Thursday, May 26, 2011

Chapter 8 done, Chapters 9 and 10 combined and smelling fishy

Ugh, chapter eight was so easy. The characters sat down with me and smoothed it out for me. We had a few drinks, we laughed about it. Now they went and hid in the bathroom, because chapters 9 and 10 are next. I'm combining them because I have a lot of crap that's peripheral to the plot, but upon review doesn't cut the mustard. Time to condense scenes into sentences. It's a transitional chapter, crucial information being given out that moves the plot, but it's not sexy. Chapter 11, now that's the one I want to get to. But I have to fillet the fish before I can serve up the catfish Lafitte.

I've been thinking about chapter length a lot lately. At this point, the chapters are grouped so that they make a complete statement. I've got around 35,000 words so far in the eight chapters. I've seen some books lately that take every individual scene and make it a chapter unto itself, which would put me around 25 chapters. But I'm not sure I like that format for this kind of book. I think that works better for a 3rd person POV book where there are a lot of POV changes. But, since mine's in 1st, I think I'll stick with the longer chapters. Of course, as always, I reserve the right to change my mind.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Damn it, what is the matter with some authors?

I've spent a couple days over on Kindle Boards, listening to the authors wring their hands over sales and scream red-faced that their product is every bit as good as traditionally published authors. Okay, that SOME of their products are as good as traditionally published authors. Okay, that THEIR and possibly ONLY THEIR product is...

Hmpf, okay, whatever. I believe the ration of poor writing is infinitely greater in the self-published circles than you'll find in Borders, but I confess I haven't read too many self-published novels.

So, I went over to Amazon.com and searched to see if I could find an appealing sci-fi book that was published in the last 30 days. I narrowed the search by those parameters and it game me 874 choices. That's a nice tidy number. I can look through that in a half hour to an hour and make a selection. Among those 874, there were a bunch of books I recognized by Jules Verne, HG Wells, Jack London (in the sci-fi section?), and some of those more recent Star Wars books that invariably disappoint me. That left around 750 books by authors I'd never heard of.

I went book by book like I would as a reader, a customer. Trying not to exaggerate here, I'd say there were approximately 30 book covers that appealed to me. That's it. 30. What the fuck?

Look, I'm not that picky, really I'm not. But when I go looking for sci-fi, I want some hint that it's sci-fi on the cover. I swear, 500 of those covers had NOTHING to do with sci-fi. Fucking balloons? You want to draw a sci-fi reader to your book by putting balloons on the cover? Really? What the fuck do balloons have to do with science fiction? That's a YA novel cover. A children's book cover! Pull your head out of your asses people! Don't get cute. If you're writing erotica, stick the hottest slutty chick you can find on the cover, or the hottest guy with the washboard abs and dreamy eyes. If you're writing romance, put something romantic on the cover like a horse drawn buggy. If your book is fantasy, there better not be a birthday cake on the cover. If you write sci-fi, DON'T PUT BALLOONS ON YOUR FUCKING COVER!

The titles and blurbs were even worse. The ones I found the funniest are the ones that had to add "A science fiction novel" after the title. Uh, if the title doesn't drip with science fiction, then change the fucking title, don't title it "Love in the park" then add "A science fiction novel" for Christ's sake.

I clicked on a couple of the books with covers that had nothing to do with sci-fi and lousy titles. It seemed from the blurbs that the sci-fi was a stretch. Applicable in some way I suppose, but typically just as convoluted as the cover and title.

Maybe if I bought one of those, I'd think it was the best sci-fi book I ever read. If that's the case, those authors needed to be smart enough to get themselves an agent or at least listen to the advice of agents given over countless blogs about hooking the reader.

I don't know if I'll ever be published by a traditional publisher like I'd love to be, but I know I'll have an advantage over 70% of my competition if I self-publish, because my book will LOOK and SOUND like sci-fi to draw people in.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Moved on to chapter eight

Chapter seven came in at a whopping 6,050 words. I finally had to put it aside for the time being, and I'll come back to it with fresh eyes to cut more. Right now, I don't see anything I want to slash. That makes two chapters of 5,000 words or more, including chapter one. I prefer to keep them between 3,000-3,500. But, it's the protag's first moments after his arrival to the new planet.

Whenever I get off a plane in a new city, I notice everything. Everything's new, pretty, interesting. I want the reader to have the same feeling. Of course, it's mostly a setup for the surprise at the end of the chapter, but it establishes his rapport with the denizens, and some other things, so I'm going to leave it for now.

