Description: The most important thing no one should notice.

Description: The most important thing no one should notice.

Greetings all,

We’re still quiet on the Weech front in terms of announcements, so that gives me an opportunity to just talk about the craft.

Cover
I’m currently reviewing stories from the Unfettered II anthology. Here’s the most recent one

If you read any of my book reviews, you’ll see that I evaluate a book on a specific set of criteria: Character, Worldbuilding, Dialogue, Description, and Exposition. I’m of the opinion that if you’re really good at just one of those categories, someone will be interested in your book. The more you improve your ability in all of those categories, the more readers will appreciate your work. Sure, genre plays a role. Frankly a romance author could knock all those categories out of the park, and I’d never know because I just don’t like the genre. But in a world of averages, I feel my theory is true.

I’ve spoken about character before, and as I was brainstorming on what I wanted to write about, description popped into my head.

I affirm that description is critical, but it must be enough to help activate the senses, but not so much to notice. Therefore, description is the most important characteristic of a book that must never be noticed.

So I want you to do an experiment. You can follow along with me if you wish. Start by pulling up your current work in progress. If you don’t have a work in progress, write a couple hundred words.

Here is a scene from Images of Truth, the first book in the Perception of War saga:


 

shipfighter
Concept rendering of a Snake, a specops fighter from Perception of War.

The Var’lechen seemed to be the antithesis of Volition ideals. Where a Volition would only die to protect others and only fight so others didn’t have to, Var’lechen seemed to be willing to kill anyone so long as they drew blood. True, Var’lechen and Volition were equally willing to die, but the Var’lechen seemed to be willing to exchange death if only to increase the destruction.

“Barrick,” Bani said. “I have an idea.”

Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige listened even as ships passed by so quickly they seemed like only streaks of light to him.

“I’m open to ideas,” the human pilot grunted.

“I want you to fly straight at one of them.”

The silence matched Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige’s thoughts. Was he seeking a sacrificial death?

“Trust me,” Bani said. “Go straight at one of the bastards.”

Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige’s craft shifted, and the thrusters behind him flared as he headed directly toward an enemy.

I come to you willingly (MOON GOD).  Please let this death be worthy of entrance to your hallowed halls. 

The enemy craft’s thrusters burst to life to charge at Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige’s fighter. I fought for my comrades. I die so they don’t have to. I don’t know how to protect Barrick and Zango. Forgive me for that.

With 4-1 odds, the Var’lechen was more than willing to sacrifice himself in exchange for one (SNAKE).  Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige considered trying to fire, but freighter was still right behind the enemy.

The Var’lechen charged. Netriod, I will miss you, my friend.

The enemy fighter burst. Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige’s craft zipped through a quickly fading ball of fire. For an instant, he as washed in light, and then it faded.

“Figured they’d be willing to fly right into you,” Bani explained. “So we took advantage of their suicidal focus to shoot them down while they were focused on you.”

So it wasn’t to be. It wasn’t a truly worthy death anyway, Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige thought, trying to tamp down his disappointment. I’m glad my death didn’t require Zango and Barrick’s. That much was true. A true Volition would never want others to die with him. But am I cursed to live forever?

A strange thought entered Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige’s mind. He pictured the crew laughing and sitting together at the fire on (GYPSY PLANET). He thought of times he and Netriod played (SPACE CHESS) together. (MOON GOD) help me! Could I truly be wanting to live?


 

Hopefully, you have something up in front of you.  Now, what I want you to do first is just read your scene.

Things to note:  This is a discovery draft. There are details here that are buried in my notes somewhere and notes to myself that I need to address. I don’t let any of that get in the way of my writing. I make the notes and KEEP DRAFTING! I’ll address the issues in the next draft. I recommend you do the same.

Back on track.  After reading your draft, ask yourself:

What do I see?

What do I hear?

What do I smell?

What do I taste?

What do I feel?

I’m going to go back to my segment and do that for myself.

What do I see? Ships creating streaks of light. An enemy fighter burst. There’s a freighter in there somewhere (behind the enemy). A ball of fire.

What do I hear?

What do I smell?

What do I taste?

What do I feel?

Now you may say, “I’m aware of more than that!” True, but it’s all exposition. I’m TELLING you all the things that are happening. However, you’re standing in the gunner’s seat with Adobrym (that’s what I call him). You’re not a camera, filming the action. Also, in this current draft, I’ve done nothing to activate the other senses.

This is actually very common for one of my discovery drafts. I’m all about “what happened.”  I skip a lot of details and information. That’s fine when you’re burning through a draft. But when you edit, you need to do a pass for description, and you really want to be brutal. How can you change the “telling” to a “showing.”

Now go through your draft again (I’ll do mine) and point out those opportunities.  Here’s a smaller segment of my section, and the notes I’ve left to myself or edits I’ve made:


 

shepherd
Concept rendering of Shepherd from Perception of War.

“Trust me,” Bani said (What does Bani sound like? Accent? Tone?). “Go straight at one of the bastards.”

Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige felt the ship tremble as it shifted, and the thrusters behind him flared as he headed directly toward an enemy. The thrusters wrapped him is a bright white light. 

I come to you willingly (MOON GOD).  Please let this death be worthy of entrance to your hallowed halls. 

