Onward to Space Dinosaurs

Well, Squiders, I have finally finished my chainsaw edit of my YA paranormal/dark fantasy novel. It ended up being approximately 90,000 words, which makes it 15,000 words longer than the original draft. Most of the new stuff is related to character arcs and some fleshing out of the main plot, but mostly character arcs.

I’ve got it out to a couple of readers, so we’ll see if it’s better, or just different. I found it really hard to tell. I went back to the edit after Nano, and read through what I had thus far (about 65K at that point), and I honestly couldn’t tell, which is really weird for me. So hopefully my readers can tell me what’s what. I don’t think either of them read the original draft, so it should be interesting to get their opinions.

I also finished the first of my nonfiction books and have that out to a couple of people to read. Feedback thus far has been very positive, so hooray!

Since I’m done with my chainsaw edit (a month and a half after I wanted to be), I can go back to writing my space adventure series (with space dinosaurs!) that I started in November. If you remember, I was trying out a couple of different structural changes from my normal novel-writing process.

I’m pleased to say that I think the changes are for the better–I rather enjoyed my readthrough of what I previously had, and the new outlining process (outlining by beats rather than phase outlining) leaves me lots of room to play around with things without affecting my main plotlines or character arcs.

It’s been a little slow getting back into the flow of writing it, but I am generally optimistic about the whole project. Turns out you can’t go wrong with space dinosaurs.

Been up to anything interesting yourselves, Squiders?

I Want to Love Kickstarting Books

Oh, Squiders. I follow SF Signal in my RSS feed, and occasionally they cover scifi/fantasy (and related genres) crowdfunding projects, either mentioning their existence, or doing larger series on different stories in anthologies, for example.

I like the general idea of crowdfunding. I have kickstarted some things, most of which are fairly nerdy (dice rings to be used with table top RPGs, some excellent card games–I highly recommend Marrying Mr. Darcy, especially with the Undead expansion–Reading Rainbow, a fantasy style tavern in a town an hour and a half away from me, etc.) but I’ve stayed away from books.

Why, you ask? It seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? I love books. And some of the books that I’ve seen come through Kickstarter have been really cool, such as taking an out of print classic scifi author and creating a collection of their work, or creating anthologies that tickle my genre loves in all the right places.

But the biggest issue I’ve found with the books is the price. It may just be me, but I feel like I want something physical out of a crowdfunding campaign (the exception being Reading Rainbow–I just threw my money at them and asked for nothing in return). But often, when I look at a book crowdfunding campaign, in order to get a physical book, you often have to go to a $30–or sometimes even a $50–level to get a physical book in your hands.

I’m a poor author. It’s entirely possible that some book may come along at some point that is so perfect that I won’t mind paying $40 for a paperback, but thus far it hasn’t happened.

I could, of course, pay $10-$15 for an ebook copy, but there’s something less fulfilling about that.

How about you, Squiders? Have you crowdfunded a book? What are your thresholds for paying for a crowdfunding campaign?

Beginning Problems: The Mirror

Another common issue found in the beginning of a lot of early drafts and first novels is the mirror. Generally, this is combined with the dream sequence, where the main character wakes up from their dream, stumbles into the bathroom for mundane showering/teeth brushing, and then stares into the mirror, where we get a full, detailed description of their eyes, their hair, whatever other visual quirks, such as freckles, that the author has decided exist.

There are a ton of problems with this. The first of which is that it’s plain weird. I don’t know about you guys, but the last thing I think in the morning after I stumble into the bathroom is how sparkling my green eyes are, and how luscious my wavy blonde hair is, and man, aren’t my long lashes just the best?

(This is true even if the mirror is not related to a dream sequence. I see the “wander down the street and look at one’s reflection in the windows” variation a lot as well, and it still is weird.)

Second of all, it breaks up the story flow. Ideally, a short starts with something happening, even if it’s as simple as fighting with a sibling or being late for school. When you stop and spend a paragraph (or more) on appearance, the story loses its forward momentum.