Chapter length is still a bit of a touchy subject for me. I know I run long. I know the trend is to write shorter chapters to give the book a feeling that it's moving along quickly, but it feels wrong to "rush" the moment the protag lands on a new planet. I just feel like the reader will be ready to invest in a longer chapter by then. I'll make them shorter and choppier soon enough...other than those other two monstrosities that loom on the horizon. Oh well. If it comes to it, I could certainly slice it into four chapters since it's four scenes. It just doesn't feel as though there's a natural break from the opening word to the final one.

Chapter eight on the other hand, may not reach 2,500 words.

Eh, fuck it. If a reader can't sit down in one sitting and read 6,000 words, then screw him.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ode to Mrs. McCormick and Mr. Nichols

When our family came from Czechoslovakia via the Austrian underground railroad to America in '69, I was seven years old. Mom was a school teacher, but hardly spoke English. I spoke none. Luckily and unluckily, we landed in Brooklyn. It was unfortunate because I picked up some bad habits there, like theft. But it was fortunate because the school system was well equipped to handle non-English speaking students.

They put me in a regular class for a week, then realized I had no clue what was being said and handed me over to a wonderful woman, Mrs. McCormick. In two or three months, I had enough basics to be cut loose and sent back into the general population.

By ninth grade I was fluent and had lost my accent, and I was reading more and more. That year, my English teacher, Mr. Nichols at Peters Township High School had us read The Old Man and The Sea. Up to then, I'd enjoyed reading, but since I got a late start on English, I'd always felt I was behind everyone else. It made English class a chore, rather than a joy. Mr. Nichols changed that. He taught me to love the structure of sentences and the imagery they can create. He taught me not to worry about what everyone else is doing, and develop my own writing.

I had a good night of progress last night. When I was done, and sipping the last of the rum and Diet Coke before I turned out the lights, I sat up in bed and took a moment to thank those two, wherever the hell they are. Alas, on the other end of the spectrum, Mr. Chirrdon, my seventh grade metal shop teacher, I think of when I take a shit.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chapter seven should be docking tonight

I was just too tired to get to the last two paragraphs Sunday night, so I saved them. Unfortunately, I didn't get to work on them Monday or yesterday because of other obligations. That's the first time I've gone one day let alone two without working on the manuscript in months. I felt like a coke fiend going through detox, shivering, wiping my nose, checking my pockets for a scrap paper to jot something down on. I hope I don't get premature editiculation and type the revisions into my shorts before I get a chance to sit down and work on it tonight. But even if I do, my manuscript is forgiving and she'll give me a second chance I'm sure.

It's strange, the protag is about to start the morph in chapter eight. So far, he's been relatively unchanged from who he was at the start of the book while his situation changed around him. There's a sense of sadness in saying goodbye. I think I need a tissue.

Monday, May 16, 2011

So, my brother in-law is writing a book

From the sound of it, he's shooting for something similar to The Da Vinci Code, only not. The wife says he has 35 pages written.

I chastised her for telling him that I'm writing a book. In fact, I chastise her whenever she tells anyone, yet she continues to tell. Nobody would know were it not for her, not even my parents and sister. I was hoping to toil away at it unnoticed until I either trunked the thing without anyone ever knowing I tried and failed, or I announced that I'm going to be published. Now, if I fail, everyone will know, and that just pisses me off because I was hoping to fool everyone into thinking I'm brilliant but just too lazy and unambitious to make more of a mark on this world than I've made.

Anyway, one saving grace is that my brother in-law's a proud man and I doubt he'll ask for my help, thank God.

Friday, May 13, 2011

That's my buddy Bartolomeo, named for one of my characters. He's wondering how long it takes for an author to pick up speed. I mean, if an author can get the words right after twelve re-writes, why don't they come out right to begin with? Obviously, the words and their sequence are there in the brain somewhere since they eventually appear, but why the fuck do I have to coax the words out of the depths like they're Excalibur and only the Lady of the Lake can hand them to me?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Milepost scenes and filling in the space between

I should be done with chapter seven tonight or tomorrow. There are milestones that change a book's plot dramatically. I had one in chapter two and another in four, and then the next one doesn't hit until the end of chapter seven. I was a little worried that the gap between four and the end of seven was a little too long, but now I'm happy with the result.

I hereby present an unsubstantiated theory. Everyone loves to write the scenes that make a big splash in the book. Those are easy. They're the ones you hope will make the reader say, "Holy shit!" But they're like a polar bear on an ice floe. The space between them that allows the polar bear to hop from one floe to another and hook up with a female polar bear is mostly setup for those scenes, and a chance to advance sub plots and do some character building. My theory is that a lot of writers don't like to write the connecting scenes because they discard useful material and try to write each of those fillers from scratch. The framework of those scenes will typically have to be from scratch, but I think people throw out a lot of things that could be inserted and add texture to the narrative. A person's train of thought isn't linear. People get distracted in the middle of conversations. Saving those conversation you like to insert can make the scene feel more real, as long as it's not overdone and too intrusive.