Dots of light appeared behind the (DESCRIBE THE SHIP)  as its thrusters burst to life to charge at Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige’s fighter. I fought for my comrades. I die so they don’t have to. I don’t know how to protect Barrick and Zango. Forgive me for that.

With 4-1 odds, the Var’lechen was more than willing to sacrifice himself in exchange for one (SNAKE).  Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige considered trying to fire, but freighter was still right behind the enemy. Black scorch marks covered the boxy freighter. Its exterior lights flickered. 

The Var’lechen charged. Netriod, I will miss you, my friend.

The enemy fighter burst. Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige’s craft zipped through a quickly fading ball of fire. For an instant, he as washed in light, and then it faded. In his exosuite,  Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige didn’t feel the heat of the blast even as he soared through it. The pressure of the explosion made his ears clog, and then the blast, with no air to keep it alive, faded, and Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige once more heard his own breath in his helmet. 


 

There are probably more opportunities in there. This is just a brief example. Ideally, you’d do this for a whole chapter.

Now, don’t overdo it, and don’t be overly repetitive. The trick is to add cues that are designed to activate the imagination. Don’t bombard your readers with the IMAX vision in your head, instead, provide them with a few moments that allow the IMAX theaters in their heads to come to life.

I hope this little glimpse into how I do things (I’m positive there are other methods that work) helps you with whatever project you’re working on.

If you have another technique, feel free to drop a link or post a comment.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

 

 

You’re Not Stuck! COVID Delays Don’t Mean You Can’t Do Something As An Author

You’re Not Stuck! COVID Delays Don’t Mean You Can’t Do Something As An Author

Greetings all,

handcuff
Image by Achim Scholty from Pixabay. 

I want to share a frustration I have with people sometimes.  People can let one obstacle beat them. I can’t go to the gym, so I can’t work out. Really? So lack of access to a gym prevents you from doing pushups or sit ups?

 

I don’t have any ground beef, so I’ll order out. Why? Does ground beef constitute the entirety of your food options?

That doesn’t mean that people don’t face obstacles. It doesn’t mean that those obstacles aren’t frustrating at times. However, we as human beings choose. We choose to let our circumstances defeat us, or we choose to endure our circumstances and move forward in the ways God provides.

As a nation, America is face with more restrictions on their lives that they’ve ever face. The malls are closed. There are no sports. And, for me, all the conventions I had lined up were cancelled. That’s a huge bummer!

IMG_2318Since conventions are my number one method of sales (and not profit), this means I’m at an extreme disadvantage. The hardest hit is that no sales means no income, which means I can’t save up money for edits on Betrayed. I can’t save for a cover. Even the money I had been budgeting is set aside because we want to be prepared for any true financial issues.

So the challenge question: Does this really mean I can’t do anything as an author? No!

You can too. First, for you hopeful authors who constantly say, “I want to write, but I just don’t have the time!” What, exactly are you spending your time on now? Maybe you’re blessed to still have some form of employment. That’s great. However, it’s not like there’s a game you “need” to catch anytime soon. It’s not like there’s a new movie you “just have” to see.

You can write that book right now.

caught-front-coverWhat about people like me? Well, the first thing I’m doing is working hard on the outline to Discovered (which looks to be a big one, by far the biggest of the trilogy). The other thing I’m doing is working a bit more on marketing. I’m building more campaigns for Amazon Marketing. Even if no one is buying now (and they are, even I sold a book or two this week), when things start moving forward, I’ll have a new armada of advertisements ready to go.

I’m blessed to be able to telework during this time. I’m still working. Heck, I might be doing more work than I would be doing if the building were open. This means time is still an issue. It might still be the biggest issue. However, what time I do have to myself, I spend on some form of writing. I might also do something else, but I chip away.

In the Navy, a common phrase you’ll hear is, “I don’t care what you can’t do; tell me what you can do.”

This attitude, this frame of mind, is essential. This time in our lives is definitely a challenge. We’re all worried. We wonder if we’ll get sick. We wonder if our finances will hold up. However, if we focus on our problems, we turn a blind eye to the solutions that are out there.

frustrated-4201046_1920
Image by Steve DiMatteo from Pixabay.

The challenge I offer you is this: Whatever you do, make sure you understand you’re making a choice. Even refusing to do anything or “failing” to make a choice is still a choice.

Naturally, you have the right to choose whatever you want. My problem would be if you try to avoid or lament the consequences of that choice as an excuse for why you can’t do something.

The guy who says, “I could write that book, but I’ve been meaning to watch the entire ‘How I Met Your Mother’ series for years now,” will get no beef from me. However the guy who complains about how he never has time to finish a book while watching that show may get a different reaction from me.

So here are a few things you can do if your finances prevent you from buying a cover or paying for editing services:

Draft another book.

Make revisions on another manuscript.

Study marketing.

Work on building your marketing plan.

Build your email list.

Send your readers an email (man I’m terrible at that).

This period of stress in our lives does create problems, but it doesn’t mean we have to give up on our goals.

I wanted to share these thoughts to motivate you to get moving in some way. This isn’t unique to writing either. Maybe spend some more quality time with your kids. Maybe turn this into an “in home” second honeymoon. Chip away on those home projects you’ve “been meaning to get around to.”

This time is stressful and challenging enough. Let’s use it to look for opportunities.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

 

 

I’ve Started the Alpha Draft of Betrayed!

I’ve Started the Alpha Draft of Betrayed!

