Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sandpaper Fidelity 1-10, a review

This was the last of my summer reading. I meant to only read the first five "issues" of this thing, but...well, I'll get into that soon enough.

My sometimes-drinking-buddy, Elizabeth Barone, started this publication with hopes of producing one volume once a month. But that interval shrunk and now we get one every week. That's ballsy--I wouldn't do it--and she has kept up with the pace so far.

Now, there are several things I fear when I read fiction from an author I have had some contact with. Maybe I'll completely abhor it--that's happened before with the ridiculously priced work of a person I knew in workshops. And if I do, can I review it the way I reviewed Pure by Julianna Baggott?













I couldn't acquire a jpeg of the cover for number 10. It's just as well; you get the idea.


 ***

Overview:

"Sandpaper Fidelity" follows the lives of two couples, best-friends David and Josalee, and Ingrid and Victor. David is a homosexual who lives with Josalee, an Asian. While Ingrid is a depressed out of work educator who lives with her employed, sex-addict boyfriend, Victor. The subjects explored in each issue range from pregnancy to financial strain. I don't want to be too specific here since it would give away many of the little surprises.




What didn't work for me:

Each issue of "Sandpaper Fidelity" gives sparse details about its protagonists, ala Hemingway's short stories, that give you a glimpse into their inner but not their outer lives. I don't know much about Josalee, aside that she is Japanese and that she is currently going through some tough medical times. Victor is a mystery. And I'm not sure I understand Ingrid's decisions. David is slowly becoming more interesting per issue.

Of course, this is the start of a series that will continue on for some time. Elizabeth has her work cut out for her to fill out the characters she has created.

Issues 9 and 10 have a development for the character, Ingrid, that I think is fantastic. Mind you, desperate people will look for unusual avenues to earn money to pay their bills, but I feel like Ingrid seeks these avenues a little too quickly. The avenue she pursues (at least it hints that she will pursue it) is an industry that IS hiring right now--I even saw on the news that these establishments were offering to pay for college tuition bills to recruit new talent. The problem is that it is too much too soon. Had it been developed over several issues, I might have accepted it.




What worked for me:

It surprised me. The first issue was not exactly a grabber and I read issue 2 because I had  bought it, but the subsequent issues drew me in. You do get caught up in the lives of these characters and after I read the first four issues, I bought the rest up to issue 10.

Part of this allure, I think, has to do with the way Elizabeth approaches each issue.
 
They are each short enough to be called flash fiction, which means you can read these in less than thirty minutes. I'll be frank when I say that I didn't think it would work. It seemed too dificult to build interest with flash fiction that doesn't complete the tales it starts. I was wrong.
 
The advantage to this approach is that you don't tire out your reader. But it is risky too. Like I said, the first issue wasn't a grabber, but slowly the others grabbed. Little by little, they work their fingers of fiction into your mind.
 
And the subject matter is very intriguing. I won't give too much away, but it dabbles in the risque. And I do hope that she dabbles more in those subjects. But in a realistic manner, lacking melodrama and heavy-handed techniques to force someone to feel something for the situations presented. She has done well enough so far, and I think it will develop once she reaches her stride. Already the makings of strong storylines exist.
 
The focus is also excellent. I didn't once feel overwhelmed with unnecessary characters--a wise thing with so short a canvas to work with. The storylines stick with its two main couples. In each issue we see their simple situations approached in an honest manner. There is very little sensationalism aside from what I mentioned. So, their reactions, including Ingrid in those first few issues, was a treat to read. I'm curious to see how David finally reveals the dark truth he has learned to Josalee. And I want to see how Victor struggles with his personal, sexual difficulty.

I want to read more.



Overall:

For all the reasons that it shouldn't have grabbed me, "Sandpaper Fidelity" did. I'll wait for another ten issues to come along before I get them (that's just my preference). But I definitely will. Also, Elizabeth is often giving these things away, so look for these announcements on her website.
 
In the future I hope we see more of the city they are in. And more of the other supporting characters that make up the background of the main characters. I hope we continue to see situations handled honestly and realistically, as we have for the most part.

If you want cheap fiction that grabs you, give this a try. It might surprise you too.




LC



*Disclaimer: Elizabeth Barone is not my drinking buddy. I haven't even met her!







Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Vaempires: White Christmas, a review

The loving heat here in Southern California has kept me from my work. To be specific, it has kept me from work at home. The laptop is too warm. My eyes are tired. And the Fall semester has just started. But, I still have vision enough to review the last couple of things I read this summer. Sadly, I didn't get to read as much as I wanted to.

This was one of them: Vaempires: White Christmas by Thomas Winship.





