Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dr. CutPaste (Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the Cut Folder)

You know when you reach that point when you're done editing? When you can't think of a single thing to fix in your manuscript and you've even had a few kind betas agree that the thing is ready for querying?

This happens after that.

At least, for me it did.

Even while querying, I knew my manuscript had a rather large flaw: the inciting incident happened after page 50. Somewhere around page 55, really. That was too late, and I knew it was too late. When I first started writing my book, I put the inciting incident as the very first scene, since I knew how important it was to get to it quickly. But, see, it's a fantasy, and early readers got lost. So I needed to spend some time world building, right? Sure I did. So I world-built for four chapters before the inciting incident.

And I knew that was wrong... but I could not for the life of me figure out how to fix it.

Until six months later.

Chapter two, I realized, didn't really need to be there at all. It was mostly an elaborate set-up so I could have my characters all sit around and discuss the world I'd built for them. It wasn't boring, per se, but it wasn't exactly exciting, for all that I tried to make it so.

Parts of chapter one, as well, weren't essential to the plot or to world-building, for all that I loved them and had edited the heck out of them for months on end.

So I started weeding.

First, I went through my manuscript and identified all the nonessential scenes, as well as scenes that had essential bits, but which didn't need to be there. Within my draft folder, I created a "Cut scenes" folder (never, never, nevernevernevernever permanently delete anything you've written--or what will you post in your "cut scenes" teasers for all your fans who can't get enough?). Within that cut scenes folder went documents with scenes that--um is it that they did or didn't make the cut? Either way, scenes that didn't need to be where they presently were got their own document in the cut scenes folder. It was actually quite cathartic. Go try it yourself. I'll wait.

Ready for the next step? So soon? Go cut some more. Trust me, you'll love it.

Source
Ready now? Good.

Next, ignoring the sad, holey state of the manuscript at large, I went through the cut scenes and highlighted parts that needed to be put back in. Backstory information. World building tidbits. Important moments that built character. Then I found them new homes. Mostly after the inciting incident.

Final step? Smooth it out. Make the grafts seamless. Read through it and make sure it all still makes sense in this brave new order.

The result? My inciting incident now happens around page 35. Twenty pages earlier.

Also, I permanently deleted 2,368 words. Many of them my darlings, but what can you do? Sadly, darlings are often born for the cut file.

Have you ever figured out how to cut 2,000 words from a "completed" manuscript?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Don't Make Me Guess

Over the last few days, I've torn through a series of four awesome books. They are written by an internationally bestselling author you would know (though this is a less-known series). Chances are, you've read and enjoyed at least one of his/her books. He/she doesn't really need my promotion, so I'm going to focus on the one thing that ruined the series for me.

The ending.

Through the series, the 1st person POV heroine vasilated between two guys. Both were cool, both were in love with her, but one came out as the clear winner. Absolutely no one could possibly be on the other guy's team by the end of the third book.

So heroine spent the fourth book reconciling with the clear winner. Their on-again-off-again romance had been plagued by trust issues, so heroine had to learn to trust him, as he had to learn to trust her. The fourth book did a wonderful job patching things up, gradually building their faith in each other. Giving her reasons to believe that her man would really stand by her and support her in hard decisions.

Until.

Toward the end of book four, heroine got some news that rocked her world. This news, should she choose to share it, would have made her chosen guy the happiest man in the world... but would likely have spurred him to make choices directly in conflict with choices heroine had already made. Both had similar goals in regards to this news, but the guy would probably have had a vastly different approach to accomplishing this goal. Most importantly, both had equal rights to make these choices. Both would be tremendously effected by the decisions.

Should heroine fail to share this news with her guy, he couldn't fail but see it as the worst breach of trust in history. She knew this. She reasoned out about how much it would damage her relationship later, when she inevitably had to tell him. When he found out how many years of happiness she had denied him, if she refused to trust him to make the choice she believed to be correct. If she refused to even allow him input that might have actually improved upon the choice she believed to be correct.

And she chose to keep it from him. She reasoned that she'd bear the pain of the "correct" choice all by herself and just live with the fallout when he found out about her duplicity.

And that was bad enough. After four books, heroine had obviously learned nothing about trust. She had chosen to love in the absence of trust.Which, as any happily married adult can tell you, is no kind of way to keep your love alive.

