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Archive for March, 2010

Sighing and Nodding

Posted by Dave on March 27, 2010

I hit the track for the first time in 2010 this past Tuesday.  The weather didn’t really allow it any other day (for which I sent a “Thank You” card to the local weatherman).  Ouch.  Between walking and jogging, I managed to make it three miles.  It wasn’t as bad as I was afraid it would be the next day, but I was still walking a little slower than usual.  This week looks like better weather, so I’ll be able to go more than once.  My running goal is five miles with no walking by the end of the summer.  My weight goal is 200 with a starting weight of 230.  We’ll see.

Our brief respite is almost over.  We had a couple of weeks after the kids’ basketball season ended, but now it’s time for baseball and softball to gear up.  Plus, my daughter is also going to be playing volleyball in a summer league at the same time, and she’s on the school track team as well.  I’ll have to really stay on my own case to keep the writing on pace.  I love to write, but one of my favorite things to do is watch my kids in their games or school functions (plays, singing, talent shows, etc…).  I’ll have to make it work somehow.  To paraphrase Tony Little, “I can DO it!”

Writing update:

Well, I’m almost halfway through the first edit of Jaben’s Rift.  I say first edit because I will definitely be going through it again.  This first time through is looking for basic stuff like words or phrases that aren’t needed, or are redundant.  I was surprised at how many unnecessary “he said,” or “to her,” there were, or simply phrases that restated something said previously, or that weren’t needed at all.  Just looking for things like that, I’ve been able to trim almost 4,000 words off the manuscript, and I’m not quite halfway through it.

Here’s a breakdown of a paragraph from my first draft, and how I changed it:

“The sun had already begun its climb into the clear morning sky as Jason and Reyga walked out the door to begin their journey.  Stepping out into the yard, the first thing Jason noticed was the multitude of various odors filling the air.  Noting the direction of the breeze, Jason looked upwind.  What he saw caused his steps to slow until he finally came to a complete stop in amazement.  He had seen plenty of backyard gardens before, some quite impressive, but this was surely the king of all gardens, if there were such a thing.”

At first glance, it doesn’t look all that bad, but there are some things that could definitely use a few tweaks.  So, here’s what I changed, and why.

  • “The sun had already begun its climb…”  This is a little wordy.  I changed it to, “The sun was climbing…”
  • “…to begin their journey.”  Not needed.  I’ve already established at the end of the previous chapter that they’re going to start their journey this morning, so this is redundant.
  • “Stepping out into the yard, the first…”  Not needed.  If he stepped outside, it’s a given that he’s stepping into the yard.
  • “…various odors…”  I dropped various.  If there’s a multitude of odors, they have to be varied or he wouldn’t notice that there’s a multitude.  They’d all smell the same.
  • “Noting the direction of the breeze…”  Again, not needed.  For him to know which way upwind was, it’s a given he’d have to figure out which way the breeze was blowing.
  • “What he saw caused his steps to slow until…”  Wordy and not really needed.  If his steps slow, we can infer that whatever it is he’s looking at is the reason.
  • “…in amazement.”  Same as the last phrase.  I ended up combining this sentence and the previous one instead.
  • “…some quite impressive…”  Not bad, but again, not really needed.

After the first edit, the new paragraph reads like this:

“The sun was climbing into the clear morning sky as Jason and Reyga walked out the door.  The first thing Jason noticed as he stepped outside was the multitude of odors filling the air.  He looked upwind, and then slowed until he finally came to a complete stop.  He had seen plenty of backyard gardens before, but this was surely the king of all gardens, if there were such a thing.”

See how much unnecessary stuff was in there the first time?  The new version, while perhaps still not perfect, is cleaner and more concise without really losing anything from the original.  It’s just that now, instead of assuming the readers need every little thing explained to them, they’re given credit for enough intelligence to figure out some things on their own.  Remember, never insult your reader’s intelligence.  Plus, the original paragraph was ninety-six words.  The revised version is seventy-one.  That’s a reduction of twenty-six percent.  Obviously, we can’t to do that with every paragraph, but if you’re a beginning writer like me, you might be surprised at what you can get rid of without hurting your story.  And if you’re not a writer, the next time you read a book (especially if it seems to be dragging), see if you can spot places where the author is using extra words and/or phrases that really don’t need to be there.  These can bog a story down if there are too many of them.

