Sunday, September 30, 2007

Defrosting | A Game!

The refrigerator technique refers to putting your newly finished manuscript away for a month (or longer) to "chill", so you can get enough distance from it to view its strengths and weaknesses objectively. This weekend, I pulled my manuscript out of the figurative fridge and re-read it.

No major problems. *phew*

This means my query letters will be headed out this week.

It also means it's time to start working in earnest on my next project. I have a few ideas, but they aren't a plot yet. Still, I can see my protagonist's face in my mind, and I think he's going to be an interesting character to get to know.

I really don't have much to say tonight that's of any depth (I'll try for a meatier post than this in the next few days), so I thought I would suggest some mischief for y'all to perpetrate in the comments.

Describe what the most interesting character you've ever created looks like (where "interesting" is a term you may define how you please). Please don't tell us about the character's personality, but feel free to try to imply what their personality is like through your physical description.

Then, read through other poster's descriptions of their character. Make up personality profiles for each of these and post those descriptions as a comment also. The character's "mommy" will likely be very amused to see how much you got correct.

I'll start things off by posting my own (current) favourite character's description in the comments. Have at 'er.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


If anyone is going to the Surrey International Writers' Conference in October, I am too. This will be my first conference! Squeal!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

I feel tense, but in a good way.

"Conflict on every page" is a truism of writing. Tension is what makes a book gripping.

You do need tension between your characters to make the story compelling, but I think it's also nice to create tension between the story and the reader. One way to do this is to have a mystery--have the reader be aware there is something happening in the story they don't understand yet.

Another way is to make your characters who are in conflict also both be sympathetic to the reader. In other words, make your antagonists three-dimensional people who the reader can also empathize with. This way, the reader isn't totally sure they want the protagonist to win--or at least, they don't want the protagonist to win too completely--because the reader doesn't want the antagonist burned too badly. The book's climax then becomes an ironic victory, no matter who "wins", because at least one sympathetic character got hurt by it.

When I rewrote my novel, I had two characters who needed depth because they were a little too blandly evil. I started digging deeper and trying to add layers to their personalities. I finessed their motivations, trying to make them more human and understandable.

I'm really glad I did it. I think the story is much more potent now; the stakes are higher and the tension is more acute, both for the reader and for the protagonist.

How many layers of tension do you have in your current WIP? Are the characters in conflict with themselves? Each other? Their world?

Is there a mystery to create tension between the reader and the story? Do you use other methods to create tension between the reader and the story? (If you do, I would love to hear about them! Please leave a comment.)

Are your villains sympathetic, or do you prefer to keep the story's struggle cleanly between good and evil? (Some consider that a crucial trait of high fantasy; the bad guys are supposed to be pure bad so that pure good can triumph.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Books! *drooooool...*


After many weeks of gently ramping frustration over the library strike, I have broken down and bought myself some treats.

Five lovely, juicy treats. They are:

- The Wizard Lord by Lawrence Watt-Evans
(Never heard of the guy, but the writing snagged me.)

- Stardust by Neil Gaiman
('cos really, it's a shame I haven't read more Gaiman than I have.)

- Storm Front (Book 1 of the Dresden Files) by Jim Butcher
(ZOMG, I'm so excited about this one! I've never read this author before, but I pulled a few of these Dresden books off the shelf, read a paragraph or two, and every single one of them hooked me. I think I'm in for a real treat, here.)

- His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novak
(It gets down to business quickly, which I really like to see in a book. I can also probably pass this one along to my dad.)

- The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
(Because I swoon--swoon, I say--over Guy Gavriel Kay's writing.)

Wallet? Somewhat lighter.

Book-itch? About to be relieved. Hurray!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Icky Analogy Ahoy: Proceed at Own Risk

In a lovely case of synchronicity, the Smart Bitches Who Read Trashy Books have a post on the same topic I was puzzling over on the bus this morning: How much creative freedom should an author have? At what point should the editor have the right to say no? Herewith, my thoughts:

The public wants unique, brave and insightful books. We do not want pandering crap.