Third, by dwelling on the main character’s appearance, it’s like the writer is saying, “I don’t know how to properly show characterization, or I think that somehow my character’s appearance is their characterization, and it’s important that I tell you all this now or you won’t care enough to keep reading.”

No reader cares about a character because they’re pretty/plain/brunette/a special snowflake. Readers care about a character because they’ve got a relate-able personality, a problem that’s interesting, something intriguing that pulls a reader along. Frankly, a character’s appearance is the least important aspect of their characterization in most cases (exceptions exist to every rule of course–the only black kid in the neighborhood is an important distinction to note up front, for example) and there’s no reason to dwell on it up front or in such detail.

I’m not saying that appearance can’t be noted–it’s the infodump qualities of the mirror sequence that make it a problem. A line of description here, another there–spread out throughout the narrative, not disrupting flow or plot.

What do you think, Squiders? Disagree with me that the mirror is a problem? Have examples of stories where the author manages it without ruining their momentum?

Beginning Problems: The Dream Sequence

Beginnings are an interesting beast, and what I find fascinating is that so many writers start their first stories the same way, like there’s some instinctual drive to do so. Like we were all taught to do so, even though most of the time they are a terrible, terrible mistake.

Let’s take the dream sequence. Dream sequences, in and of themselves, are not bad. Done right, they can convey information, tension, foreshadowing, etc. Some people can even pull off starting a novel or short story with a dream sequence.

However, most people can’t, and the problem isn’t even necessarily the dream sequence, but how it ties in with the rest of the story.

See, the typical dream sequence beginning goes something like this: Main character has a dream, where they either remember something that has recently happened that is interesting, or they has some sort of cryptic dream that hints interesting things are to come.

Main character then wakes up, goes to the bathroom (generally takes a shower, though brushing teeth is common as well), and any conflict or tension that was built up during the dream is immediately lost. The story doesn’t try to build off of it, and so everything just collapses into boring mediocrity.

There’s a bigger issue with the remembering something that has just happened kind. Why not start with that event? Why tell about it after the fact instead of showing it in action, especially if it’s something major, something that rocks the character’s world, something that starts the main plot?

But sometimes it doesn’t do any of those things–it’s just a one-off, something to hook people in right at the beginning, that doesn’t actually have anything to do with the main plot or the goals of the main character. That’s got a whole heap of other problems tied to it.

Beginnings are hard–they have to hook the reader, set up your MC and his/her world, and be relevant to your plot and your MC’s character arc. Getting that balance just right is a skill that generally takes a lot of cultivating.

If you’re starting with a dream sequence, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What am I hoping to show about my plot/character with this sequence?
  • Could this information be better conveyed in another way?
  • Does the content of this dream sequence directly tie in to and influence the main plot of my story?
  • Am I managing to keep the tension up once my character wakes up?

What do you think, Squiders? Do you have any examples of a starting dream sequence done right? Have you run into this issue in your own writing (or even professional writing) in the past?

When You Really Want to Read a Book

Maybe you don’t do this, Squiders. Maybe I am alone in my oddity. But there are times, when I’m staring at my bookcase, trying to decide on what to read next, when I’ll look at a book.

And I’ll say, “Man, I bet I’m really going to like that book.”

And then I’ll back off, and say, “Man, since I’m going to like it so much, maybe I shouldn’t read it yet. Maybe I should wait, so I can savor it, so I can make sure reading it is going to count.”

And then, “I mean, it’ll get in my head. I’ll love the characters. I’ll think about it for days afterwards, and I just can’t commit to that right now.”

And then I’ll pick out something else, something that is less of a perfect fit, something that I’m less excited about, and read that instead, and sometimes it’s forever before I get to that book that seems like I’m going to love it.

I just realized I did this yesterday. I have a book that has been highly recommended to me by a few different friends, a science fiction novel from the ’70s called The Voyage of the Space Beagle (the last friend said it was even better than the original series of Star Trek which is, frankly, sacrilege, but man did it catch my interest). It’s sitting right here. On my desk. I can see it.