 

Greetings all,

caught-front-cover
You can buy Caught (the first book in the series) on Amazon or Audible

Betrayed is coming along. I’ve started the Alpha Draft, which is the draft I do after my alpha reader (in this case) has had a chance to look at it.

 

First thing’s first. I want to take a moment to thank Grace for taking the time to read this rough draft and provide the feedback she did. For us self-published authors, finding readers is hard enough, let alone finding a reader who’s willing to read a rough draft.

Now is the time I take her feedback into consideration and do another chapter-by-chapter pass on the book. This cleans the mechanics of the story up, but more importantly it gives me a chance to locate plot holes and timeline issues. This trilogy spans something in the neighborhood of seven years, and there are a lot of things that happen that have to time out correctly.

The other issue is character development and plotting. Kaitlyn and Kira in particular have some critical areas of growth. There are a lot of foreshadow elements that should pay off in Discovered. So while I work on this draft, I’m looking for ways to establish critical character development aspects without being heavy handed.

kaitlynI felt a touch of discouragement as I started the Discovery Draft exactly a year ago (as you read this Dec. 7). The truth is, writing is a war of endurance. When it’s not full time, you sit down and take what time you can. I’d expect to get through the Alpha Draft sometime in January. Then it’s off to Sara for the Developmental Edit. Assuming she gets it back to me in two weeks or so, I can start that draft in March. Then it goes off to Beta Readers.  They get a month to read it and provide feedback, so I should work on my Beta Draft in June. That means I get Sara another crack at it for proofreading in July, and so September or October 2020 is a likely neighborhood for the official release.

Things could go faster as I get time here and there, or they might slow down if finances make it hard to send the book out to Sara for either of her two rounds of edits. I feel confident that those dates are pretty solid.

While I’m waiting for feedback, I’ll keep plugging away on Discovered. I’m still outlining it at the moment. Using the timeline above, I think I could maybe get the Discovery Draft done around when Betrayed comes out.  My math says there will be about two months where I can’t move forward with Betrayed because I’m waiting on feedback. That’s way less certain than Betrayed’s fall 2020 release.

I know this is a big slowdown from the eight titles I’ve released in the last two years, but a lot of those releases were portions of other projects. I have other projects that are further along, but I’ve been trying to get the Oneiros Log finished for years now, and I owe it to those readers to get that finished before I start bouncing around as I’m want to do.

I promise I’m working as hard as I can, and I’ll keep putting out the best stories I can in hopes that you will find them entertaining.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Finding the Time: If You Want To Be A Writer, Write

Finding the Time: If You Want To Be A Writer, Write

Greetings all,

Wedding
I kissed the bride.

I’m not sure what post it was in, but a few posts ago I mentioned my wonderful life and how that life has altered my schedule. I had been and remain adamant that anything in life deserves a level of commitment. That level of commitment should reflect the importance you give it in your life. I’d advise anyone to take a serious look at the things they say they want to do in their lives and evaluate how much effort they make to do those things.

It’s a good way to put things in perspective too. If you keep investing your time in other things, maybe those things are actually more important to you. This isn’t a judgment. It’s your life, and you’re free to spend it doing whatever you want. If you look at that life and realize you spend a lot of time doing X, then you can either realize that X really is more important or change your habits.

Being married has been a huge adjustment. I’m about 10 months into my marriage, and we’re still figuring things out. It’s not just me. My kids’ lives are very different than they were before I showed up, and they’re even more different after I became their father. My wife’s life is different. We’ve talked several times (Julie and I) about what we want to find time to do and how we can pull it off.

So I offer this bit of rambling to you who say you want to write but can’t “find the time.”

First question: Do you really want to write? Really? Do you want it more than sleep? Do you want it more than football? Do you want it more than video games? Do you want it more than time with your wife? I’m not saying you have to sacrifice everything. However, there are only so many hours in a day, week, or month. You can’t give time to something unless that time comes from somewhere. If the things you’re already doing are more important than your desire to write, it’s no shame on you. I think you should simply think about other ways to find time. Maybe take a vacation day here or there. Maybe do some sort of writing retreat. Maybe look at the situation and say to yourself that you’re happy with your life the way it is. If you can’t let writing go, then don’t. But that means working to find that time. Before moving on to any step be aware that finding time means investing time. If there’s nothing in your life you’re willing to do less of, then writing isn’t that important to you, and that’s OK. But if you do this seriously, and you’re heart is set on writing, then you’ll find the thing you’re currently spending time on that isn’t that important.

Me and JulieThings more important to me than writing: God. My family. Being a good employee. Those are areas of my life that I won’t give up to find time writing. I love writing. It’s been part of my life forever, but I won’t take time from those things to find more time to write.

Things I really, really like: Football and video games. Those are things that I’ve found can compete. However, when I realize I’ve spent more hours playing video games than I have writing, it’s usually a convicting moment for me. Football is a fairly seasonal thing, and commercials are awesome! They let me do social media things or work on a cover. I wouldn’t necessarily tell people to write during commercials. I think that divides too much of your attention, but there are somethings you can do that will let your dedicated writing time be all about writing. If I’m up against deadline, video games are usually the first to go, and I can reduce my football. I love my 49ers most, so I tend to want to watch that game, but the rest of the games are things I can set aside if I need more dedicated writing.

