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.

 

A New Breath of Life for Serial Novels

A good friend of mine introduced me to a website called http://www.jukepopserials.com, a place that brings writers and readers together to enjoy the once popular publishing format of the serial novel. Made famous in 1836 by Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, a serial novel is (generally speaking) the controlled release of a chapter/installment at a time to the public. This is predominately performed during the composition phase where the writer finishes a chapter and publishes it, finishes another chapter and publishes it, as opposed to completing an entire novel and releasing it a chapter at a time. Often times, the readers provide feedback to the author. Charles Dickens was known to factor in that feedback when writing his subsequent installments.

JukePop Serials is bringing it back. They curate stories from around the world, one chapter at a time. They are available on the web, and on Android and Apple mobile devices. The readers get to vote on their favorite serials, and the top serials with the most votes get awarded money from the website on a monthly basis, and voting is what keeps the serials alive.

But before an author’s or writer’s first serial installment can be published on their site, it must first be approved in a very similar manner that you would submit to a magazine. Per their submissions page, they are currently accepting these genres: Adventure, American Gothic, Chick Lit, Crime, Cross-Genre, Dystopian, Fantasy, Horror, Modern Romance, Mystery, Paranormal, Sci Fi, Sci Fi Western, Slipstream, Steampunk, Superhero, Thriller, and Young Adult (plus any new genre that you may have invented). If your serial start is accepted, JukePop Serials pays up to 2 cents per word for up to 3,500 words. After which, an author becomes eligible for the monthly cash awards based on votes.

This is a very innovative way to leverage the technology of today to breath life into an old idea. As readers now have a streamlined method of connecting with the author and providing feedback, it builds upon that bond between the author and the reader. I think JukePop Serials will be a very successful site which I hope to publish on some day.

Creating a Believable Hero

Within the massive umbrella of the fiction genre, many authors choose to tell the tale of the adventures of some incredible hero. That hero could be incredible for many various reasons and is also the perfect person to overcome the conflict at hand, but they don’t always exhibit the fundamental qualities of a leader. Is every hero a leader? No. But does every hero lead?

The crux of that question is what I want to explore here. In a vast majority of fiction novels that involve the protagonist as a “hero”, the hero is always thrust into greatness – despite their initial hesitancy. They either already have the power or are given the power to be triumphant and save the day, but despite all that, they are not a leader by any stretch of the word. Sure, they may have followers throughout the novel, but it is not because of their innate leadership skill; it is because of the power they wield. It is the circumstance of great responsibility that they find themselves in which forces them to do what they think is right (usually after being coerced by peer pressure) despite wishing they weren’t involved at all.

Now, while it is an interesting dynamic to show how a hero has matured as a result of the quest/adventure (such as a coming of age story), the character still only holds Legitimate power, when they should have Referent and/or Expert power to be a successful leader. (More on the 5 different types of power Here). In my opinion, this “regular person as a hero” is a paradox that is found over and over again throughout stories that even date back to myth and legend (of which I wrote about here: The Hero with a 1,000 Faces).

What about the hero that forges his own destiny? That grabs life by the horns? That has worked all his/her life for this one moment? Sadly, we don’t see many stories of heroes like that. In fact, don’t those seem like traits usually found in the villains of our novels? Why does our culture craft stories that reward the unprepared and unmotivated hero, yet thwart the dedicated, scheming villain? I’m not saying the villain should win; I’m saying the roles should be reversed. A hero – that is also a leader – should have prepared his/her whole life for the quest that is laid before them. This hero would have a powerful influence over his/her followers and would likely change the entire dynamic of the story. Instead of a one-in-a-million success story, the reader will be on the edge of a potential tragedy, where the heroes’ entire purpose in life might all be for naught if he/she does not succeed.

Every author should, at the very least, do some minimal amount of research when engrossing themselves into the role of their hero/heroin. I am currently reading The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell to understand the characteristics that a true leader should exhibit. To name just a few:

  • Unselfishness
  • Vision
  • Influential
  • Willing to Sacrifice
  • Self-Discipline
  • A Planner
  • Respect
  • Intuition

While my first novel depicts a classic coming-of-age story, my second book is going down this path of depicting a main character that is both a leader and a hero. Now, you might be asking, “Should every hero be a leader?” I think that is something that only you can decide.