An author can only create a unique, brave and insightful book if they are given the freedom and authority to write whatever they wish.

However, the public also does not want self-serving drivel.

This is a bit of a subtle issue, but I've decided where I think the editor has to step in.

A writer can write exclusively for themselves; that's fine. However, if a writer wants to be published, then they have to be writing something other people will enjoy reading. Everything else stays in the box under the bed, nice and private.

The writer uses their own talent and instinct to create those wonderful, accessible books, so they have a right to both their ego and to bulldoggishness regarding their vision. However, the writer is still applying their skills to the problem of giving others what they want, and that's not a selfish endeavour.

It's like the difference between sex and masturbation. The former entails caring about the other person's pleasure also. The latter can be completely selfish.

I think the editor's job is to tell the author when they've stopped making love and started masturbating.

What do you think? Where, on the spectrum that has editor-eschewing egomaniacs on one end and spineless critique-group-junkies on the other, should the editor's experience trump the writer's artistic vision?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Write Haiku for Josh!

Only Josh took a shot at the writing game of my last post, and for that, I think he deserves a prize!

Since his answer was oddly haiku-like (see below, with liberties taken),

The wall cups your voice
in its palm and flings it back,
as an echo, to you

I've decided his prize shall be haiku! I provide three herewith, of varying degrees of artistic malodorousness, and I invite encourage dare all of you to write Josh a haiku and leave it in the comments! The rules are: it has to be a haiku (5-7-5 syllables) and it has to be about Josh. Even if you have no idea who the heck he is. :-)

I see that smile.

Want thoughts to ponder?
Just Vogt early, Vogt often;
always more to read!

If you fancy some
jellied marrow, bile pudding,
ask Josh's big friend

A Cheshire wordsmith,
he appears just once a day
but leaves us his smile


Sunday, September 09, 2007

Showing Stars to the Blind

I've got a pretty exciting/scary project at work these days. I'm redesigning experiments for a first year college student who is taking an astronomy course. What makes this unusual is that the student is blind.

Your first thought might be, "Why would a blind student want to study astronomy, which is so visually oriented?"

Your second thought should be, "Because she wants to understand what's out there, same as the rest of us."

It's probably even more intriguing for her because she's never seen the stars. They aren't something she can go touch, so she has to hear about them; thus, taking an astronomy course makes perfect sense.

What ties this in to writing is that typing up her lab manuals has proved to be a nifty exercise. I'm a very visual person myself, and I tend to over-emphasize the visual when I write fiction. For this student, however, I've had to invert my writing style. I have to actively avoid describing visuals.

So, when I talk about outer space, I don't bother describing what we see. I try to create a spatial image in her mind - a three-dimensional sense of how the stars are distributed through space. I describe the spectrum of colours in terms of texture. The way a refractor telescope works can be described in terms of rain falling on a noodle bowl and then bouncing away rather than pooling.

My analogy muscles are getting a heck of a workout. I sure hope it actually makes sense to her. I'm a bit scared; I see the student for the first time this upcoming week.

May I challenge you to a writing game? In the comments, in three hundred words or less, describe something so that it would make sense to a blind person. Really try to get inside their experience. They "see" the world as a space; they think about a room in terms of the distances between objects. Sunlight is heat. Water is resistance to motion.

Go for it. :-)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Things Wot I Have Learned About Synopses:

Not that I'm finished or even that what I have is any good--and certainly not that I know how to do this well--but I had a bit of breakthrough today in my quest to write a Synopsis That Doth Not Suck.

La Process:
Go through the behemoth, 25-page, dry-as-dust synopsis I already wrote--the one that details everything. Write out a list of all the turning points .
2) Chop out all the turning points that relate to the subplot.
3) Smooth the list of turning points together to create a coherent synopsis, adding plot points and explanations only where needed.

Ta-da! I now have something that at least isn't hideous and boring.

A turning point, as defined in Robert McKee's excellent book on (screenplay) writing Story, is a point of no return in a scene. This is when something gets said or done that is irreversible.