Easier said than done: So above, I mentioned my family. That’s a lot of time. Homework time. Dinner time. Family time together. Bible time (at least in my house). Laundry. Cleaning up. Bed time (at least in my house). This takes up the better part of most evenings and every other Saturday. So time at my house is such a premium.

I don’t get a ton of writing done at home these days. I usually get a bit on Saturdays. Most of my writing time is done during my authorized lunch time. Rather than what I used to do (enjoy a mindless hour on Youtube), I use that time to write.  After we get the kids to bed (my wife an I alternate bedtime), I might have to not play video games so I can get more writing done.

The boys
The boys.

My point is, the time is there. When I feel myself getting frustrated at the amount of time I have to write, the first thing to do is make sure I’m not wasting time I could be writing. However, I’m not a crazy person. Those video games are usually how I calm my self down (animated though I may be during the games) before going to bed. Who doesn’t need relaxation now and then. Writing is actually pretty relaxing on one end, but it activates my mind. When I used to try to go to bed right after writing, I found I couldn’t shut off my brain. I still have my normal goal of 1,000 words (of something) a day. That might be editing like I’m doing now with Betrayed. It might be outlining, like I will be doing with Discovered. I love drafting most.  Tuesdays and Fridays are set aside for blogging right here. No, I don’t have nearly as much time to “write” as I used to, but I still managed to find the time I’ve always believed I “need.”

Other places I find time: My wife drives. First, she likes it, and I hate it. So while she’s driving, I can get social media done or even some drafting or editing if the trip is long enough.

Stay up a “bit” later. Honestly, I’m 40 now. Man my body needs way more rest than I’m used to. I used to be able to be pretty much good to go off maybe  three hours of sleep. Not any more. I need five. Five is probably pushing it, but I have to get five hours of sleep to have a hope on Earth of waking up on time for work or church. On an occasional time or two (or Saturdays if I’m being honest), I pull of four hours of sleep, but I usually hate myself. However, I can probably find an hour when I need to after everyone else has gone to bed.

Wake up a “bit” earlier. If I’m being honest, this would probably be the more feasible option if I needed it. I’ve found that no one in the house likes going to sleep alone, but no one in the house gives two toots who wakes up first. My bias is I hate waking up regardless of the hour. If I could sleep for a whole day, I would. However, it’s an available option to me.

I wanted to share this to help anyone out there struggling. If one were to ask me, “Do you feel like you get enough time?” I’d probably say, “Not as much as I want, but at least what I need.” Still, before I was married, I wrote a bunch and had all the time in the world to do whatever I wanted. It wasn’t fun. It’s way more fun having three wonderful sons. It’s way more fun having a wife. So I take the lunch hour I used to waste on videos and get the 1,000 mandatory amount, and then I carve out other blocks if I feel I need to.

It’s really just about taking a good, hard look at your schedule and making a decision about what you’re willing to give up, which is why that first question is the most important.

So, busy authors who are more successful than I am, what do you do to find time? What ideas have you had that I haven’t mentioned above?

Thanks for reading,

Matt

One Character Quality Isn’t Enough

Greetings all,

 

I’m writing this post on my phone because for some reason, my computer has decided it hates WordPress. I’d rather post something as opposed to not.  I think it’s important I post on schedule, so here I am, but I do ask for some leinency for lack of pictures and any other errors.

A while back, I posted about chracter sliders. I mentioned that characters need to grow, but today I want to warn against characters who only have a high value in one category.

I don’t think charaters like this work. If you have a character who is amazingly competent, it won’t matter if he’s unsympathetic or not proactive.

Some may argue characters have to be symoasympat, and I like those characters, but sympathy alone isn’t enough.

I wanted to try and explain this with a character study, but I simply can’t think of a character who only has one high-value characteristic.  I’m honestly atill thinking, and I can’t name one.

So let’s assume you all agree with me that characters need to be sympathetic; what else should they be? Well, that’s the luxury of choice.

A proactive character would, I think, inspire characters and motivate readers to keep trying.  This would be a character like Naruto.

A competent character would challenge the reader. He would force the reader to keep up while simultaneously frustrating readers with his tendency to not act. Doctor Strange is a good example here. He’s totally motivated by selfish reasons.  By choosing to take action and help defend Earth, the reader is satisfied and excited by his involvement in the fight.

Why are two mandatory?

Well, let’s again assume most feeling characters just be proactive.

If he doesn’t do anything, the reader will lose interest, feeling as though the character won’t ever answer the call to action

If the reader is also incompetent, the reader will put the story down because even if that character decided to take action, he’d probably fail.

My point is a character can’t just be sympathetic, proactive, OR competent. There needs to be a second element to create tension during the rising action and satisfaction during the climax.

What are your thoughts? Can you name any one-dimensional characters?

 

Thanks for reading

Matt

Let It Go: The Balance Between Deadline and Quality

Let It Go: The Balance Between Deadline and Quality

Greetings,

The Journals of Bob Drifter Front Cover
The cover is copyright M.L.S. Weech, any redistribution without my consent is a possible copyright infringement. All stock images are from Pixabay (This includes the feature photo).

As I type this, I’m waiting for the physical proof copy of the 2nd edition of The Journals of Bob Drifter. This reminded me of a few things I’ve discussed with others in the field.

The main reason I wanted to do a 2nd edition was to gain more control over the price and make it easier for people to purchase. I also wanted to be able to have electronic e-sales. Making this decision allowed me to do another editorial pass. In truth, I did three.