Then, on the last page of the fourth-and-final book, as she has embarked on her career of lying to the man she loves and has chosen to spend her life with... she remarks to the reader "Of course, maybe I'll tell him after all. He is rather irresistible." The end.

Seriously?

Ever read The Lady or the Tiger? It's a famous story which sets you up for the ultimate philosophical cliffhanger: would the barbarian princess rather watch her star-crossed beloved be a) torn to little bloody bits by a tiger, or b) traipse off to wedded bliss with another lady? The story, published in 1882, doesn't answer the question. The lack of an answer, more than any other element, has kept the story in circulation for 130 years now. It has spawned enough copy-cats to become its own allegory.

But please, folks: don't try this in a novel. Especially not in genre fiction.

Don't set up a question over a series of books (Will the heroine earn lasting happiness by learning how to trust her beloved?) and then FAIL TO ANSWER IT.

Don't take me through days of trials and heartache and bad decisions just to leave me hanging in the end.

Don't give me a romance where the Happily Ever After is ultimately in question. (Also, don't give me a romance where the Happily Ever After fails to materialize.)

Don't make me guess whether the characters will actually be happy.

It's frustrating enough in a short story. It makes me want to burn a whole series. It makes me want to have that time back. It makes me need to rewrite the ending just so I can justify my binge-reading to myself. It ensures that, as wonderful as the rest of the story may have been, I will never recommend the series to someone else.

Have you ever loved a book only to completely despise the ending?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Some Musings on Villainous Weaknesses

A month or so ago, I read a wonderful book with a strong heroine who had a secret destiny, mad sword skillz, and a very fun love interest. I'm not going to tell you what book it is, though, because, well, the villain sort of fizzled for me, and I'd rather talk about that.
Source

Early on in the book, we learn that the villain has this thing for fire. He's practically invincible, slaughters anyone who stands against him battle (or sparring), is superhuman fast, and dang scary. And every time he sees fire, he has a moment of staring awe. The heroine is even aware of this--she has ample opportunity to observe it. So, from almost the beginning of the book, I'm excited for the final showdown which, will, of course, involve fire. Either he'll use it as a weapon or she'll use it to distract him--or both!--but fire really should be there, right? Right?

Wrong.

Instead, the villain dies in a moment of suicide-by-heroine. He's won the fight, heroine is down for the count... and he picks up her sword, hands it to her, reengages... and practically forces her to run him through. Nothing was on fire at the time.

And it really bothered me. It's not that I didn't appreciate the redemption angle--the villain's need for redemption was also a sort of weakness of his--but if he really wanted redemption, wouldn't he have been kinder? Less of a bloody tyrant? Maybe he would have been shown seeking a way to rule with fairness? To gain the love of his people instead of constant fear? A little? Instead of trying to force the heroine to endorse his continued reign of terror?

The other issue was that his moment of suicide robbed the heroine of her victory. Instead of earning it, it was handed to her. She was bested--well and truly beaten--and still "won." Worse, her subjects saw her bested. They know she's not as strong as the tyrant who ruled them for so long. If that's not a recipe for a coup, I don't know what is.

So, anyway, watch what weaknesses you give your villain--and use them to help your hero win. Like really win. And, also, a villain's redemption shouldn't take precedence over the hero's victory.

Who are your favorite villains? Did you love them because they secretly, in their deepest, darkest heart of hearts, really actually wanted to be good?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Exclamation!!!

I'm reading a charming book by Georgette Heyer, who wrote over fifty novels and died at the age of seventy-one, two years before I was born. This particular book's original copyright seems to be 1965. I'm mentioning her name because, quite obviously, her books have stood the test of time and nothing I say here will detract from her loyal following--nor would I want it to. The book is a very fun Regency from the "Queen of Regency romance." I heartily recommend it to any fans of that genre.

But, apparently, the rumors are true: they really were enamored of the exclamation point back then.

