August 27, 2011

When it's not epic

I've participated in a couple of Writer's Digest online seminars, one featuring Kristin Nelson and one feature Sara Megibow both from the Nelson Agency. During Kristin's presentation, she mentioned that the main plot of your book, that first serious hook, should occur within the first 30-50 manuscript pages.

Now this took me back. Having come up in epic fantasy (even though I'm currently not writing epic), the plot often started well past 50 pages. Often it doesn't start until the second book! :) Was it possible to drop the hook that early?

So I looked at the various single-volume fantasies I was writing at the time and with the exception of one, they all dropped their hooks in the first fifty pages. That one that didn't? It ended up getting rewritten and conforms to that as well (in Times New Roman, Courier pushed me over by a couple pages). It has proven to be not so much an invaluable rule as it is an obvious rule. With an average-lengthed novel (so we're not including epic), a story without a hook at the beginning just feels like a meandering exploration of the writer's imagination. That's all well and good, but we're reading the book for a story and eventually we need to start down that path.

Keep in mind I'm just talking a hook here. We don't necessarily need to blaze a trail down the story (though I fall mostly in Twain's camp1 on what should happen in any given chapter). Just something to promise the reader, "Yes, this is going somewhere."

And that was so exciting about PRINCE OF CATS. I didn't just have the hook, I came up with a good chunk of the story all at once. (Surprisingly, it's the end that eludes me as I keep debating whether I should kill a bunch of characters or not.) The thing was, once I started writing, the hook kept getting farther and farther away. Hello page 80. I'll get to the hook soon. I promise. Just 20 more pages or so.

And it wasn't working. I had all these dramatic moments that weren't that dramatic because there were no stakes involved. Unless we're reading this thing just so we can watch Mirza and find out his uncle-turned-father2 has been lying all these years about how his mother died, in which case we're all set by chapter 12.

So I took chapters 8-12 and shoved them back. They'll still appear. They're good stuff, but first I need a hook. Because once there's something at risk, then we're not just learning about Mirza, we're seeing how Mirza responds to what he learns and wonder as to the fate of Shahzadi Parisa. Then all these secrets about his mother have the heft they deserve.

Unfortunately, turning the uncle into the father and then shoving 4 1/2 chapters back has really thrown a wrench into the gears of my rhythm. I have been cranking this story out, and now I've come full stop while I insert the separator and crank everything apart. Then I have to go through and make sure everything fits together. Usually this is saved for the second draft. But hey, it'll save me reweriting in the future. Hopefully when I'm back at work and not staying home to deal with construction people3, I can get make to a more acceptable level of progress.


1 Mark Twain famously said that each chapter should advance the plot or advance the story else it should be cut from the story entirely. While I don't hold to this 100% of the time, I hold to it 99.5% of the time.

2 I realized the other day that I had fallen into the MG/YA cliche of making my main character an orphan. In adult work, I try to stay away from all the character tropes that have been bludgeoned to death over the years. I don't have characters that are orphans. I have characters that had loving, well-adjusted parents, so their own eccentricities are just that. No need for the orphan who's sworn an oath to hunt down his paretns' killer. Batman has had that covered for near on a century.

3 We had a furnace leak that grew a healthy amount of mold in our basement. This has been an incredible headache. I do not advise it.

August 25, 2011

Collaboration!

I will admit that I'm not a fan of collaboration. But I realized today that it's not a matter of not being a fan of collaboration, it's just that collaboration has never been presented to me in a fashion that I particularly cared for. But then I got linked to a video of Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing Nirvana's Lithium at a show in Seattle. And from there I got linked to hitRECord. Holy balls! This is genius!

Now I will say that I have not yet registered for this site (but I will) or participated (but I will). I will also admit to having a huge man-crush on JGL. He's one of my favorite actors. I will go see a movie if he's in it because I trust the quality of his work (he owes me big for GI Joe). But take a look at this video and tell me that doesn't make your creativity bone tingle. It tingles right down in the coccyx.

August 17, 2011

Can I Do This?

If you were lucky enough to be Liz Poole, a hotel night auditor named LurkerWithout, or an agent with incredible literary sense, you would have had the opportunity to read my manuscript JEHOVAH'S HITLIST. This is a manuscript where I explain why just because the protagonist is 15 years old doesn't make it a young adult novel. The thing is anything but a young adult novel. ...depending on how you wish to raise your children. If you're okay with intense amounts of violence, profanity, nudity, sex, and drugs, then perhaps this is a YA book. Otherwise, we'll just assume it's not.

I've mentioned that before, so why am I saying it again? Because now I am writing a young adult novel. More specifically, I'm writing a middle grade novel (for a younger audience than YA, if you don't know the difference). Things are going swimmingly. I've only been at it for a week and I'm about to hit the 20,000-word mark. That's progress! Things are going great!

Well...yes, but I'm starting to run into something the euphoria of being so prolific has to date kept at bay. I've never written for this audience before! I write hard, cruel adult content. How am I supposed to write for 10 year olds?!?! Here I am cruising along and they have THE HOBBIT and A WRINKLE IN TIME and HARRY POTTER to read. What is this? PRINCE OF CATS? It's nothing. It's tiny. It's not my market!

*pulls out hair*

Who would have thought that the hardest thing for me to write would be content for kids. You wouldn't think so until you try it. But once you try it, you're all ooohhh, now I see.