By my count, that means I’ve done about 41 total passes on this book. This isn’t to say I’ve rewritten it, I’m proud to say I only did about three “full” revisions. These were drafts where I changed or rearranged content. The rest were proofreading drafts, and that’s where I want to focus my attention.

There’s this term, minimum viable product. I’ll be honest, I hate that term. To me, it connotes, “get it printed as quickly as possible, and don’t worry about the quality.” Perhaps I take that term too far, but I’ve read work completed under that banner, and to be frank, it never works out well. The typos and issues pull me out of the story and away from the plot.

However, the other side of that coin is even worse. You see, at some point, you have to let it go. This is why I hold so firmly to my process. It’s the balance I’ve found between ensuring the best product I can get to my readers while ensuring I actually release something.

Too many people ever finish a book or never publish it because they want it to be perfect. Here’s the brutal truth: You’ll never be perfect. Of the 41 times I’ve read Bob Drifter, I’ve never failed to find a rather significant number of issues. It’s simply going to happen when one writes 133,000 words. Now, this version is FAR cleaner than the last, and it should be. I’ve been told that the industry standard for “number of errors” in a book is 3% (author and editor friends, I’d appreciate confirmation of this). That means I could theoretically have more than 3,900 typos in Bob drifter, and I’d still be “within standard.”

horizontal-2071304_960_720I never counted, but even after paying my editor to do a pass on the book, I found an embarrassing number of grammar errors and typos. I even noticed a minor continuity issue. (It appears Richard used to own a house that changed color. I fixed that.) I assure you, my editor did a fine job. I promise I gave my best effort the other 40 times I went over the book. The simple fact of the matter is the book will never be “perfect.” I have to give you readers the best, high-quality product I can in a timely manner. That means taking a breath, and letting the story get out into the world at some point.

I don’t in any way agree with the philosophy of “just get the product out.” Those who disagree with me are welcome to, and you can even comment if you wish. This is simply my opinion on a common topic of discussion in the industry.

What I do support is the idea that you have to, at some point, release a book.

What I recommend:

editing-1756958_960_720Develop a plan, and hold to it. I’ve mentioned my plan a few times in a few different blogs, but because I can’t think of any one to refer you to, I’ll just go over it.

Discovery draft: get the story written.

First draft: Fill in holes. Flesh out the plot. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors. (This usually takes me between 3-7 “passes.”)

Alpha draft: Get alpha readers’ feedback. Take information under advisement and address concerns. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors. (This time it usually takes me 2-5 “passes.”)

Editorial draft: Sara gets her hands on the product and provides her developmental edits. I take those recommendations into consideration and make appropriate changes. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors. (The remainder of these “read-throughs” usually take between 1-3 passes.)

Beta draft: Send the draft out to the target audience. Apply their feedback. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors.

Copyediting draft: This one goes back to Sara. She looks at the structure and grammar. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors.

Proofreading draft: The last draft before I send it to publish. Simply read out loud until I can’t find an error.

Proof draft: When I get my proof (digital or physical), I read it out loud, making any changes I catch. I don’t repeat the process, I simply correct what I catch.

Is this too much for you? That’s OK, you can’t minimize. I wouldn’t be angry at someone who doesn’t do “read out loud” passes until the copyediting draft.

Arguments against my way: “What do you pay an editor for?”

I’m glad you ask. I pay Sara to catch what I miss. The more errors I blatantly ignore or don’t bother to look for, the more likely she is to miss something. I’m sure Sara would much rather I send her my best than if I send her a group of random fragments for her to polish into a book. If I did that to her, I may as well give her credit as a co-author. She’s the editor, but I’m the writer. It’s my job to give her my best product, and her job to make it better.

ElelefinalHowever, once I finish my process, I let the book go. I haven’t even looked at Sojourn, even though it’s not even scheduled to be turned in until later this winter. I followed my process, and I trust it. I’m sure people will note errors, and I’ll note them and offer my thanks to any who tell me about them, but I did my best with the time I gave myself to develop the story.

This is the process that works for me. You can use it, use your own, or use mine to develop something new. The point is, give your best effort. Don’t expect your editors to take your “least” efforts and make it stand out, but don’t edit a 30,000-word story 30,000 times and take years to release what should come out in a matter of months. (I’m delaying my releases because of a marketing and momentum plan, but those products will be finished well before my “deadlines.”)

A note: Please don’t feel insulted. Perhaps you have a different definition of “minimum viable product.” I’m happy to hear it, though I’ll probably still disagree, it doesn’t make you wrong any more than it makes me right. Like I said, find what works for you. The point is, give your products the love you want your readers to give those products, but remember they can’t love the books at all if you never publish.

What I hope is this post motivates you to publish that book you’ve edited 40 times. Get that story out in the world because you worked hard on it. If you’ve just finished the first draft of a product, do the story a favor and give it a few passes to make sure it’s the best it can be. Perhaps if they called it “most timely viable product,” I’d be more willing to accept it, but that’s not the case.

I hope this motivates you either way. I’m very eager to hear editors’ and authors’ opinions on this matter.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

NaNoWriMo: The Spirit of the Month I Never Actually Participate in

NaNoWriMo: The Spirit of the Month I Never Actually Participate in
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All stock art from Pixabay.