Yesterday I needed to start a new book. I stared at the Space Beagle, got really excited, and then went and picked something else out.

Isn’t this madness? Why on Earth would I pick a book I kind of want to read over a book I really want to read? Is some form of self-punishment? Am I, subconsciously, gravitating towards books I know I can probably get rid of after I read them, thus clearing up room for more books?

Whatever it is, it really has to stop.

What about you, Squiders? Do you get all weird when confronted with a book you’re excited about? Have you worked past this inanity? If you can just pick up an anticipated book and go, can you give me some tips?

A Hint of Arthurian Legend

I was at the storycraft meeting for my writing group earlier this week, and while we were mostly talking about pacing (ah, pacing), we also had gotten somewhat sidetracked on dystopian stories. (To be fair, we got there from talking about whether or not emulating the general plotline of a classic dystopia would preserve the pacing, but still.)

One of the guys brought up The World’s End (the movie), and as none of the rest of us had seen it, he proceeded to describe it using other movies as examples. And he topped it off with “With just a hint of Arthurian legend. Everything’s better with a hint of Arthurian legend.”

We laughed, and I brought up Kingsman, which I saw on Saturday (and was excellent and I highly recommend it), as another example, and then we probably got distracted by something else.

But I got to thinking a little later. Is it really Arthurian legend that makes it better? It’s not like Arthurian legend is strongly superior to other forms of mythology, either in terms of longevity or subject matter. Is it better to have a hint of Arthurian legend versus, say, Norse mythology?

I suspect a hint of any sort of mythology helps a story, because it ties the story into something older, maybe even something arguably instinctual.

As for Arthurian legend versus other mythologies, the differentiation probably comes from cultural exposure. American culture is a mixture of other cultures, yes, but I think the argument could be made that we perhaps draw most of our influences from English culture. I would think that, universally, we’re more familiar with Arthurian legend because of our cultural exposure. (There are exceptions, of course–people of different backgrounds are more familiar with the mythologies that go along with their background–but I think everyone knows the basics of Arthurian legend.)

What do you think, Squiders? Does tying a bit of mythology into a story make it resonate a little more? Is Arthurian legend any better than other mythologies? Would you argue that another type of mythology is stronger in our cultural background?

The Appeal of Family Secrets

First of all, Squiders, let me apologize for the lack of a post at the end of last week. I’m afraid Leonard Nimoy’s death threw me off my game, and I may have spent a lot of time trolling Tumblr for memorials and occasionally tearing up. He was such a good, kind man, very talented, in a number of areas, and we were–are–very fond of him in the Star Trek community.

RIP, Leonard.

On to family secrets. I almost consider this its own genre. Not speculative fiction, no–more general or contemporary literature. I admit I am not a big fan of general/contemporary literature, mostly because I live in the real world and don’t usually feel the need to read about it, and partially because it tends to be a horribly depressing genre, full of cancer and dead children and cheating spouses, and I really don’t need that most of the time.

I do make an exception for family secret books, though. There’s something different about secrets that may have been passed along through a generation or three, things that could change a person’s entire world view if they knew. Maybe it’s the mystery, the wonder of what exactly is being hid.

After all, don’t we all love our own family secrets and scandals? Sure, most of the time they’re not to the level portrayed in the books, but my grandmother once told me of an uncle of hers who just…disappeared. He came home to visit and was never seen again. They thought he was perhaps killed in a train accident, but both bodies were claimed by other families, and an acquaintance mentioned he’d seen him about two years after the fact.

When I was doing genealogy for the family, I found no mention of this uncle. All his siblings, yes–but the uncle himself? Nothing. It’s almost as if he’s disappeared from history.

I wonder about that uncle a lot.

Sometimes I feel family secret books fall back on a lot of overused tropes–there’s invariably a dead child somewhere, like someone’s not sympathetic if they haven’t lost a child. But I always hold out hope that a book will try something new, give me a twist I didn’t expect, that I didn’t see coming.

My favorite example of the family secrets genre is The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Do you like family secrets books too? Which ones have you enjoyed? Which have you found trite or predictable?

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