Another thing I noticed is that my characters tended to sigh and nod a lot.  Now, this isn’t all that different from what we do in real life (just think about how many times you nod in the course of a conversation), but if a writer puts every single nod into the text, it can get distracting.  Same thing goes with sighing, or taking a deep breath, or being silent for a moment, etc…  While we want our dialogue and associated actions to be believable, there is such a thing as too much detail.  (And, by cutting out all of the deep sighs, I’m conserving oxygen, hehe.)

Finally, there are the “he said,” “to him,” and other little tags that we put into our dialogue, a lot of which aren’t needed.  This is especially true if there are only two characters in the scene.  Here’s a quick and dirty example:

“Hi, Jenny,” Bill said as he walked up to her.
“Hi, Bill,” Jenny said.  “How’s it going?”
“Oh, it’s okay,” he said.  “How about you?”
“I’m good,” she said.
“So, how’s your mom doing?” he asked her.
“She’s doing great,” she told him.  “Thanks for asking.”

This could just as easily have been written:

“Hi, Jenny,” Bill said as he walked up to her.
“Hi, Bill.  How’s it going?”
“Oh, it’s okay.  How about you?”
“I’m good.”.
“So, how’s your mom doing?”
“She’s doing great.  Thanks for asking.”

Okay, so it’s not the greatest example, but do you see how, even when the tags are left off, you still know who’s talking?  Removing unneeded tags also speeds up the dialogue instead of bogging it down.  Read the second section, and then go back and read the first section again.  See the difference?  Now if this were to turn into a long discussion, you would want to add some sort of tag every so often, either dialogue tag or motion element, so that the reader doesn’t lose track of who’s speaking.  But for sections like this, a lot of those tags can be tossed out the window.

Enough for today. Have a good one!
Dave

Every day, every moment, is another step on the journey. Are your steps taking you in the direction you want to go?

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Let the carnage begin

Posted by Dave on March 21, 2010

Okay, the time has come to pull Jaben’s Rift back out of cyber mothballs.  It’s been sitting (with me trying very hard not to think about it) for almost four weeks.  Now it’s time to start snipping, chopping, shredding, ripping, and whatever else it takes in order to turn it into something readable.  I’ll be trimming away the fat, working on dialogue, getting rid of excessive adverbs, and dropping things that don’t add to the story.  The official starting word count (including chapter titles) is 125,295 words.  My target range is 90,000 to 110,000, which means trimming away about 20% of what I’ve written. Oh, the pain!  Too dramatic?

It’s really amazing, though, what you can get rid of or move.  On JR, I tended to edit as I went.  I remember one section that I went over a couple of years ago, that I dropped from 1,100 words to 300.  Looking back, I realize I had fallen into a trap that catches a lot of writers (especially new writers, such as yours truly), that of the dreaded info dump. 

An info dump, sometimes called a data dump, happens when a writer is so eager to make sure the reader understands the story and main character that they throw every detail of the character and his or her motivation into one long section of prose right at the beginning.  The problem is that’s not how we get to know people in real life.  In fact, part of the fun of a relationship is the time it takes to learn about the other person.  It’s that way in books too.  Dump everything about the character out at the beginning, and there’s nothing left for the reader to anticipate learning about them, no questions for which the reader can anticipate answers. 

So, for any prospective fiction writers out there, take a little time giving out the information about your characters and the situations they’re in.  Give us just enough to get us interested, and then dole it out in little bits and pieces, in either dialogue, or memories, or inner thoughts, whatever.  Don’t dump it all on your reader at once, no matter how tempting it may be.

******

We interrupt our normally scheduled blog for the following quick rant. 

Attention Google!  I am so tired of running a search on your engine and clicking on a link only to have it take me to some other page full of “related links.”  Then I have to click on the “back” button and click on the first link again in order to get to the page I wanted to go to in the first place.  Oh, it only happens once in a while, but it’s still annoying!  Instead of hijacking my web surfing, how about you just put the link to your “page o’ links” on the search results and let me make my own decision, thank you very much. 

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

******

Alright, since I’ll be using my time to edit Jaben’s Rift, the next novel will be placed on hold for now.  Once I have JR ready, a synopsis written, and my query ready, I’ll get back on the second one.  It’s almost 16,500 words now.  Better than last week, but still a little off the pace.  Once JR is edited and the best I can make it, I’ll need to hit this next one even harder.

Hope your weekend was a great one,

Dave

Dreams that are never dreamed can never come true.