Observe:
Nothing had ever been known to disturb the saintliness of Mrs Dauntry's voice and demeanour; she replied, as she sank gracefully into a chair: 'Dissembler! I know you too well to be taken-in: you don't like to be thanked - and, indeed, if I were to thank you for all your goodness to me and mine, your never-failing support, your kindness to my loved ones, I fear I should become what you call a dead bore! Chloe, dear child, calls you our fairy godfather!'
'She must be a wet-goose!' he responded.
'Oh, she thinks no one the equal of her magnificent Cousin Alverstroke!' said Mrs Dauntry, gently laughing. 'You are quite first-oars with her, I assure you!'
'No need to put yourself in a worry over that,' he said. 'She'll recover!'
'You are too naughty!' Mrs Dautry said playfully. 'You hope to circumvent me, but to no avail, I promise you! Well do you know that I am here to thank you - yes, and to scold you! - for coming - as I, alas, could not! - to Endymioun's assistance. That beautiful horse! Complete to a shade, he tells me! It is a great deal too good of you.'
I'll save you the trouble of counting. There are exactly three sentences of dialogue that end in something other than an exclamation point. There are thirteen exclamation points--and one sentence that hosts two of them. Kind of sounds like they're yelling at each other, doesn't it? This continues throughout the book. Every time a character is the least bit excited, angry, upset, laughing, or fearful, they express themselves with an exclamation point.

I think I understand how we got the current wisdom of being sparing with our exclamation points. I don't remember who said it, but I've heard that writers now-a-days get one per career. I'm pretty sure our characters (and our blogs!!!!) (!!!) get more than that, but still. That's not much.

Remember the 70's? The extremes of fashion? Followed by the backlash where no one wanted to be extreme at all? Welcome to the backlash, folks.

If you like exclamation points, don't despair. Wait a generation or two, and they're sure to come back in style.

So what do you think? Are exclamation points like bell-bottoms?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Don't Start



As part of LDStorymakers, I participated in Publication Primer. My group was led by the awesome Janette Rallison, who endowed us all with her phenomenal wisdom over six wonderful hours while we tore our group's first chapters to itty bitty pieces. In return for this service, we are now all sworn to blurb Janette's books when we, ourselves, are famous authors. That's going to be an amazing hardship, of course, but somehow I'll find a way to survive having my name associated with one of her splendiferous future books.

I bring this up because of one of the (obviously wise) comments I made on one of my group members' chapters. This chapter was a great start to a very fun story, but the author made some awful, awful mistakes. Observe:
She also began to check out [genre] movies....
and
A warm glow started bubbling up....
Do you see it? My brilliant (come on, you can admit it) advice was that "The beginnings of actions are rarely as exciting as the actions themselves." See how smart I am? I suggested changing them as follows:
She also checked out [genre] movies....
and
A warm glow bubbled up....
You see how much better that is? How the beginning of the action is implied by the fact that she acted at all? Boy I'm a good editor.

Which came in handy when I was going through my completed manuscript in advance of sending it off to an agent who requested the full at the conference. (!!!) I've recently done some cutting and pasting and rearranging, and was just making sure that it still all flowed as it ought.

Imagine my surprise when I ran across:

Concentrating on the gland behind her heart, she started pushing Black pixie dust through her body.
Whaaaa? How'd that get there? And on my first page, no less! The most highly edited page in my book! Well, of course, I changed that sucker right away. It is now the much more respectable:

Concentrating on the gland behind her heart, she pumped Black pixie dust into her bloodstream.
Whew. Glad I caught that.

Just for curiosity, I did a quick search. If you're at all squeamish, you may want to skip this next part.
Page 2: The other students, pixies and humans, were starting to stop and stare....
Page 3: She’d stood there, stunned, until one of them had started licking her wing....
Page 14: Brina turned the knob and started to pull the door open.
Page 23: Brina turned right and started walking.... 
Page 24: London turned away and started back toward the closet.
Page 26: London’s wings started flapping....
Page 33: When Jim started walking back....
Page 34: ...one of the huge garage doors started to roll upwards...
... and I'll stop there.

Apparently, it really is easier to see the flaws I, myself, manifest.

If you happen to be an agent stopping by my blog and you happen to read this post, please feel free to assume that each and every one of the lines listed above--as well as all their little friends--are now as perfect as can be. Also, if you'd been wondering why I didn't send the full within a day of the request... you're welcome.

Also, you should know that Janette Rallison signed two books for me at the conference. Observe:

"To Robin: I know one day you'll be signing a book for me!"

"To Robin--who is an awesome writer!"
If Jeanette says it, it must be true. Despite any alleged evidence to the contrary.