I didn't say this before, but the covers to this one and Vaempires: Revolution are very catchy.




I'm currently learning about graphic design using Adobe's Creative Suite 6, so I'm appreciating the artwork differently. All very well done.

***

Overview:

Daniel, Cassandra, and the Vaempires return for a prelude that explores the world of Vaempires: Revolution a little further. The premise is that months before the events of the first book in the series, the leaders of this imagined world must find a diplomatic solution to the decaying relations between Humans, Vampires and Vaempires--mostly the anger rising in the Vaempire race over the failure of science to find a synthetic substitute to Vampire blood (which they need for sustenance).


What didn't work for me:

This isn't really a gripe, but Vaempires: White Christmas would not make sense if you didn't read Vaempires: Revolution. It is an excellent companion novela, but on its own it lacks certain elements that would make it a complete story--the ending only foreshadows the devastation of Vaempires: Revolution. Yet, I have to believe that Mr. Winship meant it to be this way, which is why it's not really a grip.

One thing that both worked for me and didn't work for me (odd) was the way in which Daniel gushes over Cassandra. OMG! Yes, I said that like a teen girl. OMG... It was a little too much for me. I understood that Daniel has strong feelings for her, but come on... come on... did we really need to say, "He looked at her and time froze"? Maybe just a tea-spoon of that would have done it. But I did say that it also worked for me, so I'll explain that in the next section.

There was a curious omission near the end. The whole purpose of the meeting in the mountains was to reveal a certain scientist's findings on the Vaempires. I'm not sure I got what the revelation was, but I have my guesses. It didn't have to be new information (I think it had to do with the Vaempires' mutant powers), but that wasn't explicitly said.


What worked for me:

Let me make a few points:

*This has quiet moments! The first novel in the Vaempires series is non-stop action, but White Christmas takes time to develop the private lives of its protagonists (Daniel directly and Cassandra indirectly). It's running theme is restraint

It is the yang to the ying of Vaempires: Revolution and its exploration of the evolved man. The story looks at the restraint shown between two teens who have an attraction to one another; it explores the restraint of politicians before deciding on military action; and yessssss, it looks at the restraint of our nature--those chains that culture and society place on the animal inside all of us. 

*Yes, the teenage love that Daniel feels for his Cassandra was excellent. I had to appreciate it as a writer. Puppy love is very difficult to draw because male teens react to it in such an amplified way. Here that is given to you in all its glory. The POV, which excludes Cassandra a lot of the time, works perfectly to create this fantasy world in Daniel's head.

Oh, if I didn't relate to it, I don't think I would have believed it. But it's all there. The way in which we deify the object of affection. The ridiculous conclusions we come to when she says something or doesn't say something. The way we interpret their every move. The only thing missing was the wet dreams. It's an interesting study in teen male psychology and effective characterization; it filled in Daniel more than the first novel did.

*The reason I felt so strongly about this prelude was its treatment of political haggling. You can't call it anything else. It's haggling. Within the same nation you have these two factions, the Vampires and Vaempires, who are unwilling to come to peaceful solutions to their problems. It is clear that the Vaempires desire outrageous steps from the Vampire government and are too proud to compromise; their absurd wish to see a prominent member of their race married to Princess Cassandra as a token of peace is a throwback to the days when marriage forged treaties. 

But it isn't just the Vaempires at fault. The Vampire leaders have an equal share in this fault. Oh, yes, the book hints that Vampires are the source of the Vaempire aggression. It's the type of story that doesn't paint one side "good" or "evil". 

Look at the way the Vampire king refuses to acknowledge them as a people, even though they are obviously a different race of humans. Look at the way they refuse to invite representatives of this mutant race to their political table. Look at the way the leaders of the world treat the Vaempire mutation as a disease to cure. Though well-meaning, the Vampire government breeds the hatred that will destroy it in Vaempires: Revolution

It is a beautiful allegory for our the race relations in our country, and perhaps in countries abroad. I read the Federalist Papers after reading this, particularly Number 14 by James Madison--it is ever relevant in subject matter. 


Overall:

I'm looking forward to the next installment of the Vaempire series (called The Evolutionary War). I warn you that you should read Vaempires: Revolution before attempting to read this one. Once you have, you will have a greater appreciation for the characters involved in this tale. 

Vaempires: White Christmas, is well woven with comedy and a stern look at interracial political dealings. But it is fun the way this vampire story explores a world where they are no longer the monsters in horror movies. It's an excellent read. 





LC

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Revision, 2

Well, now that my laptop has overcome that DNS failure that's bugged me for the past two days--and my fingers have recovered from writing that lengthy post about the first revision--it's time I approach the next stage in the revision. No, not the second revision, not yet.