I had dozens of conversations that my protag was having with "someone" among his peers and dozens more that he was having with someone from the planet they just landed on, though I didn't really know who he was talking to when I jotted the exchanges down. I wanted them to be confrontational, so most of them took place between the protag and the antag in my mind, but at this point in the book, the identity of the antag is still a mystery. So I assigned a minor character to be a surrogate antag. I was hoping to avoid growing the list of characters, but I think this one's handy and he'll pop up a couple times when I need him.

I've sprinkled these conversations throughout the MS, mostly in the transition chapters. From chapter eight and beyond, they sit right now with no dialogue tags, out of sequence and just waiting in the files for the chapters I thought I'd want or need them in, though I always reserve the right to shove them deeper into the book, or even move them up, though that's rare.

Sequencing them so that more and more truth is revealed as the reader progresses is crucial. I don't think you can have more than three or four per chapter. If you've written a conversation down that you really like, but either you don't know who is having it or you had one character having it, but had to cut the scene for some reason, don't throw the conversation away. As long as the conversation fits the book, look for somewhere else to fit it in. Keep it in your pocket and when you're moving the plot along with some necessary but unspectacular scenes, find a place to fit it in. It'll spruce it up. Maybe you save the conversation for the sequel.

Most of the books an author will write will have similar themes and characters. Swap the plot as much as you want, the essence of you is there. That means that, if one of your characters is having a conversation you like, or maybe it's a real conversation you had, there's a very good chance that conversation will come in handy later. Maybe the setting changes. Maybe the circumstances change somewhat. Don't lose them. When you're stuck, they may pull you out of a hole, or just improve something.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A novel should flow like a song

I read some of the work that was up for critiquing on several boards today, and I came across two stories that were written well enough for me to get beyond the first paragraph. It doesn't take long. I may never be an agent, but I could spot the 90% of the submissions they get which get form rejections. That I could do.

The two stories I came across turned out to be disappointing. I only read a few paragraphs of each one. I didn't get to anything in either one that hooked me, and I didn't get any farther because of the writing. There was nothing wrong with the grammar. The sentences were proper, the punctuation was fine. Paragraphs were formed and held complete thoughts. So what made me stop? The writing had no rhythm. Not that I could find. Tongue twisters for the mind are just as annoying as they are for the tongue. No, I don't think it's enough for a story to follow proper rules of English. Make it a song. It takes time, but it makes the reading more enjoyable for whoever picks up the story.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The wife is gone for a week

I don't remember the last time I was alone. It will be interesting to see how much writing I get done. Don't get me wrong, I like hearing about her day, it's entertaining. But I'm hoping to set a personal record for amount of work done on the WIP while she's gone.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Time to make some chapters disappear

With chapter five under my belt, I've moved on to chapter six.

I'll be combining the current chapter six with seven and possibly even a part of eight, depending on how lengthy it gets as I fill it out. Each one currently sits at around 3,500 words. It may sound contradictory to say I'm going to trim and then fill it out, but it's not.

I don't know how everyone else does it, but when I'm writing scenes, some come with the visual inherent in the situation, things that must be described, action, etc...But other scenes are dialogue exchanges which could happen in a garden, a toilet, or the zoo, because the place where they occur isn't necessarily important to the specific function the scene plays. But the reader is going to want something going on around the characters at those moments so he can sit in the fictive dream and let his subconscious fill in the surroundings. So, I'll be trimming the excess dialogue and tossing in a paragraph here and there to create the visual that surrounds the characters as they interact.

At this point, I'm debating whether or not to add some spice to the scene by ratcheting up the chaos in the background, or by keeping the background tame, normal. I've decided to opt for relatively normal. I know this sounds like something you'd want to avoid in writing, but I've decided to lull the reader to sleep a bit, give him a little sense of false security before kick to the nuts he gets in chapter eight. It'll hurt more that way.

Damn it. Just typing this has made up my mind for me. I've got to fit this together so the kick in the nuts happens at the end of this chapter. It's time. Might mean cutting some parts I hold dear, but it's gotta be done. Shit happens, right? Anyway, this is nothing. I have some chapters ahead that currently stand at 10,000 words or more, so there are some difficult cuts ahead. One, chapter, the chapter in which the protag meets his love interest currently sits at about 25,000 words. A touch too long for a single chapter. Even making that into two chapters will be brutal. I can't wait. I've decided it's far easier to cut things from scenes than it is to fill scenes out. Not sure why that is.