Category Archives: darklight

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!

How important is the title of your book?

I have found titles the first step in my desire of whether or not to read a particular book. It isn’t the whole choice, but I can remember strong titles like “Foundation” and “Dune”. I came to the Jack Reacher series by way of the movie, so the title had less impact on me there. Nonetheless, I’m not the only one saying this.

It’s the reason I have latched onto Darklight as the title of my first book. The word sounds strange and intriguing, and a bit like an oxymoron. It also seems to inviting a potential reader to open the book and found out WHAT that means.

When I finished Darklight and sent it out to my beta readers, I began forming thoughts about a sequel. At the time I started Darklight, I had the vision of a world with some characters sprinkled in it. By the end, my focus had strongly shifted towards the characters. I realized that investing in characters was way more important to myself and my readers than the backdrop where they would interact.

And one character in particular began to stand out as the pivotal one. This was evident as I hammered out the beat sheet. Naturally, this character is the one to start in the sequel. And I can easily envision a whole series of books with this character having to face new struggles.

So what would I call my second book? I was attracted to the idea of having a recurrent theme across the books, but frankly it didn’t seem to fit the bill. What I have observed is that I’m not writing multiple books chaining together episodes of one story. Instead, it’s like each book is a different adventure. The Jack Reacher series has completely different titles, so I basically set that presumption aside and focused on the one-sentence summary for my second work and came up with Neophyte. I think it summarizes the circumstances my character is having to deal with. And also the potential ramifications that will have for others.

The other tasks before me, after having just drafted the hook, is to work on the beat sheet and also draw up more details of each character. I want good, solid characters. Because then the scenes begin to write themselves. Having a good, strong design for my story will make it easier to share it with others.

Happy writing.!

Nose to the grindstone writing Neophyte’s beat sheet

I previously talked about first thoughts of a sequel to Darklight. So far, I drafted the opening hook. This is basically the part of the book where you set the tone and try to rope in a potential reader by “hooking” them such that they can’t put it down. You want someone to pick up your book at the store, read two or three pages, and then HAVE to buy it.

Well, I had an entire sequence of action in my head, and so I went and captured it. It was delicious, except it was missing something. I thought about what I had read in the past year and what “hooked” me. Nothing stood out more so than the intro to Killing Floor, the first of the Jack Reacher series. That book has a bold introduction where you are thrown into the action. I reviewed what it was about that book that made me want to read every one after it.

It didn’t waste time with boring monologues, but instead dove straight into action. You didn’t know everything about Jack Reacher, but from what he was saying, I was getting hints left and right. But the thing that really added spice to the sauce was its first person narrative.

So I took what I originally wrote for an opening hook and rewrote it in first person. That seemed hard at first. It forced me to really avoid dumb monologues and instead communicate voice and action. Once I got into the groove, it almost seemed easier. Almost. When I finished, the whole section seemed more exciting, which was what I wanted. Every time I open the manuscript to work on it, I debate whether I can write the whole novel this way. And I keep saying yes!

But a hook isn’t a novel. I have an idea. I know where point A is as well as point Z, but how will my character get there from here? This where I have to put my head down and start knocking out a beat sheet. This is hard work, because I have to think out lots of parts. I need to stitch things together. I have some big plot points, but I haven’t figured out how it all connects together.

I can easily see this being the point where many potential authors fizzle. It just isn’t fun. Writing action and dialog is fun. But thinking about what to write is flat out boring. But without this structure, my novel won’t come into being. Some authors really can write from the seat of their pants. I can’t. It doesn’t work that way for me. But hopefully the excitement of that hook will provide motivation to finish out the beat sheet and then get cracking on the writing.

“Vaetra Untrained” is out!

One of my beta readers, Daniel Marvello, has recently released Vaetra Untrained, the second book in his Vaetra Chronicles trilogy. You can get it right now!

Daniel has offered me much advice and support as I work on my own dream of writing and publishing my fictional trade novel Darklight. I’m not a big fantasy reader, having only read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I’m more of a scifi/fiction reader like Isaac Asimov, Tom Clancy, and Lee child. But tracking Daniel’s blog has gotten me hooked on reading his works.

It’s a combination of wanting to see his own art and also feeling a deep seated desire to support him as well. Everyone has a different sense of wit, humor, action, and beating the bad guys. I want to see it. Or rather, I want to READ it. But I also like buying a colleague’s book. In the same vein, when I see a pinball machine at an arcade, I want to spend a couple bucks to enjoy it while also supporting someone that spent the effort to keep pinball alive.

When I wrote Spring Python 1.1 and Python Testing Cookbook, I embraced social media and wrote often to warm up tentative readers. I feel it helped publicize my work and helped sell my book. For the same reason, I hope to spread the word for Daniel. Enjoy!

