Working with an Editor

Do you want to get inside the mind of an editor? To know what they might look for? To know how they think? I recently had lengthy exchanges with my first editor, Derek Bowen, and would like to share my lessons learned from working with him on revising my short story, The Ravenous Flock.

After completing his first read through, he wanted me to consider renaming one of my races and my monster. They striked him more as descriptions (adjectives) than names, so I had to spend some time brainstorming on the topic before I finally arrived at appropriate names.

In general, the majority of his edits were opportunities to delete unnecessary words to improve flow. Here is an example: Before: “Grindor took hold of the hollow yak horn and guzzled the last of the water as it poured down his chin.” After: “Grindor took hold of the hollow yak horn and guzzled it dry.”

This all may sound rather simple, but once we began discussing substantive changes to my story, a whole other level of analysis was presented to me. In discussing my monster, Derek made me think about its entire ecology – always comparing to known living organisms to be able to bring familiar elements into the creature’s description. For example, extending tongues are normally sticky rather than prehensile (with a few exceptions like giraffes and ant eaters). But what really needed consideration was the day-to-day life of my monster. What (and how much) does it normally eat? How often does it live in water? How far inland does it travel? Basically, he wanted me to put as much thought into this monster as I do with my main characters.

Derek also introduced me to a new form of outlining after you’ve finished the chapter/passage/etc. He reduced an entire battle scene to 6 bullets. All he did was capture the behavior/reactions of a tribe of fighters during a fight to evaluate if their actions in battle were warranted or not. He claims this style of outlining is most effective to “do it by going back and constructing it from what you’ve actually written, not what you’d planned to write at the outset. It makes it very easy to discover whether you’ve put everything in the correct place—especially important in the age of cut-and-paste, where things can get moved with a couple keystrokes, and it becomes altogether too easy to separate items or leave one thing stranded after you’ve moved another.”

In addition, I have a dramatic reveal at the end of my story, but I had a difficult time making it feel as dramatic as I had intended. Derek commented that, “what you need is to convince the reader it’s that important to the character(s), whether it would be that important to anyone else in a similar situation—so it doesn’t need to be high melodrama.”  I ended up suggesting a new reveal, and together, we were able to craft it to a much better ending to my story about the forming of a unique friendship.

He was very impressed by my openness to his proposed revisions and so I thought I should share this one last quote from Derek: “In my experience, there are two main kinds of writers: the kind who are defensive about what they’ve written, and the kind who care enough about their writing to want to improve it and are willing to learn. The former are rarely successful.”

While these are the larger lessons learned, there were many subtle nuggets of wisdom that I captured from this experience. If you have any further questions, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them.

 

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The Dark Side to the Rise of Fan Fiction

I have recently become aware that more than just a few authors of fan fiction have turned their past time into a career. However, I will contend that this seemingly innocent act borders on the unethical and probably even enters the realm of unlawful.

Fan Fiction is when readers of a popular book want the drama or action to continue, so fans write short stories on a fan-fiction-website so that other fans of the original book and/or characters can keep reading new exciting scenes. Some of these works are a direct continuation of the book, while others (dubbed as “Alternate Universe (AU) Fan Fiction”) take the characters from the popular book and place them into a completely new and different setting. Most authors take no issue with Fan Fiction, though a few take it more seriously as it infringes upon the copyright protection by it being a derivative work.

The ethical dilemma at hand is when authors of Fan Fiction leverage the success of their fan fiction stories and then sell them as a book. For example, this article points out how 50 Shades of Gray author E. L. James started out as a Twilight fan fiction writer. She wrote one of the most popular fan fiction stories ever entitled Master of The Universe (MoTU), which had over 40,000 comments. It was an alternate universe (AU) fan fiction of Edward and Bella, meaning they were in a different world, different circumstances, weren’t even vampires, but the character’s relationship was the only thing that remained the same. Master of The Universe was then deleted from the internet and published, almost word for word, as 50 Shades of Gray. The largest difference is changing the character’s names from Edward and Bella over to Christian Gray and Ana. While the story is unique and belongs to E. L. James, the author certainly used the popularity of the Twilight series to make her fame, which is very unethical (and potentially unlawful) in my point of view.

E. L. James is not the only one either. The Submissive by Tara Sueme is another that originated as a Twilight fan fiction. And again, Beautiful Bastard, originally entitled The Office, is another Twilight Fan Fiction that has made it to publication. The more you look, the more you will find; and they aren’t just from Twilight Fan Fiction either, it’s everywhere.