For example, a couple having an argument is reversible. They can kiss, make up, and go back to the way they were before the fight. However, if one of them blurts out that they're having an affair, that's a turning point. The couple might still find their way to a happy ending, but the relationship will never be the same again. That statement created an irreversible change.

Turning points usually accompany one or more characters getting a shock or surprise. This is why even a dry list of turning points makes a decently readable synopsis.

Robert McKee actually suggested this technique as a way to create a pitch.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Query Critique?

If anyone wants to take (another) shot at critiquing my draft query letter, a new version is below: have at it!

You're not obliged, of course. I thank anyone who has a comment to make, good or bad, and I understand completely if you would rather not comment at all. If you would like me to critique something for you in return, just ask; I would be delighted to.

Also, feel free to post anonymously if you really want to rip it up. I welcome (and listen to) all constructive criticism, even that which leaves my ego sobbing in the corner and double-fisting chocolate bonbons. :-)

My concerns: I don't have much sense of place here. I also, to quote from the very wise Conduit's comment on the Crapometer, don't really fill in all the elements of the "(Protagonist's Desire vs Antagonist's Counter-Desire = Conflict) x Plot = Story" equation. The problem is, there are various antagonists throughout the book who have significant counter-desires, but you never actually get to meet the Big Bad Wolf. I promise it works, because the MC has conflicts with nearly every human she runs across, including her side-kick. The Big Bad Wolf, on the other hand, doesn't even have a personality, which is why it stays on the sidelines.

Anything you want to add to my list of problems? Or advice on how to address these? I have tried to deal with the concerns expressed on the Crapometer but am unsure how successful I've been.

Thanks again for any comments you care to make; I very much appreciate them!

Dear (Agent name),

Allied with enemies and navigating a tangle of her own lies, a dark-hearted princess hitches her worst impulses to her best ones and finds the heart and potency to battle a demon.

(Personalised paragraph)

Rage curled a fist inside Katirin's heart the day she was forced into a convent so her half-sister could ascend the throne. When a fellow disciple convinces Katirin the convent's priestesses are possessed by a soul-stealing demon that threatens their nation, Katirin aims her rage: she vows to act like the queen she'll never be by killing the demon and saving her people from its predations.

Lies and blackmail cement her family's ire and get her out of the convent. Outright treason destroys her last chance at the throne but deposits Katirin in an enemy nation where she can find useful allies.

The first is a prince as sexy as he is dangerous; Arkadiy wants Katirin to assassinate her family in payment for his help. His carnal relish is offered free. The second is the wizard Lethan, who intends to use the demon to attack his fellow wizards. When he learns Katirin wants to destroy his means to power, Lethan's mercurial temper will turn murderous.

As Katirin dismantles her conscience to save her nation, she learns that a queen always sacrifices something of herself for her people, and that a throne taken away can also be earned back.

DARK HEIR is a 94,000 word fantasy. The full manuscript is available upon request and I have enclosed an SASE for your reply. Thank you for your time and consideration; I look forward to hearing from you.


Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Afterbirth: Synopses and Query Letters

Ooh! That was fast.

Kudos to Elektra and her Crapometer! I emailed her my query letter (for Dark Heir) this morning and it's already up on the site for critiquing. Do feel free to pop by and thrash it within an inch of its sorry life. Inquiring minds want to know: does this suck?

And really, no matter how much it sucks, it couldn't possibly suck more than my synopsis currently does. *sigh*

Has anyone advice on how to write a good synopsis? I've scoured many a website, but I seem to find little except synopsis-writing-for-romance-writers, and this is not too applicable. I know a synopsis should:

1) outline the plot clearly,
2) capture a bit of the novel's "voice", and
3) not induce spontaneous power-napping.

Currently, my synopsis fails on points 2 and 3. Should I go for a juicy back-flap-flavoured tone? The query letter I linked to above was written that way.

I humbly grovel for the wise advice of my highly-talented readers. *grovel, grovel*

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