Greetings,

As November approaches, which is a pretty big month for me, I’ve seen quite a few NaNoWriMo posts, and that got me thinking. I’ve written some 10 manuscripts in my life, and I’ve never once participated in NaNoWriMo.  I’m not going to participate actively this year either. However, that doesn’t in any way mean I don’t appreciate it.

The spirt of November is to get people writing. I have quite a few conversations with people who say they want to be writers, but sure enough, whenever I ask what they’re working on, they never do. NaNoWriMo is a beautiful idea designed to force people who say they want to write to actually write.

When I’m drafting (the portion of the writing process most directly related to NaNoWriMo), I end up writing at least 1,000 words a day, and I average 2,000 on the weekend.  So let’s see, that would equate to about 38,000 in a month. So I can’t proclaim I write 50K or have ever written 50K in one month, but I feel confident I’ve done it. At one point while drafting New Utopia, I’d written 10K in a single day just to see if I could. New Utopia is a ways down the road as that’ll need extensive revisions. The point is, I commit to writing everyday.  Oddly enough, that makes me think of Christmas or one of those heritage month celebrations.

help-2444110__340I honestly love Christmas. It is, in fact, my favorite holiday, but I promise there’s a correlation.  I get upset during heritage month celebrations because they always feel like pretense to me, which is offensive. It feels like, “Today is the day we’re going to acknowledge that people of different races, nations, or sexual orientations are important.” Meanwhile I stand there and wonder why we can’t just be respectful every day of the year? Why can’t we carry on the spirt of Christmas all year?

Do I claim to be perfect? HA!  Not remotely. However, I do make a serious effort to be generous whenever possible. To me, generosity is the spirit of the holiday known as Christmas. I also happen to feel personally that it was the day my savior was born, but that’s a different subject.

I also try my best to actually ignore differences. At work, I’m very unconcerned with what color you are, where you’re from, or who you sleep with. All I care about is your ability to perform your job. I love culture. Maybe not “experiencing” so much, but certainly “understanding” it, so I’m prone to asking blunt and endless questions. If I meet someone who’s been to or from another country, I tend to pepper them with questions. I remember when a dear friend of mine became Vegan. I was amused on one degree, but also curious. You see, culture is what makes each of us special, but I’m a firm believer that when someone points out differences, you’re creating segments. So I make it a point to focus on what we all have in common (the work).

So here comes NaNoWriMo, and a bunch of people will sit down and finally start writing.  (Hopefully they’re writing their submission for The Power of Words.)

dragon-860683_960_720My feeling, personal though it may be, is that NaNoWriMo takes away excuses. It’s beautiful. I’ve never needed a reason to sit down and write, but if this is what gets young writers in front of keyboards, then I love it.

No, I’m not going to try to write 50K, but I am going to try and get another draft of Repressed done (getting Bob’s second edition on shelves takes priority). That brings me to the spirit of NaNoWriMo, and in that spirit, I offer any first-time participants this advice.

Commit to a word count, but start small in the beginning: This is all the more important if you’re cold starting. Someone who has a few books written or has at least grown to writing every day probably don’t need to worry about this step, but beware overextending.  If you say you have to write 1,700 words a day, and that first day you only manage 700, you’ll feel defeated and quit.  You will gain speed and word count as you write every day. Don’t panic or quite if you only get a few hundred words out the first week. The more you write, the more momentum you’ll generate and be able to write. I promise!

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Ironically, this image of my students was taken during a failed attempt to teach capitalization as an active-learning exercise.

Write, but just write: I see my students fall into a trap. They want the thing they’re writing to be perfect on the first try. That’s impossible. I’m releasing the second edition of Bob Drifter and even that won’t be perfect, but it’ll be better. There’s more to it, but the relevant part of this is that when I draft, I don’t revise or edit. I just go. It took me, oh, I’d say two years to learn to let go of the desire to be “perfect” when I draft. The first book I ever finished writing went through 21 additional complete rewrites. Each time, I felt more and more defeated. There were many problems, but my biggest hangup was that I kept thinking, “This draft will be perfect.” I don’t think writers ever finish a book; they just run into deadline or realize they have to let go. I leave it to you to decide how many revisions and edits you should do, but if you never write the darn thing in the first place, you’ll never publish anyway.

Make every month NaNoWriMo: Never stop. I don’t draft nearly as much as I write, but I always push forward. Lately, I’ve done a better job of committing to a project. I finished Sojourn before I worked on Bob’s second edition.  When I sent that to the editor, I drafted Repressed, and even accidentally drafted The Worth of Words. Now that I have Bob back, I’ll get it on shelves (hopefully by the end of November), and then I’ll turn my full attention to Repressed.  But even when I send that out, I’ll shift right over to Worth of Words. My point is, I’m always working. I motivate myself by finishing projects, and having that project I want to get to planned. It sort of tempts me. You see, I’m excited to write Betrayed (the sequel to Caught). That means I can’t wait to finish those other projects so I can get to this one. The more you do, the more you will do. So have fun out there. I may not be with you in function, but I’m absolutely with you in spirit.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell

Book Review: Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell
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This cover image and the image of the author were taken from his Amazon author page for review purposes under fair use doctrine.

While doing an Alpha Reading for Sojourn in CaptivityQuintessential Editor recommended this to me because I’d never written in first person before, and I had quite a few kinks to work out.

Conflict and Suspense, was full of tidbits and insights that I found valuable as a writer.