Please share your thoughts on this in the comments below.

How to Write a Synopsis For Your Novel

Synopsis of Hamlet. This mind map gives a visual display of why it is so difficult to capture everything from a novel within the short length of a synopsis.

In my journey toward seeking representation, I have queried over 50 literary agents, all of which did not require a synopsis as part of the submission. I kept a reserve of ~20 other literary agents that I would submit to if my first round of submissions didn’t go so well. These 20 all require synopsis’s.  Unfortunately for authors, literary agents do not have standardized requests. Some ask for 1 page synopsis’s and others want 2 pages (a rare few even ask for a 3-5 page synopsis), which of course must be submitted along with your Query Letter and/or a sample of your work. While I do have one very promising agency reviewing my manuscript (fingers crossed!), I am preparing for round 2 (just in case) and just completed my synopsis.

SYNOPSIS TIPS & FORMAT:

At the top of the page (left or center) provide this info: Synopsis of “Title”. Genre: ____ Word Count: _____ By: “Your Name” (however, you can put your pen name if you wish).

Since most agents/publishers ask for either a 1 page or a “brief” synopsis, I think it’s best that you craft it to be within 1 page, single spaced. A synopsis is a narrative of your story, written with the same style and sense of excitement and wonder of your novel. Do not simply say, “Here is the main character, and this is what happens to him/her,” you must make the synopsis drool-worthy.

Synopses are always, ALWAYS, written in 3rd person and in the present tense. No exceptions! The synopsis must introduce your main characters. When you do so, you must make their full name in ALL CAPS, but only for the first time you mention their name. This makes it easy for a reader to locate the introduction of a character.

You do not have to detail all your sub-plots or all your characters, but the main story line must come across in your narrative. So it is best to ensure that you have captured all the major scenes and major plot elements and conflicts, and most importantly: The ending. Yes, you must give away your ending. How you conclude your story is especially important to agents and publishers.

PRO TIP #1:

Have a reader that is unfamiliar with your story read your synopsis and give you feedback. It can be difficult for you to be objective about your synopsis since you understand the meaning behind every sentence.

PRO TIP #2:

Think outside the box. You don’t have to write your synopsis in the same order of events as your novel. You can explain things out of order, which can help when you are trying to condense things down to one page.

PRO TIP #3:

Before writing your synopsis, bulletize the main points that you want to write about. This will help keep your novel at a high level and will help prevent you from diving into the details.

PRO TIP #4:

Don’t go down a rabbit hole. Beware of explaining one event/scene that forces you to explain another. Rabbit holes add additional details to your synopsis that only raise more questions than answers.

PRO TIP #5:

Less is more.

PERSONAL OPINION:

Why did I delay writing a synopsis, you ask? Because, summarizing your entire novel into one page is quite possibly the Achilles Heel of every author. Reducing my 100,000 word novel into an ~900 word page is difficult, to say the least. For most novels, there are so many complex sub-plots that hold a lot of weight to the overall story (as shown in the picture above), and not being able to fit them into your synopsis can be torturous.

When I joined NaNoWriMo this year, in order to fill out my profile, it made me write a synopsis of my novel before I even began writing it. I must say that writing the synopsis beforehand helped me identify character motivations that I hadn’t even considered in my outline. It was profound, and it helped me expand on my planning. However, if you were to write a synopsis before hand (which is similar to the Snowflake method of outlining, which I discuss here), you can bet, with a certainty, that you will need to revise it after you finish your novel.

STEPHEN KING’S APPROACH:

In his novel, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King doesn’t touch on writing a synopsis, but what he does talk about is plot – which is what a synopsis is supposed to capture. Steven King’s novels are not born from the conception of a plot, but are based on a single situation instead (I wrote more about it here in my discussion of the 7 basic plots). He is able to reduce his entire novels down to one sentence. It struck me that when writing a novel using this approach, it would probably be a lot more friendly when it’s time to summarize your novel into a synopsis. And even more helpful for the purposes of writing a Query Letter (explained here with additional detail here).

Awesome Apps for Authors

Technology has been the greatest enabler for authors. It has drastically improved productivity when going from typewriters to the personal PC, and now with Amazon’s CreateSpace plus the advent of e-readers, it has never been easier for an author to publish their work. There is no doubt that technology has made the life of all authors easier, but what about being more organized? Below, I’ve compiled a list of some software and iPad/iPhone apps that can do just that.