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Distractions, distractions…

Posted by Dave on March 14, 2010

Please don’t take what I’m about to say the wrong way because I love my children dearly, but I’m really wondering if they had a bet this week about which one could make me stroke out first.  First, I check my daughter’s grades online, only to find almost a dozen missing homework assignments threatening to put her grades in the cellar (there went her social calendar).  Then, my son gets into a fight at school.  The next day my daughter loses her brand new cell phone that we just got her.  I always thought it was an old wives’ tale about going grey overnight.  Now I’m not so sure.  I know that this is miniscule compared to what some parents have to deal with, but with it just coming out of the blue like that from two normally very good kids was a little surprising (and distracting).  But, everything’s been dealt with and we’re back on an even keel now.

Well, the annual let’s-all-set-our-clocks-ahead has come around.  So, back to going to work in the dark.  On the plus side, though, it will be light an hour later, which means that I’ll be able to start heading back to the track.  I started jogging late last summer, and took off a few pounds (which were gifted right back to me over the holidays).  I’m hoping the earlier start this year will help me reach my goal of dropping 25-30 pounds.  I played in a fund raiser dodgeball tournament this past Saturday, and believe me, I need to put in some time working out.

The writing took a hit this week.  Only added another 1,000 words.  Up to 13,800 now.  I need to learn to make myself write no matter what else is going on.  Either that, or work on another project when I hit a block on my main one, which is part of what happened this week.  But I’ve told myself I’m not going to use the minor irritations as excuses anymore.  Bottom line is that I fell down on the job this week.  I’ll have to hit it even harder this week, ‘cause next week I start revising Jaben’s Rift.  At that point, my next book will be on hold for a bit while I get the first one ready and start sending out queries as soon as it’s done.  I’m ready to start editing it now, but I’m going to make myself wait one more week.  Remember, Dave, patience is a virtue.

Okay, enough for now.  Back to the book.

Hope you had a great weekend,

Dave

I rite….the editor spells.

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Slow motion

Posted by Dave on March 12, 2010

One of the things I noticed as I got closer and closer to the end of Jaben’s Rift, is that I started writing less and less.  Oh, I came up with the typical excuses.  The kids are too noisy, my job’s stressing me out, I’m too tired, I don’t have enough time, blabbidy, blabbidy, blah.  Maybe all those things were true, but that’s not why I wasn’t writing.  The real reason was that, once the book was finished, then it was time to either put up or shut up.  I couldn’t say “I’m writing my first book” any more.  The book would be done, and I would have to face the real world of publishing and find out if my stuff was good enough for someone to take a chance on.

I read on an agent’s blog where her agency receives almost 500 queries a month.  Of that number, they typically reject 90%.  Of the survivors that get to send in their manuscripts, only one or two are actually ready to be pitched to a publisher.  And there’s no guarantee that any publishers are going to want the one or two.  Sounds depressing, doesn’t it?  I worked in Vegas casinos for six years, and let me tell ya, those aren’t good odds.

Fortunately, it’s not a numbers game.  It’s not about beating the odds, it’s about writing a good book.  It’s about getting something into a publisher’s hands that they think might have a chance of making more money than they spend on it. 

Is Jaben’s Rift good?  I think so, but I’m hardly impartial.  I wouldn’t have written it if I didn’t think it was good.  So, my job is to make sure it’s as technically correct, as close to a publishable form as possible, before it crosses an agent’s desk.

So, what if it doesn’t get selected for publication?  Do I give up because I obviously don’t know how to write?  Do I lock myself in a closet for a couple of days while I think about how unfair it all is? 

No, because somewhere along the way I figured out that, while it would be awesome to get published and make a few bucks writing, that wasn’t why I was doing it.  I found out that I enjoy telling the story.  I like creating new worlds for new characters to explore.  The writing became the end, not the means. 

So, maybe I am a writer after all.  Will you ever see my stuff at Barnes & Noble or Waldenbooks?  Who knows?  I hope so.  But the stories will be told whether they’re on the bookstore shelves, or just sitting in my computer. 

 TGIF,

Dave

Be yourself.  You’re the only one of you there is.  (Unless you count parallel universes.)

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Oops, my bad.

