described as spoken past and written past (or story past according to my native German high school teacher), because when you are talking to someone you use the former, and when writing a story you use the latter.

Suffice it to say, using the right tense is important in any language and if you mix tenses willy nilly in your manscript, any potential agent or editor will cringe and dismiss you. You will appear amateur if you don’t focus on using tenses correctly and consistently. Scrubbing your manuscript can wear you out, but it’s important work.

As I get more and more feedback, I’m deeply grateful. Happy writing!