Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Taking a... vacation?

Is that what it's called? I haven't taken much time off, in the last three years. Long story.

I finished a second draft of Disciple, Part V, and a first draft of Disciple, Part VI. So Disciple is done. It's currently clocking in at a total of 370k -- but I'm an under-writer, so that may grow a bit more by the final draft.

Up next:

Pimping for Part II. The Kickstarter campaign will be your chance to pre-order Part II and also get in on the Prologue offer... I wrote one, you see, back when I was getting settled into the Saints of War universe (that's what I call this fantasy world.) It was set before my main characters met each other, and it was a chance to feel out the magic system, their personalities, things like that. Much of the magic is inaccurate, now, but there are some important personal moments in there.

I offered the Prologue as a bonus gift, when I ran the Kickstarter campaign for Part I. Since I did get some pledges at that level, I'm committed to rewriting the Prologue and publishing it for only the Kickstarter pledgers by November 2013.

If you're interested, you can get in on that starting January 1st, over at Kickstarter.com.

I will be back after Christmas. Wishing everyone a peaceful, happy holiday season...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Unicorn Bell week: long crits

I will be critting in the long form (1 - 1.5k) over at Unicorn Bell this week. There will be a Tuesday post but then I will be on vay-cat-shun... no, wait, on holly-day... whatever those things are where you don't do anything for a while.

Index for future reference:
First Crit: logic questions
Second Crit: clarity!
Third Crit: dialogue and slow starts
Fourth Crit: voice and flashbacks
Fifth Crit: small details, subtle things

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Subtle Things #4: Thank you, Captain Obvious

(That's the snark I hear when I hit the publish button on my blog.)

I like subtle. I like writers who can lay out all the subtle clues on the table and then string them together into an interesting plot climax. Stories that rely on witholding some vital clue until the last moment don't have the same punch. I saw a good example of this, recently, in the movie Wreck-it Ralph -- who expects subtlety from Disney, right? Non-Pixar Disney, that is. Maybe because I didn't go in expecting it, it was a pleasant surprise.

Drama? Where?
What constitutes subtle, though? There's a continuum from the most blindingly obvious things like:

“Your foolishness will make you weak, and then there will be a winnowing.”

down to things that are only meaningful in hindsight, if at all:

I reached for him again, meaning to check his kir, but Kiefan handed me the book instead. “I am well enough, for now.”

Do you throw out plot clues subtly? Or should a character point a finger and announce: "He's trying to distract her with a book! That means he's fibbing!" It's a question of genre style and personal style.

What draws the reader's attention to things and makes them obvious? In an early draft of Disciple, Part I, one of my betas pointed out to me that something needed more emphasis. Here is the original text:
“’Twas your father who opposed?” Lady Lorcana weighed that. “But did not prevent, else you would not be here.” 
“The piglet died,” I said, and then had to go on to explain. “Father brought me home from the Order after my two years of learning, even though Master Parselev wanted me for his apprentice...
What deserved emphasis was the piglet's death -- the title of Part I is "For Want of a Piglet" -- and here it's kinda buried in the dialogue. So I revised the dialogue to single it out:
“’Twas your father who opposed?” M’lady Lorcana weighed that. “But did not prevent, else you would not be here.”  
“The piglet died,” I said.  
“A piglet?” Leix chuckled when she said it. “How did a piglet sway your father?” 
“Father brought me home from the Order ... 
The emphasis is provided by repeating "piglet" and asking a question that the reader might reasonably be thinking at that moment.

Some things that I've noticed writers can use to draw the reader's attention to things without blatantly pointing and announcing "This is important!":
  • Repetition, but don't do it too much.
  • Using formal, foreboding, "prophetic" language, as in my example about winnowing. This is on the less subtle side, and the more formal and stuffy the language, the less subtle it is. But this sort of thing can fit in well with the style/voice/genre of the story, or the character, so... use with care.
  • Lavish description above and beyond other story elements. Be careful not to break voice or bog down the action, though. 
  • Physically setting it apart, if it's an object or a person, so that there's nothing else to focus on. If this is an action or an event, then it's a relatively uncluttered one -- no interruptions, no ancillary plotlines involved. 
  • Drawing the character's attention to it, through movement or some important detail. This is different from the narrative drawing attention to things -- if your (convincingly real, sympathetic) character pays attention about something, hopefully the reader will too.  
What techniques do you use? What would you add to my list?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cheers, Cavanaugh & Storybundle.com

I rarely know about blogfests until they happen. This is because I'm a space cadet who doesn't read the right blogs. But yesterday I got a laugh reading a bunch of posts for the Cheers, Cavanaugh Blogfest.