I want to touch on two things that really stood out to me. There’s really a lot to glean from that book, and I honestly recommend it, especially for those working on improving their outlining skills.

Write first. Explain later: I’m a fan of long fiction, and, to be honest, I don’t know how many people abide by this rule AFTER they’re established.  But it’s  still a valid point.  Writers feel like they have to really get their readers to connect with those characters, so they tend to want to draw out a moment or give back story. What that usually ends up becoming is a bunch of exposition that just bogs the story down.  I saw this in practice with my Beta Readers for Sojourn in Captivity.  Most of them liked the story (I may even go so far as to say loved it), but to an email they all said the beginning was too much. I wanted to establish Elele’s relationship with her family, her spoiled upbringing, and her skill with math.  I also wanted to do some world building.  This only served to give my readers a large terminology lesson before the book started moving. I tell my students this many times: The delete key is almost always the answer to your problems.  What’s now the first segment, dives right in. I take the time to explain a few things here or there, but I start the story with the tension and let it build to her confrontation with the recognized god of her alien race.  My editor liked it much better.

That brings me to the second point of discussion I appreciated in Bell’s book.

91hAFbJPSbL._UX250_Happy people in Happy land: That’s what he calls an overdone part of a book. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about that segment. What it gave me was food for thought. The entire book is essentially about keeping the tension and conflict going. With no tension or conflict in the beginning (i.e. happy people in happy land), what concern should the reader have for the characters? Why should they keep reading.

Here’s my example:  Do you go for walks? I do. Do you stop randomly and stare at the window of a quite home? I don’t. But what do you tend to do if you hear screaming and shouting? See where I’m going?

I thought about that segment of the book and felt the desire to argue. What I ended up doing was changing my inference.  I wouldn’t say Bell goes so far as to tell you to start off with miserable people in miserable land. Instead, show the scene that’s true to the arc of the character, but make sure you give the readers that insight as to the conflict that represents the burning embers of the inciting incident. If there is tension in the characters’ minds or hearts, make sure the reader can see it.

Let’s go back to those houses. Maybe they aren’t screaming. But maybe you hear a door slam? Maybe, through the window, you catch a glimpse of a woman and a man sitting apart. (I promise I don’t just randomly walk by house windows and peek in.  This really is just a hypothetical example.) The point is you need some sort of disturbance to draw the reader in.

This book has a ton of helpful hints, a few case studies and even an example outline. It’s a great tool to help readers identify how to bring each scene to it’s highest intensity. I recommend this book to new writers looking to understand what keeps readers turning pages. It’s also good for people trying to figure out outlines.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland

Book Review: Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland
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This cover image was taken from Amazon for review purposes under fair use doctrine.

I’ve recently started eating more greens thanks to my friend the Quintessential Editor. (I’m pretty sure he recommended this book.) This book was something I read to help me with outlining more.

Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development, does a few things that I’m a big fan of.

The first thing I’m a fan of is the case studies. Each arc description is summarized and supported with examples to help illustrate how such a plot plays out in different movies. I should explain that this book is a bit different from what I’d call plotting.

In plotting, you’re marking the key plot points and events in a story. This is so readers see progression in the overall narrative. I’d wanted to improve my development of characters as they progress through the plot points. This novel did that. Weiland breaks down three types of arcs: The positive change arc, the neutral change arc, and the negative change arc. She breaks negative change into three more I can’t recall off the top of my head. The case studies and benchmarks she provides are things I plan to pull out while outlining my next main project and editing whatever I’m working on. I think understanding these types of character arcs is a must for writers. How you feel about them and how you apply those thoughts is as unique as the storyteller in my opinion, but understanding them matters.

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This image and the feature image were pulled from K.M. Weiland’s website for review purposes. As I’m trying to recommend her book, I’m hoping she’ll forgive the use of these images.

Another thing I’d like to highlight is the idea of “The Lie Your Character Believes.”  That resonated with me. I won’t go into it here because 1) I fear copyright and 2) I think authors, especially those who feel they struggle with outlining, should give this book a read. I actually listened to the audio edition, and that was super helpful for a guy like me.

I’m less inclined to be entirely beholden to some of the more rigid benchmarks. Weiland gives specific percentage marks for each point of the story. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I completely disagree, I just don’t know that I’d be that militant about where certain shifts in the story happen. What I will say is those benchmarks are great guides, but stories need a bit of leeway.

What I intend to do with this book and information is weave some of the elements of this book’s character plot points with my plotting.  This should keep the sense of progression my stories have (which I feel are solid) and give me a way to plan the emotional journey of my characters a little more carefully.

Creating Character Arcs is a great outlining tool that provides informative case studies for each type of arc. Authors or aspiring authors should pic this up and add it to their toolbox of story building tools. I’m a fan of “how-to” books that are this simple to understand and through in presentation. I can’t say enough about those case studies!

Thanks for reading,

Matt

 

That Pesky Pronoun: A Pitfall of 1st Person Narrative

That Pesky Pronoun: A Pitfall of 1st Person Narrative
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All Stock images taken from Pixabay.

I’m taking the chance to work on Images of Truth since I’m waiting for the editor to get back to me with Sojourn and Bob. This project is so much bigger than either of those. How much bigger? Well, I’m at 107,000 words, and I’m not even halfway done (though I’m at 47 percent based on my math).  Using POV writing as opposed to first person narrative is much easier to do though now that I’ve written a complete story with both techniques.