Before I start, let me mention some of my preferences while performing the revision process.


  • I work on my computer screen; the idea of lugging around a ream of paper is not pleasant.
  • My work stays with me in a USB drive so that if I need to, I can use any computer w/MS Word.
  • The place where I perform my revisions is irrelevant; it's unlike my writing process. 



***

After the first revision, the manuscript of The Quantum of the Past was 530 pages long, in Times New Roman, 12 point font, double-spaced format. The MS Word software tells me that it has just over 159,000 words; if I were to calculate the word count for a submission, it would be closer to 170,000 words!

Now, I want to get the manuscript to an ideal length (ideal according to me, not because of any industry standard--it is just MY preference). This isn't just a random whim, it's a technique I use.

I call it, playing the accordion. As you may or may not know, an accordion is a musical instrument you compress and expand to get it to play music. What I do is essentially the same. During the first revision, I'm expanding the accordion, adding details to the story to get the continuity straight.

After the first revision, I compress the accordion: I set a page or word count goal and then comb through the manuscript deleting, adjusting, compressing it to get it to that magical number I came up with.

The idea is to force me out of that comfort zone that I end up in after the first revision--I often feel the manuscript is ready after I've combed through it once.

For me, 500 pages in the format I mentioned or 150,000 words is an ideal length. Since trimming pages is easier than trimming words, I set out to nibble the manuscript down by 30 pages.

My novel is divided into 3 volumes. The first and third volumes are the shortest, while the second volume could be a novel on its own. This means that I'm going to focus on volume two.

Note: As I write this, I've already finished. And let me tell you, it was a fight to get those last eight pages trimmed!

To shorten a manuscript, I use the following techniques:
  1. Delete dead space.
  2. Delete unnecessary events.
  3. Combine chapters.


1. Deleting dead space

Every line in my manuscript adds to the overall page sum. Sometimes, I'll end up with a chapter that has a last page that looks like this:





It has five lines total and then dead space. It's not a terrible thing, but I am trying to delete pages. So, to trim this last page, I'd have to delete five or six lines within the chapter.

Note: I could also change the settings in MS Word to allow more lines per page, but that defeats the purpose of this exercise.

In any chapter, dead space will also look like the highlighted text:




There's dead space following the word "thing" in the dialogue highlighted. To get rid of those five lines at the end of the chapter, I had to revise that dead space.

Here is what it looks like revised:



The dead space is gone. You are essentially rewording sentences so that they say the same thing, using less words. 

Note: At this stage, it would be counter-productive to eliminate the dead space from chapters that do not have short last pages. I won't do this until it is absolutely necessary.

Note: If I had changed the font to Courier New, the dead space might have disappeared in the example above, but it would have created new dead space somewhere else. Again, the point of this exercise isn't to tweak the software properties, but to delete and compress material.



2. Delete unnecessary events

It would be wonderful if I could trim the page count by just eliminating dead space in the manuscript. Unfortunately, eliminating dead space only took me so far to meet my goal. I didn't despair though. There are other techniques and this section describes one of them.

You may or may not be able to tell, but The Quantum of the Past is relatively enormous for a work of Fantasy. This means that there more than likely is an abundance of unnecessary events described. Like I said in the post about the first revision, the word "unnecessary" is subjective. The truth is I could publish the manuscript as is and it would not be the longest or shortest novel out there.

But my inner author's voice is telling me to go through it and delete thirty pages and so I will.

As I executed the first revision, I targeted some events that were problematic for a number of reasons: Pacing; tone; relevance. Unfortunately, I can't give you screenshots of "before" and "after" the revision because it would take up too much room.

Example: In The Quantum of the Past, there was a chapter near the climax where the antagonist speaks with one of his men to discuss the details of the battle that follows. These events had some purpose, as a side note to the philosophy of the story. It looked good during the drafting stage, but after considering what it contained, I deleted the entire chapter. Sadly, this didn't help me with the page count since I deleted it during the first revision, not during the compression stage. 

Another trick is to summarize events I described in detail. Events, like I said, can be described in great detail or summarized. This means that every event described can be compressed or expanded, like the musical accordion. I choose the events to summaruring the first revision and then in this stage, all I have to do is turn them into exposition.

Note: For this technique to be effective, I had to maintain the pace and tone of the chapters I wanted to alter--I don't want to overload chapters with exposition. But during this step, I won't worry too much about it. In the second revision I will, when I consider the elements of style.