Darklight: The Sequel

I’ve been fumbling around with thoughts in my head about a possible sequel to Darklight. Today as I mowed the lawn, a time I often find myself reflecting on things, I had more succinct, concrete ideas float into my mind.

So I started to write them down. At first I drafted a page inside my blog (my trick for storing thoughts in “the cloud”). Later I created a subfolder in Dropbox right next to “darklight” titled “darklight_sequel” and began turning this into something real.

What I’ve learned so far

Much of my thinking process has involved me reviewing some of my favorite works. I have read three of the Dune chronicles. The way Frank Herbert embeds the key brand of “Dune” into every title suggests that I should pursue something similarly. I stared at the screen for a minute and nothing came to mind. Oh well.

So what about point-of-view and 1st person vs. 3rd person? I just read the first three Jack Reacher novels. The first one, Killing Floor, is written in 1st person. I found it riveting, and at the same time, recognized it as very tricky to pull off. I had already observed something similar in The Hunger Games and its 1st person perspective. Darklight never did fit that mold, but this possible sequel just might.

I also thought carefully about what I liked about the Jack Reacher books, all the Foundation & Robot novels by Asimov, and Dune. In the intro to Killing Floor, Lee Child really caught my attention in explaining how he made character development the most important aspect of his writing. It seems valuable to listen to advice from a multi-best selling author, right?

I had already approached Darklight kind of like that. The Snow Flake method suggested it. But even now as I write down ideas of a new plot, I am focusing hard on character development. I want a strong character that my readers will connect with and want to embrace. I want them to cheer and whoop when my character triumphs. I want them to cry when there is a setback. No one will do that if character development is sacrificed for other things like environment, plot, and cheap tactics.

Avoiding potholes

I’ll let you in on something. Darklight has magic. It’s a techno-fantasy novel, meaning it has scifi and fantasy mixed together. I’m not sure how my future agent will rate it. But another thing I gleaned from a Lee Child interview was to do research. I have been digging around and double checking that I don’t go overboard and let magic become a crutch.

Consider this. On one blog site, I saw a great comparison between a couple famous books, both of which have magic throughout. I’m not going to mention the titles. But the article compared how in one novel, magic served as a medium but was never a “get out of jail free” card. Instead, it caused things to go wrong, and provided a means to make things right.

In truth, it was  characters that prevailed and not magic. In the other story, magic often contradicted itself, was used as the way to move the story along, and was outright inconsistent. It provides the means for the writer to dig themselves out of a hole. I don’t want that at all, so as I pencil down notes about my sequel, I think carefully about holding magic in check and not letting it morph into the deus ex machina.

Thoughts acquiring form

While mowing the lawn, I had tiny ideas pop into my head. One of them sounded outrageous at the time. It contradicted what I thought on previous days when I was pondering this sequel. Later as I wrote this latest idea down, it sounded astonishing, unbelievable, highly contentious, and shocking to me. I didn’t know if I would like it at all. In other words, perfect. I want to tell you what it is, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait on the story itself.

I also read the Snowflake Method again. I had written a page of thoughts and ideas down before circling back to capture my concepts into a single, descriptive sentence. Then I expand that single sentence into a one-paragraph description. As I wrote that paragraph, I felt like this story was catching fire. I could already feel my hunger to send the query to Query Shark.

I am beginning to visualize the first scenes. I can almost see the whole thing unfolding before the main character’s eyes in 1st person. I need to invest more time in designing the rest of the characters as well as the key plot points. But I can already feel the excitement.

Happy writing!

Darklight is released to my beta readers!

After working on Darklight for the past two years, a novel that has floated around in my mind in different forms for probably twenty years, it felt great sending copies of it out to my beta readers. Now comes the hard part: waiting. I hate it when you have to wait for feedback.

I have continued to read it myself, spotting tiny typos here and there. But I’m also looking at things such as my chapter breaks and other structural styles. I am constantly reviewing it. Certain sections have been re-read so many times, I almost have to skip past them.

I am totally aware that there are some parts that need more work. Some sections were hurriedly thrown down to move on to the next scene. In that situation, should I go back and flesh it out? Or will that slow things down? Did I hustle through that scene for some telling reason, like it was boring? I know I will get back to that and fix it. But I first need to be aprised of any glaring issues that someone who hasn’t read any of it can spot from a mile away. And hence I must wait for my good accomplices to take their team and walk through my manuscript.

Bottom line, it feels really good to send it out. I just hope this results in a solid response where I can fine tune it even better and then eventually start querying agents.

The hunger for Darklight returns

Seven weeks. That’s how long Darklight has been sitting on the shelf since I finished it. I had started working on a couple overused expressions I had to fix. But believe me when I tell you that is NOT exciting. Writing a finale is awesome; fixing typos is boring. So I put it on the shelf.