And I just wanted to add a respectful, completely non-silly namaste of my own. Because I don't do silly here, as you know. Writing is SRS BZNS. VRY SRS. So a serious thank you, Alex, for all that you do.

Disciple is in a StoryBundle!
I'm still amazed that I'm announcing this. StoryBundle.com is an interesting new ebook sales site -- they offer bundles of novels and the buyer picks the price for the bundle.

Yes, the buyer decides what to pay. The buyer can decide whether a portion of the proceeds goes to charity. There's an option to send the bundle as a gift. Storybundle also offers incentive books if the buyer pays a certain price for the bundle. So this is a win-win situation: a pile of books at a good price for readers, and great promotion with earnings potential for writers.

Disciple, Part I is one of eight books offered in the December bundle. I'm thrilled!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Book trailer: Disciple, Part II

Yup, I'm doing it again. I've tried to apply the lessons learned from the trailer for Part I:
  • Keep it short
  • Minimalism is fine
  • Sound effects aren't needed
  • Videos need critting too
So, all thoughts on this are welcome. Especially if you have not read Part I yet.

Saturday, drop on by Disciple of the Fount for the official cover reveal for Part II! Plus, I have some exciting news about Part I...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Subtle Things #3: Department of Redundancy Department

When is something redundant, and when is something repeated for emphasis?

Repeating things to remind the readers of facts is a different issue -- I just spun that off into a separate post. This is an extension of Subtle Things #2, using adverbs, because many adverbs are in fact redundant once you use a more specific verb.

In general, you don't want to over-use words too much. We've all had situations where a semi-common word just happens to crop up three times in two sentences, and it jars the eye. It starts to draw attention to itself.* The danger then is in hitting the thesaurus too hard in the search for synonyms to keep from repeating yourself too much. That's its own problem: using the wrong word because you were so paranoid of using the right word again.

How much is too much? When does the thesaurus steer you wrong? These are judgement calls. Subtle things.

Redundancy also strikes in giving the reader information inefficiently. It happens a lot with actions involving directions -- see #1 and #2 below. These are attempts to be clear about the action, and there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that. But. IMO, it becomes a trust issue at a certain point. I'll explain more when I talk about the examples individually.

There's nothing grammatically wrong with the following sentences (all from Disciple.)
  1. Frida reached up to take [the baby] down and kiss his cheek.
  2. He slung [the severed head] and the envoy caught it in his belly, falling back onto his ass from the impact.
  3. His sword fell from his skeletal hand and he screamed, his companions screamed, and none of them saw Sir Rostislav coming.
  4. Anders touched the knot of kir it offered and knit it into shape, twisted it and pushed it into the sphere’s surface.
Well, okay, you can argue about my grammar but this post's about redundancy and repetition.
  1. Why is this a "trust issue?" It's not obvious, out of context like this: the baby is being carried by a rider, and Frida is standing on the ground beside the horse. If she's going to reach for the baby, of course she's reaching up. If she's going to take the baby from the rider and kiss him, of course there will be downward movement involved. Therefore, up and down are redundant, and I'm trusting the reader to know that. Because my readers are smart, observant people. If this were, say, the first sentence of the scene and there was no context, I would leave it as it is.
  2. Back, here is redundant for obvious reasons. If you're catching a high-velocity thing in the gut, it's going to be awful hard to fall any way but back. Don't insult your readers' intelligence. They are smart, observant people. 
  3. Repetition for emphasis. Something horrible just happened, and I want the reactions to hit the reader for extra oomph. Plus, in my head the close repetition echoes that microsecond it takes to realize what just happened and react: the guy it happened to first, then those close by him. I'm thinking I'm going to also use this sentence in a post about long vs. short sentences. One sentence, or three? 
  4. It is a very common word and it can put up with a lot of repetition. But this is a bit much, for my tastes. The third it is redundant. The first one refers to something in the previous sentence. This could stand some re-wording for clarity; I'll have to consider the whole passage for that. 
*There was an episode of Star Trek: TNG which drove me up the wall with this. It was a holodeck episode, casting Data as Sherlock Holmes, and the word footfalls was massively over-used. It got painful to watch, halfway through. Uncommon words need to be used sparingly so they keep their effectiveness.

How much is too much, for you?
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