Note: This doesn't always work out perfectly the first time. That is why I always keep track of what I do by creating different files and folders for work that is in different stages of the writing process. The version I first write is what I call the Rough Draft. These are all different files in my computer and in different folders appropriately named Rough Drafts, Revised Drafts, Working Drafts.



3. Combine chapters

I mentioned earlier that I had deleted an entire chapter. But there is a difference between deleting a chapter and combining two. 

Combining chapters is a very difficult thing to do in a novel because each chapter, supposedly, has its own identity. It is a part of a whole with its own events and at times uses the elements of fiction in its own unique way. For example, look at the way that Fitzgerald jumps into Second Person in one of the chapters in The Great Gatsby (I won't say which, but it's a real wonderful thing to read because of what it accomplishes). Also, the first chapter of Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy is in the present tense and shifts to past tense and then stays there for most of the novel. And who of course there is James Joyce's Ulysses, whose every chapter utilizes different literary techniques. 

In my experience, I found that combining chapters works when the chapters are similar enough to one another and are in sequence (as in combining chapter 40 with chapter 41).

Also, I won't just delete the word "Chapter" in the heading, I'll have to trim the ending of one chapter and trim the beginning of the next. Why? The ending of your chapter may include mini-cliffhangers or foreshadowing (George R. R. Martin is notorious for ending his POV chapters with mini-cliffhangers that don't get resolved until you read the character's next POV chapter). I included these things too, so I will trim the endings.

Then, I will add transitional phrases or paragraph(s) to tie into the beginning of the next chapter. With that complete, I will have a new chapter that is the length of two chapters. Not much of a gain, right? This is where deleting unnecessary events, compressing detailed events, and eliminating dead space comes in handy again. I will accordion what I need to from each of the two chapters combined.

The point is to extract enough of each chapter to allow for a new chapter to emerge that is approximately the same length as one of the two combined. It will look ugly when finished. Again, I won't stress too much about this until the second revision.

The rough draft of The Quantum of the Past had 71 chapters total, not counting the prologue and epilogue. After this stage in the revision process, the total chapter count is now 68.


***


And when all was said and done, boys and girls, the manuscript of The Quantum of the Past was 498 pages long. I was officially ready for the second revision.




LC











Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Revision, 1

No, I didn't forget that I had to write a post about how different the revision process is from the editing and copy-editing process. It always helps if you're working on a project when describing techniques and it happens that I am! I'll go over the revision process while revising The Quantum of the Past.

Besides, it beats being outside in that miserable heat... 

**Disclaimer: The techniques I'm going to describe will help me prepare my novel for self-publishing. This means I'm going to work in a manuscript format that may or may not be accepted by a traditional publisher or literary agent.**

So, here goes...

The First Revision


Note: I will refrain from using the word "edit" and its derivatives in my descriptions to prevent confusion when I talk about the editing process. Here I acknowledge that in everyday use, revision and edit are interchangeable. To a writer, however, these are not and cannot be interchangeable. And also, I will refrain from using qualitative statements about the reader experience or how "they" will react to this or that--at this point I'm focusing on the fundamentals of fiction.


***

So, what was I doing with The Quantum of the Past all this time? You saw the progress bar go up by certain percentage points every day and on a certain day I said I had finished. Now the progress bar reset for "revision 2", but didn't one revision suffice? 

A revision requires reading. This whole time I've been reading the manuscript of The Quantum of the Past, from beginning to end. But the reading is more involved. It's a type of reading I call the first revision. I didn't pick up the manuscript as soon as I finished it either. It has sat in my computer since last October. 

And here I will go at length when describing this process. My goal is to push away any writer looking for a quick fix to their problems. I am not posting for them (and there are honestly maaaaany other places that will cater to them). This is for writers who want to enrich their understanding of what it is that we do. 

Note: A revision is not the same thing as a rewrite. There are many places that use both terms interchangeably, but like revision and edit, they are vastly different processes.

The first revision requires the following of me:

  1. An initial check of the language, dialogue, descriptions, narrative.
  2. Tighten the continuity of the plot.
  3. Fix errors.
  4. Note places that are problematic for future revisions.



1. Initial check of the language

While drafting a story, I like to push forward to complete the manuscript. Overdoing one element or another is a consequence of this and so is awkward language, but it's worth it; having a draft of a novel is better than none at all. Here is an example from The Quantum of the Past:

The wife entered the room at this precise moment and said something in Spanish though Miles knew she spoke English too. Enrique answered and the two exchanged a few comments and laughed and Enrique said something else and she laughed and all the while Miles stared and smiled out of courtesy, but it bit into him to see them alienate him like that and it bit hard.