That gave me an idea on what I could share with people in today’s blog. Last week, I talked to you about Adverbs. Today, I’d like to go over something I saw a lot of in my fourth set of revisions of Sojourn.

When I first wrote about first person narrative, I spoke about the pros and cons. What it let me do was limit the scope of the story and focus on the character I wanted everyone to connect with most (in this case, Elele). I stand behind the idea that it was the right call. Now, this may backfire on me for a few reasons I won’t get into in this blog, but I made a decision based on what I felt was best for the story, which is all any writer can do.  That said, one consequence I didn’t think about what how many times a writer would be tempted to write “I.”

The first was easy to fix because of my experience as a journalist. I teach my students that observation is the most powerful tool they have, but a lot of my students feel the need to tell me they saw something. “I watched,” “I heard,” and “I felt” are attributive clauses that aren’t necessary. Want to see what I mean?

Here’s a paragraph from the third draft of Sojourn:

I watch as they fuss over their pod mother. She touches them and embraces them. 

Dozens of Seferam each check on the oldest member of their family as I observe, breathing in moist air.

So here’s a question to ask yourself.  Isn’t this story in first person? So of course she’s watching and listening. I don’t need to tell the reader that because the narrator is the character doing the watching and listening. Now, I’ll be honest. Even though I looked out for it in my last draft, I still have those types of clauses in there. I’ll have to do a search and get rid of it. It’s wordy and unnecessary.

Here’s what that segment looks like in the fourth draft:

They fuss over their pod mother, and she touches and embraces them. 

Dozens of Seferam each check on the oldest member of their family as I observe, breathing in moist air.

alphabet-2082547__340Yeah, I still have her “observing,” but I felt I needed that to show her position in relation to the other group, not to prove she saw it. One could argue I don’t even need that bit in there, but it’s a step up from the last draft.

So when I sit down to do my final draft, you can bet I’m going to search for the clauses “I watch,” “I see,” “I hear,” and “I feel.” I’ll delete that, and watch my story’s word count shrink. This will make my prose cleaner, more readable, and more active.

But that’s not the only thing to watch out for with that pesky pronoun.  Naturally your character is going to do things, and, since you’re using first person, there will be the temptation to start pretty much every sentence with the pronoun in question. Quintessential Editor (who was so kind to Alpha Read) for me, pointed out how often I did that. What that actually does is dehumanize your character. It buts the character in the way of her own story. So let’s go all the way back to that first draft of Sojourn and see what Corey wanted me to see.

Here’s the Alpha Draft:

I close my eyes an instant before I approach the threshold. I feel something brush over the tip of my nose. The heel of my left leather shoe scrapes along something too. I open my wings, and use the force of the air to turn just before I glide into a red-painted wall. My wings strain at the effort, feeling as if they might yank off no matter that my mind knows that’s physically impossible on a mathematical level.

Notice that three out of four sentences begin with “I.” Notice the word “I” is in that sentence five times. We want to get rid of some of that redundancy and make this a bit more active? How do you do that though without a subject? Well, I choose a different subject.  Let’s look at this latest draft.

My eyes clench shut an instant before I approach the threshold. I feel something brush over the tip of my nose. The heel of my left leather shoe scrapes along something, too. I use my wings and the force of the air to turn just before I glide into a red-painted wall. My wings strain at the effort, feeling as if they might yank off no matter that my mind knows that’s physically impossible on a mathematical level.

Now, two out of five sentences begin with “I,” and I only see that pronoun four times. Just look at it though. See that “I feel” there? That’s right. This needs a nice, final once-over for just that problem.  Like I said, I know it’s there, but now that I edit for it, I’ll think about it more as I draft. So let’s look at how this paragraph should probably end up:

My eyes clench shut an instant before I approach the threshold. Something brushes the tip of my nose, and the heel of my left leather shoe scrapes along something else. My wings open, and the force of the air causes me to turn just before I glide into a red-painted wall. My wings strain at the effort, feeling as if they might yank off no matter that my mind knows that’s physically impossible on a mathematical level.

letters-2077234__340Now, I have four sentences, and not a one of them starts with the pronoun “I.” In fact, that pronoun only appears twice. The structure of the sentence is still active, I’ve only changed the subject and the predicate. I noticed it more on this draft, but in the final draft, I’ll look for things like this to tighten up that prose and make life easier on the reader.

I thought you’d all like a glimpse into the editing process and note things to look out for. I’ll be better at it the next time I write in first person, but, at the very least, I know to look out for that before I through one word at a reader a hyperbolic number of times.  If you’re writing in first person, try this out. Do a search for the word “I.” If your program is like mine, (I use Pages, but that’s more because it came with my Mac than an endorsement.) the program will highlight all the instances. I did it with my first draft, and suddenly it looked like someone overlaid my document with sheet music.  I mean yellow highlights everywhere!

Like adverbs, you can’t eliminate a part of speech entirely, nor can you simply never use that pronoun. The trick is to use it when you need it, and not to let it get out of control. Trust me, I’ve read each of these four drafts about seven times each, and I still see instances where I can revise and tighten the structure of my sentences (sorry Sara!).  Like any tool or trick, you want to do everything you do with intent and awareness.  I hope this gives you something to work with in your drafts.

Thanks for reading,

Matt