  • Name Dice for iPad/iPhone, by Thinkamingo. If your creativity is fleeting, then this free random name generator can help you come up with a character name on the spot.
  • Final Draft Writer by Final Draft, Inc. This is the premier composition software for screenwriters, and the iPad app is available for $49.99. Personally, I don’t know how anyone can be as productive on an iPad as they can on a laptop/PC with a full operating system, but I know Final Draft 8 software is available for $249.95 on PC and Mac as well.
  • iBookWriterLite for iPad, by AgileBoard.com. This free app allows you to compose your story and then instantly publish your work to various self-pub markets once complete.
  • Subscribe to Writing Magazine on the iPad. Filled with useful articles for fiction, short story and poetry topics. $20.99 for 6 month subscription or $39.99 for a 12 month subscription.
  • My Writing for iPad, by 21×20 Media, Inc. This free app helps you keep track of all your published works.
  • Writer’s App for iPad, by Thomas Sillmann. For only $0.99, this app gives you a book composition/organization tool. You can track your synopsis, Premise, Plot, Chapters, Characters (bio, description, etc), Places, and Notes for your novel. I, for one, would have loved a character-tracker app during my first novel!
  • Literary Agents and Publishers Database for iPhone/iPad, by BookCaps. It’s a free app that lists agents and publishers based on Genre. This might be handy for the iPad, but I still prefer queryagent.com for their database and submission tracking system.
  • Manuscript for iPad by Black Mana Studios. This app costs $6.99 and takes you from pitch to a publication-ready document in 4 steps.
  • Total Recall for iPhone/iPad by Zyense. This free app lets you organize your thoughts via mindmapping. It is a great tool for any author that likes to visualize the story or see character relationships and motivations. Great for outlining your novel, as I previously mentioned here.

For those of you that have found other useful apps or software, please feel free to share! Leave a comment below! I personally used Microsoft Skydrive to write my novel. Not only that, with Skydrive, you can edit your documents right in the web browser. I found this extremely useful so that I can work on my book from anywhere, and I prevent the risk of data loss by saving it in the cloud.

An Author in a Sea of Authors

Becoming a published novelist is the golden apple of the publishing world. With such high prestige, it makes me wonder why so many people follow this pursuit. Shouldn’t the prestige of becoming a published author deter instead of invite? Certainly, striving to be an Olympian doesn’t attract talent the way the dream of publishing a novel does.

But that’s just it. Talent. Many people believe they have it just because they have a story to share, but describing the actions and imagery requires a learned skill. One that can be sharpened and honed. There are certain rules that should be followed when writing, (and believe me, I learned the hard way) and they can be subconsciously gleaned through the osmosis of reading. But the rules and skills of writing still require the conscious mind to analyze and comprehend them.

I belong to the Critters Writers Workshop, a critique group that’s designed to do just that. However, the most prevalent flaw in the writing that I see coming out of Critters Writers Workshop is lack of showing, with too much ‘telling’. In fact, I’m in awe that The Hunger Games ever got published with the abundance of “telling” that occurred in Katniss’ narrations, but I digress.

Let me be clear, I do not consider myself above any of these other authors, for they have had the same driving desire to have their story told on the world’s largest stage as I have, and they never gave up which is a triumph unto itself. My biggest hurdle with my story was changing my writing style from “telling” to “showing,” so I’ve been there and know what it’s like. I was lucky to have my closest friends have the courage to provide me their honest feedback. My saving grace was my openness to criticism. Throughout writing my novel, my ‘skill’ did greatly improve which allowed me to go back and revise my earlier work; a necessary evil.

The sheer number of aspiring authors is still a wonder to behold, and its no wonder that this industry has erected numerous hurdles to prevent just anyone from taking a bite at the golden apple, such as Query Letters, Synopsis’, and author bio’s.  They sound simple, but they are a baited trap if I’ve ever seen one. Designed to filter out the masses, its no wonder agents refer to their submissions as “the slush pile.” Too many aspiring authors come and go, or give up along the way. It has become my goal to rise above, and float to the top of the slush, and I will share my imagination with the world. Persistence, the meticulous formatting and care given to my queries and synopsis, along with the continual refinement of my craft are what will separate me from the crowd. To be standing at the very edge, at the precipice, looking for a bridge to connect me to the global stage… to be so close, failure is not an option.