It's a little confusing with so many "and"s joining the elements of that second sentence. As a side-note, I did this so much in my manuscript that it constituted a good 20% of my work.

It seems like this overuse should go in the "Error" section, but that would be hasty. The real problem is that, for stylistic reasons, a writer may depart from accepted rules of English grammar usage. Fragments are acceptable, and so are single word sentences, and an overdose of conjunctions like "and."

The easy way for me to fix this is to separate elements in the problem sentence, like so:

The wife entered at this precise moment and said something in Spanish. Enrique answered and she laughed. The two exchanged a few comments more, laughing. All the while Miles stared and smiled out of courtesy, but it bit into him to see them alienate him like that.

I had to evaluate the information the sentence introduced and then delete what was unnecessary. Here, the word "unnecessary" is completely subjective. You may have reworked that sentence differently, based on what you deemed unnecessary. I could also have kept most of the information in the problematic example by simply creating more sentences.

Another example of awkward language is redundancy. I cleared away redundant phrases or comments. Like this:

He put the hat on his head and stood up from the chair and left through the door.

Do you see? Saying that he put the hat on his head is redundant. It is assumed that the hat goes on your head when you put it on. Also, it is redundant to say that you are getting up from the chair, especially if you've already mentioned that this person is sitting on one. And unless the circumstances are peculiar, it is assumed he/she will use the door to exit.

He put on his hat and left.

It would also be redundant to say that I put my gloves on my hands or that I kissed you with my lips or that I chewed the steak with my teeth, etc.

Note: Please do not conclude that I am a subscriber to a Minimalist philosophy in fiction. Eliminating redundancy is not Minimalism.

Here I will say that I'm never on the lookout for grammatical errors like dangling modifiers, sentences without subjects, problems with subject-verb agreement, and the like. It is my belief that if you attempt to write fiction, then you have an expert's knowledge of English grammar.

This doesn't mean that I never find these in a manuscript. It means that if you repeatedly make these mistakes, then perhaps what you need is a remedial course in English, not a blog post that discusses the revision process. Or at least keep this in your bag during revisions (I do):



As for dialogue, I gave it a first look, not too thorough. What I was mainly worried about was dialogue that lingered on and on for no reason other than to speak. Again, I looked for redundant statements and unneeded tags. Because this is just a first reading, it would be counter-productive to obsess over what the dialogue sounds like. That's a project for a future reading. 



2. Tighten the continuity of the plot


The main reason I read the manuscript the first time is to tighten the continuity of the plot. My stories always evolve as I'm writing them, so that elements, names, plot points, change as I write. I think it is counter-productive to stop drafting to go back and straighten everything out. It is more efficient to rework these altered elements during the first revision.

One of the details that changed in The Quantum of the Past was the name of the antagonists. Originally, the enemy were the Demons, but that changed to the Stagnant. This seems like a simple enough thing to change; have MS Word do a Find and Replace search. But it was not. It wasn't just the name that changed, but the idea of these beings.

At least, MS Word helped me a little. To correct this continuity hiccup, I searched the document for all the uses of the word "demon." I evaluated each sentence that contained the term and revised it. Even then I had to highlight these places so that when I come up on them during the second reading, I can further evaluate them to see that they were not confusing or erroneous.

The way in which the novel ends also affects the continuity of the plot. I sometimes start in one place and plan to end in another, but the details change even while my goals do not. Confusing? It helps to look at that graphically:



I always know I'm going to start at A and end at Z, but as I draft the novel, Z becomes a line with many different points. Depending on my author's intent, I may choose one point along Z over others.

Maybe B or F are the best places to end along Z because they allow for an easier transition into the next installment of the series (if it is part of a series). This means the novel will end with a cliffhanger or a new character introduced that asks that the others join him/her on a new quest. Examples of this are easy to find: The end of A Dance With Dragons; the end of the novels in the Pendragon series; the end of Mr. Winship's first book in the Vaempires series.

Maybe I want the series to continue but don't want this novel to be seen as just a piece of a puzzle. So I choose to end at C or E because they transition quietly into the next installment of the series. An example of this is how J.K. Rowling ends the first book in the Harry Potter series--it could easily be a one-shot. Another example is the way in which Lois Lowry ends The Giver, ambiguous but with the possibility of continuation. The novels in Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe series also follow this technique.

Maybe I just want this to be a one-shot and decide on D because it gives the novel a greater sense of completion. The ending is definitive. There are no important lingering questions. Life goes on as usual for the protagonist and the secondary characters. The promise of continuation is not there and the author will make sure there is no sense of something missing. An example of this is the way Dashiell Hammett ends The Maltese Falcon.