Until I started reading something else. Back in December, I went to see the Jack Reacher movie. When I first saw the preview, I thought it sounded like a weird title. Then I found out it was the title character from a best selling series. The movie knocked my socks off. After seeing the movie, I told my wife that I wanted a couple of those books for my birthday last month.

She bought me two and pre-ordered the blu-ray for the movie (she’s extra thoughtful like that!). I finished reading the debut Jack Reacher novel, Killing Floor, in four nights, and was hooked. I’ve already started the second book and don’t see my self stopping anytime soon.

At the same time, I find myself analyzing the author’s writing patterns. Why does this book capture my attention? What has hooked my fancy such that I read until 2:00 a.m.? What is Darklight missing in that respect? That is what renewed my desire to work on Darklight again.

Are you writing? Well don’t forget to keep reading as well. It can help you get through the rough patches.

Happy writing!

Darklight is finished

I just finished the last few scenes in Darklight tonight. It weighs in at 76,000 words. Feels great! Up until now, I had an idea, a concept. Now, I have a story.

If an agent asks, I can hand it to him or her. It may not be perfect, but it’s complete. Time to read it top to bottom, and start fixing typos and other things. I’m also prepping to send it out to my beta readers. I can’t wait to hear their response.

After more polishing and feedback, I can decide if it’s ready to send out for querying.

This is really exciting for me! A story I started twenty years ago is finished and readable. It’s real, not just an idea floating around in my head. Beyond publishing, I hope I can someday write sequels and prequels. But that is for tomorrow.

Happy writing.

My novel Darklight is resolved

Resolution complete! I finally wrote the last scene to Darklight and it feels great. Ever since I nailed the beat sheet, I have been writing hard for six weeks. It feels like forever.

I still have to flesh out one already existing subplot. In fact, there was a tidbit in the resolution that connects to that subplot, but since I will be working on that soon, I figured it best to not bring it up. Instead, I want to let the subplot finish itself, and then I can tailor fit it to the resolution.

Wrapping things up

The scenes I had been writing up until this point seemed to be getting longer and longer. But in the resolution, they got shorter and shorter. I felt a pressing need to “finish it up” and not drag the reader through lots of tension. But instead wanted to unwind things and provide a distinct sense of satisfaction. At the same time, I gave indication that people aren’t just sitting around. These characters have lives and there is more work to be done. And maybe, just maybe, you can read about that in another novel in the future. But not today.

Things right now are at 69,000 words (and change). My beat sheet estimates have shifted to 78,000 after I finish the subplot, which should be perfect. But at this point, I’m not overly worried about it. With a total of ten scenes left to interweave, it should land at a pretty good size.

After that?

After that, it will be time to send it out to my beta readers. If you are feeling interested, leave me a comment and we can discuss the possibilities. After I have a chance to send it out, get some feedback, and do my own proofreading as well as top-to-bottom reading, I then plan to simply put it on the shelf for a bit. I don’t know. A couple weeks, or perhaps a month. Then read it again and look for more mistakes. After all that, hopefully it will be in a good enough shape to start querying.

Happy writing!

Sometimes I just sleep on it

Courtesy of http://franckernewein.com/

As I previously wrote, I had just finished writing the climax scenes for Darklight. It was really exciting. I felt like I was hitting the high points. After doing that, I immediately jumped into writing the first resolution scene. I didn’t get far into the first paragraph, when I began to felt really blah with what I had written.

I backed up and tried some editing. I had two characters in it, so I tried swapping it to the other character’s point of view. That didn’t help. It just sucked. So, I did what I do best. I stopped there, and claimed victory in what I had accomplished so far. After all, I had just knocked out 2500 words.

Let me sleep on it

I saved all my work, updated progress stats in my beat sheet, then shut it all down. This afternoon, I found myself enjoying some quiet time with little duties. Guess what: my laptop started calling to me. So picked it up and got going. I had a teeny tiny idea lingering in the back of my mind. I wanted one of my characters in a reflective state of mind, looking over the events that would follow the climax of my story. Instead of writing every little detail, I instead wrote some short flashback scenes for the major pieces of what follows the climax. It gets the major points out and while providing a sense that things are complete, or about to be complete.

This part also lets me reach a high point in a crescendo for one of my characters that I have been slowly building. You see, each of my characters has a type of transition they undergo in my story. This is also somehow I gleaned from the Snowflake Method. Each character has a different way to grow, and this scene was a real visible display of one character I hope many of my readers will connect with.

What’s next?

I always enjoy books that set themselves up for sequels. That’s because some of my favorite books aren’t just one book. For example, I have read every one of The Foundation series. I read two of the Dune chronicles.

I personally have vague ideas for possible sequels (and even prequels) to Darklight. To do that, I need to gear up my characters for future excitement and adventure. Things aren’t simply “they lived happily every after.” All of this makes me excited.

Happy writing!