Posted by Dave on March 8, 2010

With apologies to previous visitors…after looking over my last entry, I realized that this blog took a wrong turn.  It wasn’t a “how in the world did we get here?” wrong turn, but I still zigged when I should have zagged.  I never meant for this to become Writing 101.  It was, and is, intended to be one man’s journey from the mundane world to (hopefully) the magical land of ink and parchment, the wonderful world of Publication. (cue inspirational music)

I read the last entry and thought to myself, who am I to be telling someone else how to write?  I’m not a published author.  I don’t have a degree in Journalism or English Literature.  I’m not an editor and I’m not a publisher.  My only “credentials” are that I have a decent imagination and a fair command of the English language, traits shared by a large portion of the populace.  I’m just an average shmoe that finally figured out what he wanted to be when he grew up:  a writer.  Or more specifically, a sci-fi/fantasy author.  Then again, they say there are two sides to every story.  Maybe I’ve always been a writer who’s just been masquerading as something else all of my life.  Yeah, that sounds better. 

So, while I will still discuss certain issues pertaining to writing overall, the focus will shift more toward my own personal journey down this strange road, along with some other tidbits here and there.  A little less techie, a little more Dave.  I hope that’s okay.

This past weekend I picked up a few more books to read.  Lately, I’ve been reading different authors’ books, trying to get a feel for their different writing styles.  Recently, I read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Chronicles of the Cheysuli by Jennifer Roberson, Dragonriders of Pern by Ann McCaffrey, Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock, Foundation by Isaac Asimov, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by my favorite author, Stephen R. Donaldson, and Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris.  (I’m not a big vampire person.  The last book was a mix-up by the book club I belong to.  But it was an interesting read, just the same.)  I just picked up Anthem by Ayn Rand (I’ll get to Atlas Shrugged later), 1984 by George Orwell, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  I picked up Lee’s because I realized that all I’d been reading was sci-fi and fantasy.  I decided I should branch out.  The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men are on the horizon. 

So, from here on out, I’ll be keeping you up to date on my quest for publication, the stuff I’m currently working on, and what’s going on in my little neck of the woods.  And if I do reach the shelf, you’ll be the first to know.  Well, okay, maybe not the first to know…but close.

Good reading!

Dave

If driers didn’t have lint traps, would the pockets in blue jeans work just as well?

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He Said, She Said (or was that he interjected, she exclaimed?)

Posted by Dave on March 7, 2010

Well, I mentioned that I was letting Jaben’s Rift sit for two or three weeks before editing it.  Several sources recommend this, not just for a first book, but for any manuscript.  The reason is so that when the author begins the revision process, he or she can see the book through relatively fresh eyes.  What no one seemed to mention was how difficult it would be to just let it lie in the virtual drawer without looking at it.

Although I’m working on another book, I find myself thinking about different passages in the first one, things I need to change, or portions I just want to go back and re-read to see if I still think they work.  The temptation to jump back in is hard to resist.  But, no, I must be strong.  Slowly, ever so slowly, the details are starting to fade.  Oh, I still remember all of the scenes, but at least I don’t remember every comma and italicized word.

Once it’s time to pull it back out and begin the revision and editing process, the first thing I plan to go over is my dialogue.  In particular, the use of the word “said” vs. other alternatives.  Getting ready for this has been a little confusing.  Basically, there are two main schools of thought on this issue:

School A says: 
Avoid overuse of the word “said.”  Vary the text up using other dialogue tags (murmured, cried, shouted, etc…).
There was a thread in one of the writing groups I belong to about this.  One guy said a fellow writer had sent him a list of over two hundred possible substitutions for “said.”  Talk about your variety!

On the other hand, School B says: 
Only use “said” if you must use a dialogue tag at all.  “Said” is an invisible word.  Using other descriptive dialogue tags will interrupt the flow and take the reader out of the story.
This viewpoint prefers the use of action to enhance the dialogue, resorting to “said” (and pretty much nothing but “said”) only when necessary.

So, which is right?  Which one will help me create the most amazing manuscript possible?  As Vinnie Barbarino once said, “I’m sooo confu-u-sed!”