The question for me while writing The Quantum of the Past was do I end in B/F or C/D? There was no question in the beginning that this novel was part of a series. But how obvious did I want to be about it? I chose C/D because I believe that novels in a lengthy series should feel complete. This is not the approach I took with my other novel, Absolution for different reasons--namely that it is part of a trilogy and I wanted each piece of the trilogy linked and so I chose B/F along Z.

When I made the decision to go with C/D, it meant the events of the plot had to lead to this conclusion. In other words, no cliffhangers, no stopping the action right in the middle. Foreshadowing and allusions to greater and future plots were my allies. 



3. Fix errors

There are several types of errors that I look for while performing the first revision: Logical; spatial; temporal; errors in the elements of fiction; forgotten specific details.

A) Logical errors occur when the novel fails to follow its own logic or world rules. This is mostly a problem of genre fiction, like Fantasy, but it occurs in Literary work too. But because The Quantum of the Past is Fantasy, I will focus on that.

Here are some of the circumstances that lead to this type of error: Flimsy world/magic rules; failing to establish an exception to the rules early on; not following magical rules; wrong consequences to breaking a rule; ever-changing rules; a dependence on luck to solve problems.

If you have werewolves that change only during a full moon, then it would be problematic if they suddenly change in the middle of the day or on a moonless night. If there is a toll to performing magic in your world, then it would be problematic if the main character overcomes this toll time and time and time again, just barely enduring the strain to save the day--there is a certain finesse to do this in a believable way. If your character overcomes the majority of his/her obstacles for no other reason than he/she is lucky, then it is problematic.

If the rules of your world change per chapter, then this is problematic (i.e. if you establish in chapter 1 that trolls can only come out at night, but in chapter 2 you present a special type of troll that can come out during the day and wipe out a village as a result, and in chapter 3 you establish that troll hunters are part of an all-male brotherhood, and in chapter 4 your female heroine somehow joins the hunters to find these mysterious new trolls, and in chapter 5 you establish that no magical weapons exist to kill these new trolls, and in chapter 6 a wizard comes who says there is one magical weapon left and the hunters must find it, etc.). Do you see how this plot is filled with exceptions to the rules?

Establishing few exceptions to rules is a simple way to clear this type of error. Maybe you mention that there is this rare breed of werewolves that can change at will, without the need of a full moon (like in the Underworld series). Maybe your character can suffer the strain of the magic toll because he sacrifices a bit of his soul to do so. 

And if luck is your main character's best friend, then reconsider for the sake of exploring the strengths of your character further (this means you, Patrick Rothfuss!). 

Note: I would never say that you should eliminate all instances of chance in your writing. Luck is a fickle thing that writers have to deal with creatively. The truth is that the strength of the story does not depend on how much of it you include (just look at The Name of the Wind). 


B) Spatial errors occur because the action in an event is confusing and so characters are in places they ought not to be or it is difficult to picture how they interact in a given space/setting. I noticed that these occur more frequently in events where many characters must interact and the action consists of more than dialogue, like fight sequences, dances, banquets, parties, etc.

What helps me most to fix this type of mistake is event planning. In Urban Fantasy it is possible that you have pictures of the places where fights, dances, dinners, etc. occur. They key is to have a well-defined idea of the setting where the action takes place. This way you can visualize the characters and even make diagrams of a battle, fights, and other social encounters. 

This is one error that I take the time to fix. I can't stand my own work when the action is confusing and I can't keep track of what the characters are doing. It was especially challenging for me when the main characters were joined by half a dozen others with very unique abilities. 


C) Temporal errors occur because events of the plot do not take place within the alloted time-span of the novel. If your heroes must return to the holy city with the sacred artifact before the next full moon, that gives them a specific timetable to complete their quest. But if the events require more time than the premise allows, you have a problem. 

I fix these errors easy with a calendar. Mind you, that it may mean the deletion of an event if it doesn't fit in the timetable or an increase in the allotted time (maybe they have until two full moons from now). There are cheats, of course, like magical artifacts that can make the characters travel faster or that slow down time.

In The Quantum of the Past, I had to use a combination of expanding the timetable and measuring (to a horrid degree of accuracy) the amount of time each event took the characters to complete and how far along the calendar it moved the plot. I had to examine traveling modes, walking, vehicle speeds, horse speeds, etc.

Here I talk about trying to fit events into a tight timetable, but what if the opposite was true? If your characters have only two events in their quest and they finish them fairly quickly, it leaves a ton of empty space. 