So what's on your list of things-to-check-before-sending-to-agents?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Blogswap: One thing Shelly learned at Storymakers that nobody taught a class on but everybody talked about.

Today I'm swapping blogs with the fantabulous Shelly Brown. We're both sharing stuff we learned at LDStorymakers last week, but wanted to do it in more exotic locations. For my blog post about how talent is irrelevant, visit Shelly's blog, here.

And, heeerrrre's Shelly!

Aren't we cute together?
One thing I learned at Storymakers that nobody taught a class on but everybody talked about.

It was on keeping your titles succinct. ;) Just kidding.

It was on details.

Hi! I’m Shelly from over at Writing with Shelly and Chad. I write Middle Grade and silly YA. I’ve been friends with Robin before either of us tried to write a single word. We both got to go to LDStorymakers last weekend and took some seriously fabulous classes. We decided to swap our great info on each other’s blogs. So here you go!

But back to the topic at hand: Details!

I’ve always known the details were important but it was just hammered into my head again and again at Storymakers.

First: I had a pitch session.

As I prepped my pitch session I read an article by Molly O’Neill and Michael Bourret on Middle Grade Novels (read it here). They talked about how there is magic in the details. They used my virtual friend Dale Bayse’s Heck as an example. That book is riddled with quirky details that make it hard to confuse for someone else’s work. Giant marshmallow bunnies, pitch-sporks, and ‘limbo’ing demon’s. It really made the story come alive for me.

Since I was planning a pitch for Molly, I was considering this advice and trying to figure out ways to add fun details to my pitch.

In preparation I watched pitch after pitch (online) and I have to admit-
  1. If it’s longer than 60 seconds you have completely lost me. My attention span for memorized plots is really only that long.
  2. If you throw in quirky details or some fun juxtaposition, I’m listening again.

I also went to Molly’s class on settings and she talked about those details that make a setting pop out to the reader. The regional weather, past times, celebrations, religious observances, hangouts, dress, mind set, etc.

Let’s use the visual arts to make the point:

Both of these are city pictures—

Can you see how details make things more interesting?

Second: There were classes that I enjoyed more than others and there was one that I was really struggling through until she told a joke. What woke a sleeping writer/comedian in me was that the joke wasn’t SO clever as it was SO detailed.

To illustrate a point about writing she used examples and one of her examples was used such detailed language it became funny.

To further illustrate what I mean (since I refuse to tell you who or what was said) do any of you follow the comedian Brian Regan? Jim Gaffigan? They, along with many other comedians, understand that you can tell the funny parts of life but when you act out/use examples people REALLY start laughing.

Here is Gaffigan on Cinnabon (a great detail by itself. He could have just said cinnamon rolls.) The Satan bit, the nap, wheelbarrow, beanbag chair, cavity, the plane. Details!


...and this Regan illustrates the same idea



In conclusion: (this feels like a non-fiction/thesis paper. –as opposed to the fiction thesis papers. . . which experience has taught me doesn’t get you a passing grade) The details can sell a book. Are you afraid that your story/summary/query/pitch sounds too ho-hum? Throw in some quirky details, either into the story itself, to breathe some life into it, or pull them from the story and put them in your pitch to make it clear that this isn’t just a drab retelling of something they’ve already heard before.

We like details.

We live our life in details.

We might not remember all of our childhood clearly, but we remember certain details. (I had one of those Fisher Price telephones with the eyes.)

We might not even remember that movie we saw last year but we remember certain details. (Didn’t the mean girl have a black horse or something?)

If your story is void of gripping/intriguing/funny details they might not remember any of it.

So watch for the details in what you live, read, and watch. Absorb them and then use them in your writing.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Writer's Voice Contest

I'm traveling to LDStorymakers today, but I wanted to give you a head's up on a great new contest hosted by Brenda Drake (and friends).

This is what Brenda has to say about it:
“The Writer’s Voice” is a multi-blog, multi-agent contest hosted by Cupid of Cupid’s Literary Connection, Monica B.W. of Love YA, Krista Van Dolzer of Mother. Write. (Repeat.), and ME. We’re basing it on NBC’s singing reality show The Voice, so the four of us will serve as coaches and select projects for our teams based on their queries and first pages.

Cool, huh? If you have a complete, polished manuscript and query blurb, go check it out. Just don't bump me off the linky list or I'll . . . well, do something to retaliate.