Like if I were to write Sesame Street, this is what you'd get:

August 16, 2011

Things I Like Other than Writing

I finished my rewrite, began PRINCE OF CATS (which is going awesomely--beyond awesomely really, I'm flying), and the summer crush is over. Obviously you can tell that because I'm blogging, thus my hours are not filled with making content to educate the next generation of politicians who will hopefully ben an improvement over our current crop.

ANYWAY

As this is the end of he busy season for a few months, I have time to not only write, but to do other fun things as well. I can take days off and stuff. I'm told the funs happen on days off.

So what do we do? Well, New Hampshire keeps a lot of its funs outside, so I'll go there to find them. My buddy Britt taught me how to play disc golf and I've been practicing. I could do more of that. Especially since the local putting green was rebuilt after a really bad storm tore up the baskets.

I could...go sailing! My wife spoiled our anniversary surprise and mentioned we're going sailing. I learned how to sail through Naval ROTC my freshman year in college and absolutely loved it. It was my favorite thing about the entire experience. She's the queen of the groupon and got a good deal that we can go sailing down on the Charles River (I believe that's where it is).

Another groupon she got me for Christmas is horseback riding. I learned to ride when I was four. My family used insurance money from my father's death to go to dude ranch and mourn/cope/stop trying to kill each other. I have loved riding ever since. I do it every year and if I had enough money, I would love to have a horse of my own. Well, she got me a groupon for a two-hour trail ride and I'll be cashing in that puppy this week. I'm so excited! Woooooo!

But there is more! I need to shed about 20 pounds, but Alpine Adventures, the zip lining place up in Lincoln, NH, has a new course. What's zip lining, you ask? Watch this video of my wife zip lining from a couple years ago. She got me a gift certificate a couple Christmases back and I need to use that puppy. Once I'm less fat.

August 13, 2011

Kimball Farm in Westford, MA

We have a tradition here in the Selby household. My wife's birthday is a month and a half before mine and our anniversary is in between. We make a birthaversary event out of it. For each of our birthdays, we choose a place we want to eat and an adventure we want to go on. This year, Jen wanted to go to an awesome Greek restaurant named Amphora in Derry, NH. For her adventure, she wanted to go to Kimball Farm in Westford, MA. She's wanted to go on a hot air balloon ride for awhile, but they're incredibly expensive out here (maybe everywhere). Kimball turns out to have an "aeroballoon" ride. It's a big helium balloon tied to a passenger ring that holds twelve people. They raise it on a winch and you fly 300 feet in the air.

They also have two mini-golf courses (that were a lot of fun), batting cages, an arcade, animals, and bumper boats. You get the right idea when you hear bumper boats, bumper cars but on water. But it is SO much more fun! Take an outboard motor, put it in the center of an intertube, drop a seat over it, and go to town!



I could do this for hours! If you're ever in the area, you should definitely give it a try. It was an awesome adventure.

August 8, 2011

A Triumphant Return

So here I am. :) The busy season has passed. At least until it arrives again (which for me will be January). This year (in my new department) hasn't been even half as bad as the two previous where I was expected to work 14-hour days with weekends and basically go balls to the wall until the summer was gone. I love New Hampshire weather because it has four seasons, but I was skipping one of them and that wasn't as much fun.

I have continued to write, another thing that was difficult in the summer. I have been rewriting Wanted: Chosen One which is now titled With a Crooked Crown. Let me tell you how much work that has been. I thought it would be an up-front slog while I bent the first half of the book like a contortionist and then just some mopping up to clean up the dust. Not so! Change the main character to a person that was a secondary character and that takes a lot of work. More over, change one of the negative characters to someone less negative and you start to realize he had to get his bitch on in every chapter he was in. Every time I say I'm almost done, I have to stop and rewrite entire chapters.

This weekend I did some prep work on my next book. I don't always do character designs and such before I start writing. Often I don't know the characters to be involved and those I think will be of use end up never fitting into the evolution of the story. But I have a very clear picture of this story. Very clear. I already have names for ten characters and that never happens! So that's kind of thrilling and kind of frustrating at the same time because I can't work on it until I finish my rewrite. So close! So far away! (I spent the morning rewriting a chapter and have spent my lunch hour rewriting the rewrite to change the POV to a different character. :)

And I will leave you with this. My wife just read A DANCE WITH DRAGONS, as we are both fans of the series (books--we haven't seen the HBO show yet). By the end of A FEAST FOR CROWS I had picked up on Martin's chapter template: introduce characters, eat/describe what they're wearing, have something important happen. So I would read the first page to see who was around and then the last two pages of a chapter to see what happens. I'd skip all the description because after four books, I got it.

Well, according to the missus, he's actually increased his description of food, which may be difficult to comprehend. Her question was obvious? Why?! To date, I had just assumed it was his style, but then I wondered, is he doing this on purpose?

The answer slapped me like a person that's been sitting next to you on the couch for the entire movie and you didn't even know they were there. Yes he's doing it on purpose. In the very first book Ned Stark says people aren't saving enough for winter. Summer had gone on too long and people forgot how much food they needed to save for winter. So here is all this opulence, all these people feasting and gorging and being all disgusting. Why? Because the next book is named THE WINDS OF WINTER and you want to guess how hungry they're going to be then? It's a 50-calibre metaphor shot through five books so the sixth one can properly juxtapose their situation.

It's the opposite of the soft touch. It's the jackhammer. Or it's just his style. We'll see.