The temptation is to use what I call filler-events to close the gap. If your characters enter a sub-plot that has no real connection to the overall plot, then it's possible you're doing it to fill a gap. A timetable that's too loose requires me to go back and fix the timetable and the plot. Shrinking the timetable works, but that means reworking key elements of your plot. It's tough work that requires an enormous amount of thinking and creativity because you are basically doing a soft-rewrite. 


D) Errors in the elements of fiction describe mistakes in characterization, dialogue, and other elements of fiction. The most common ones I make are characterization errors.

To be memorable, I try to give my characters a certain way of thinking and speaking. If you think about it, that's the way we are. Someone who is a political conservative won't be anywhere near an abortion rally; you might find them at a right-to-life rally. Someone who is a vegetarian or vegan would be out of place in a Burger King or McDonalds. A chauvinistic male would find it difficult to watch a romance comedy. Etc.

The examples I gave are extreme. Most men and women are not. And neither should my characters. But I do like them to have their opinions about things and act accordingly. Errors occur when characters act and say things that violate their characterization in a blatant way that is not the result of personal growth.

Writers will make this type of error to advance their plots. If your vegan decides to, what the hell, eat a burger and it ends up being tainted with germs so that they become sick to the point of nearly dying and they have an epiphany about their lives as a result, and then it advances the plot of your story--which was that a woman in her mid thirties was trying to find herself in middle age. That's a blatant disregard for characterization to advance the plot.

Current Urban Fantasy trend: Another example of this error is the tough-as-nails heroine making a foolish decision that she never would have made under other circumstances and which the bad guy (who is also her lover) takes advantage of--all to build the tension of the events that lead to the climax.


E) Forgotten specific details are the result of specific details of characters and/or settings changing as the novel progresses. In the prologue I said MC is a dark haired man with gray eyes, but by the end of the novel I describe how MC's blue eyes and blonde hair radiate after completing the quest. Oops! I have made this type of mistake with these items too: A character's car color/make; furniture in apartments/dwellings; shoes; clothing; and unique characteristics like family crests.

MC: Main character. The problem is that the most forgettable specific details are the ones that don't really play a role in the overall plot; we all remember the lightning bolt on Harry Potter's forehead, but what color were his eyes (yes, I remember that they were like his mother's)? This is also true of specific details in the secondary and tertiary characters. And, settings where very little action takes place are a source of this type of error too.

The only solutions I've come up with are: 1) To keep track of settings with a setting sheet and characters with a character sheet; 2) A careful set of eyes when performing revision readings; 3) a careful and willing test reader.


Disclaimer: Just because I'm talking about these errors now does not mean that I will always catch them during this stage in the revision process! Some of these errors are notoriously difficult to spot and they sometimes require a second set of eyes to find--and sometimes they are never found, right George R. R. Martin?

Examples: If you want an example of these errors in action, read The Angel Experiment by James Patterson. I don't want to rag on a popular book, but this particular one has the five types of errors I talk about in this section! And it is part of the reason why I think that having your work edited by "an industry expert" doesn't necessarily produce a quality novel.



4. Note places that are problematic for future revisions

Of course, a thorough reading like the one I described above leaves you exhausted. This means I can't solve all the problems I find while reading. Or I won't really understand why a chapter or event is problematic until I've given it some thought.

So, I leave them alone. I highlight them in the document and move forward. My mind works on the problem subconsciously; my progress does not stall as a result. 

That's all I can really do. I mean I am human.

***

That was it, right? That million word post had to be the entire revision process...but it's not. What I described in this post is what I do during the first revision. My future posts on the subject will explore the second revision and the working draft.




LC






Wednesday, August 15, 2012

August

I may have been a bit ambitious when I said I would have the first volume of The Quantum of the Past published before the 31st. It was a good idea at the time or was it? 

It was a bad idea. To really appreciate why that is, I have to walk you through MY revision process. I try to be as thorough as possible when revising, which is why it takes so long. I devote a good month to it, unless the project is particularly difficult and requires time to solidify in my mind. It's the reason why I have yet to draft the missing chapters of The Sprite so I can send it off and why I haven't jumped into the drafting of that second contest story. 

Here is my revision process:

I: The first revision.

II: The second revision.

III: The working draft.

I wish that they took place in that order. Because a novel has sections to it, those we call chapters, it is possible to do a second revision of an early chapter while doing a first revision of the rest of the novel. This was the case with The Quantum of the Past. I reworked the Prologue, which I posted long ago. I'll add it to the Chasing the Coyote tab in this blog. 

***

During August, I also want to do some reading that I promised myself I would get done before the new semester at Long Beach State starts.





Vaempires: White Christmas, a prequel to the first novel in the Revolutionary Wars series by Thomas Winship.