So, hoping to bring a little clarity to the subject, I thought I’d check out some successful writers to see how they handled extended passages of dialogue.  Wanna know what I found?  (Are you sure?)  Okay, here goes.  I won’t mention the novels or authors, but my three examples are very well known in the realm of sci-fi and fantasy.  I’m not going to write down all of the dialogue, but I will show what the tags were for each piece (said, shouted, no tag, etc…).  Where there aren’t any tags, the author either used action to convey the emotion, or nothing at all.  So here we go…

Example #1:  Two books.  Nebula Award, Hugo Award, nominated for Locus Award

Said – Asked – No tag – No tag – No tag – No tag – No tag – No tag – Asked – No tag – Asked – No tag – No tag – Said – Said – No tag  – No tag   – No tag

Okay, that one looks like it’s solidly in School B.  Moving on…

Example #2:  Series has seven novels.  Hugo Award (this author is a giant in sci-fi)

Snapped – No tag – Said quietly – Squeaked – Raced on – Said doggedly – Said curtly – No tag – No tag – No tag – Said – No tag – No tag – Mumbled hopelessly – Said coldly – No tag – Said slowly and suspiciously – No tag – No tag

Okay, wait a second.  A few other tags slipping in here.  Squeaked?  Mumbled?  And adverbs?  The dreaded –ly modifiers?  (But that’s a topic for another day.).  Okay, okay, let’s try one more.

Example #3:  Well over a dozen novels and novellas in the series.  One Hugo Award, One Nebula Award, and four additional nominations for the Hugo Award. 

This should be a good example, right?  Let’s see…

Suggested – Rejoined – Countered – Said – No tag – Remarked casually – Replied dryly – Said – No tag – Said – No tag – No tag – Answered sharply – No tag – Demanded – No tag – No tag – Reminded – Assented – Said – Snorted derisively – No tag – No tag

Okay.  Wait.  What?  Where was I?  Oh yes, now I remember.  I’m sooo confu-u-sed!

So, not only does it look like we have divisions between successful authors, but even the people who hand out the awards go both ways.  What’s a writer to do?

Bottom line, you have to do whatever gets the emotion across the most effectively, yet maintains the flow of the story so that your reader doesn’t remember they’re actually reading a book.  Let’s try an example…

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it,” he said angrily. 
Okay, he’s angry.  We know that because of the clunky use of the word “angrily.”  But it doesn’t have a lot of impact, does it?  And that whole “he said angrily” part kind of interrupts the flow.

We could try a different tag.  Shorten it up a bit.

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it,” he snarled.   
Better.  Dropping the adverb improves the flow,  but the reader has to hesitate for an instant to define the word “snarled” in his or her head. Using tags like this also indicates the emotion. For example, if I had said,
“That’s not what I mean and you know it,” he giggled.
It’s a completely different feel. But again, there is the minute instant in the reader’s mind where they have to make that connection.
A lot of readers won’t notice it. Some will, and if done too often, will get distracted and maybe even stop reading the story.

How about an exclamation mark instead?

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it!”
Well, the emotion still comes through because of the exclamation mark, but we’re not quite sure what the emotion is unless we showed earlier that he’s angry.  One thing to point out here.  Be careful with exclamation marks.  Too many and you will “wear out” your reader.  On this point I agree with what others have said, less is more when using exclamation marks.  Using them only sparingly is much more effective than using them everywhere.

Another possibility is using action to get your point across.

He slammed his fist on the tabletop and glared at her.  “That’s not what I mean, and you know it.” 
Here, even without the exclamation mark and dialogue tag, we get a clear sense that he is angry because we can “see” that he’s upset. You’ll sometimes hear people say “show, don’t tell.” That’s what we did here. The action we put into the scene shows the character’s emotion instead of using something like “angrily” to tell the reader how the character feels. 
Using action to get your emotion across also allows the reader to experience more.  In their mind, they hear the fist slamming down, they see the intense glare from the man.  Maybe they imagine the table jumping just a bit from the impact. But whichever action you use (slamming the fist, throwing something against the wall), it gives the story a little more depth.
So, here’s what I’ve decided. I’ll go through, trying to use tags as little as possible, using action or nothing at all when I can. I will not, however, restrict myself to the word “said.” If another tag seems to be to be the best way to get my point across, I’ll use it. Whatever is the least distracting, but still gets the emotion across.
(Of course, if I have someone ready to publish it if I make a few changes, I’ll certainly give it some serious thought.)

Update:
Well, I’m almost to 12,800 words now. I fell off the pace a little through the week. Fortunately, I was able to make up lost ground over the weekend.

I still need to do better. I could give all kinds of excuses as to why I didn’t hit my mark each day, but they would be just that…excuses. I’m learning that, while I enjoy writing, to actually be a writer is going to involve self discipline. Deadlines, quotas, and all that rot, don’t you know.  But then again, almost any job is going to involve deadlines and production quotas. Might as well try to make it in one that I would actually enjoy what I do. Right?

Have a good one,
Dave

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