 


Next is the literary series I had been anticipating for a while. They are short enough to read in one sitting. Here is Elizabeth Barone's Sandpaper Fidelity series (#1-4). The series has gone up to 9, I think, so in coming months I'll read and review them, four at a time.








And last is Shalini Boland's second entry into the Marchwood Vampire series. I'm not sure what to expect of the second entry since the first entry felt complete. But that's a good thing and I look forward to reading this. 


***

One of my reviews is up for a Blog Award! My review on the first installment of Tom Winship's Vaempires series seems very popular. I hope it wins for his sake. 

Lately, I've read and read novels that I haven't reviewed. This doesn't mean I've lost the spirit to do a review on these novels. No, sir. It just means that they are of such quality that to add another good review seems irrelevant.

What can I say about Jack London and his Call of the Wild that hasn't already been said? How much more praise can I give Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game? Those were phenomenal stories. Jack London I plan to read in the future for my development as a writer.





LC

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Scenes and Shakespeare by the Sea

Yesterday, I went to Point Fermin in San Pedro to watch Romeo and Juliet. At night it was still chilly enough for me to have to wear my jacket. Luckily, Bartholomew and his wife brought wine and beer to keep us warm.  

The performance was excellent, I thought. Beyond that, this particular play by Shakespeare has its own sense of doomed innocence that speaks of our world, even today. 

But, that is not why I went yesterday. I wanted to refresh my ideas about plays before writing about scenes--I watch plenty of movies, but not enough plays. In my neverending quest to understand fiction, I've come across many misconceptions. If you recall, in the post about "show, don't tell", I mentioned I stopped using the term "scene" when speaking of fiction. 

Here is why:

***

I don't own newer books on fiction and writing--they are all like cookbooks with recipes, formulas, mantras aimed at simplifying the writing process. Now, I don't have anything against writers giving advice, but the advice handed down in these books is of a prescriptive nature: If you follow these simple steps, you'll produce award winning (best selling) fiction! 

Aside from offering formulas and mantras, these writing books don't really discuss writing. They don't help you understand things beyond a superficial level. I often read from a "textbook" on writing from the 1970s by Rust Hills. It doesn't give you formulas. It just discusses the elements of fiction, writing in general, and techniques. That little book provides a very different experience. You are not asked to mimic examples to get you on your way; it asks that you stay and read things and read things again and think about them. 

One of the issues it delves into is the misconception about scenes in prose fiction. Even decades ago, this writer knew there is something problematic about saying that a novel or short story contains scenes. It struck me and made me curious. And when I get curious about something, I analyze it to death. 

I discovered the words in that old book were very true. The simple production of Romeo and Juliet proved that a scene in theater is different than what we do in a short story or novel. And this is also true of scenes in film. 

Of course, I would be lying if I said there aren't similarities between the three--they use some of the same elements of fiction for one. But, consider that an apple and an orange are also similar; they are both fruits and share the observable characteristics of fruits. However, anyone who has ever eaten an apple and an orange knows that the differences far outweigh the similarities. 

It is the same between theater and film and prose fiction.  

In theater, a scene is part of an act. It is a continuous element and actors only get one shot at executing their performances--no one yells, "cut!" when an actor makes a mistake. The sets of a scene are carefully constructed and are static while the action takes place, but no less helpful in setting the mood and tone. 

In a film, a scene is composed of shots. Actors may perform the action in a shot multiple times. And during editing, some elements may be altered to fit the overall vision of the filmmaker. And naturally, there is freedom in a film too as the action may take place in real world settings instead of a fabricated stage set. 

Watch a movie and watch a play. Do you see how vastly different one is from the other? There are similarities, sure, but the differences far outweigh them. Neither is better than the other--the word "better" does not apply. They are different forms of art and enjoyable in their own unique ways. It is because of this that it confuses me to hear a writer talk about a scene in a novel or short story or read those books about writing fiction that have formulas on how to write "engaging scenes." 

So, what is it that we do in fiction if not craft scenes? 

The author narrates a series of events with prose that is often laced in varying degrees with their voice or the voice of the narrating character if the story is in First Person. Depending on the author's intent, they may go into vast detail about some events (which many writers mistake as scenes) or they may summarize all but one event or a sequence of events. These events contain action that helps to develop the other elements of fiction, like characterization and plot.

I have said it before and will say it again. All you really need to learn to write fiction is to read a published work of fiction, novel or short story.  

And that's all the confusion I'm going to share today. I'm working on the posts about the revision process and reading The Quantum of the Past and preparing to dive into Ascension and thinking about the next short story I'm going to submit to the Writers of the Future Contest, etc. etc. etc.

And so it goes.


LC