Blood’s Force: The Quest On The Horizon

bloodsforcecover(Cover art by Chris Howard)

I can hardly believe it! I’ve balled up the manuscript for Blood’s Force, the first of the Sword and Starship books, to hand to my editor, RJ Blain.

I’ve been performing my own editing and rewriting pass, with significant feedback from my spouse, since February. In that time, Dame Jessamine’s quest has undergone drastic improvement. The manuscript lost a few thousand words, gained them back, and lost them again: 88,000 words across 22 chapters at the moment.

September marks the beginning of the second major editing pass! After I’ve acted on RJ’s feedback, I’ll perform an additional “sanity” pass or two- actually printing out the whole darn thing at least once- before declaring the manuscript ready for publishing. Given this is my first novel, and I’ve yet to experience the full spectrum of quirks regarding ebook generation and uploading to vendors, I don’t want to commit to a solid release date. I still hope to publish the ebook by late 2014, or early 2015. A paperback version may take longer, but is also something I intend to do via Amazon’s CreateSpace service.

Join the quest- read this book for FREE! Click here and provide your email address. I’ll give you an advance review copy of the ebook once it’s ready!

In the sliver of time between now and September, I’ve been tackling a few side projects:

  • A short story (I’m targeting 6-8,000 words) to introduce the Sword and Starship universe. Blood’s Force editing takes precedence, so there’s no ETA for this story. Whenever it’s ready, I’ll make it available for free.
  • Retooling the CSS and HTML for my main website. It looks prettier, and uses HTML5! That may not mean much to you, but I can’t describe how awesome it is to start over with files that aren’t cluttered with seventeen custom DIV classes. My next order of business is to make the site friendlier for small screens- although early feedback indicates the site looks good as-is on some mobile devices.
  • Studying up on the kind of front- and backmatter an ebook novel should have, and where. For instance, a table of contents at the front seems obvious, right? Well, many ebook makers throw the TOC at the end, so that the book sample Amazon, B&N, etc. shows the customer has more actual story in it.
  • Learning how to write good marketing copy and blurbs. This is so outside my skillset, but critical to get right! I’ll be working at it for years to come, I’m sure.

That’s where I stand currently. I hope you’re as glad to hear about this milestone as I am to reach it!

Any words of advice or encouragement? Feel free to drop me a line in the comments!


Pacing: Seize Control Of Your Story’s Tempo

footprints(Image credit: imagebase.net)

Along with the million other things writers must worry about, there’s pacing!  Basically, pacing is how fast the story moves.  Ever hear someone describe how a book took off running from the first page?  Or how it started slow, but picked up toward the end?

What creates those impressions?  How do you control them?

Each individual sentence of your story has an effect on overall pacing.  If it’s advancing the plot in a meaningful way, then it’s on the “fast” track.  If it has nothing to do with the plot, it’s on the “slow” track.  Physical length of the lines, and the portrayal of time passing, can also contribute to a fast or slow sense.

Every story will feature a combination of fast and slow sentences, paragraphs, and scenes.  How you arrange these, and how many slow ones you allow to exist, determine pacing overall.

Here are some specific examples of fast pacing:

  • Terse, conflict-laden dialogue.  Characters hashing out a plot-related conflict through words, and/or trading only a few words at a time.
  • Short sentences and paragraphs.  These are fantastic for moments of action, or calling attention to important details.
  • Action scenes.  Characters doing stuff, or events happening, to move the story forward.  By “action,” I don’t necessarily mean explosions and car chases.  One character interrogating another for critical info can be “action” too, as long as their exchange doesn’t wander off-topic or draw out too long.
  • Summaries.  Instead of explaining how Johnny drove home, brushed his teeth, put on his jammies, went to bed, then woke up the next morning, simply saying, “Johnny went home to bed.  The next morning…” to leap forward to the next time of actual interest.

Keeping things moving is important.  Your reader should never be thinking, “Where is this going?” or “When will this be over?”  A reader who can’t justify why he’s reading anymore will quit on the story, one way or another.

On the other hand, there are times when hitting the brakes on your pace is a good thing.  You want to linger on important moments and feelings, draw them out.  When your main character’s best friend dies, for instance, he shouldn’t be over it two sentences later.  His grief process, and its duration, give the reader a better sense of who he is.  The reader “grieves” too, and is now more attached to the story.

Anything that hits the pause button on your plot slows the story’s pace.  Specific examples:

  • Long and/or conflict-free dialogue.  It can be informative, but also potentially dangerous, because there’s potential to wander on too long.  (I never have this problem.  Ahem.)
  • Big paragraphs.  More words to read serves as a physical hurdle for the reader, creating a sense of more time passing and things happening.  If that’s the effect you’re looking for, good!
  • Characters pausing the narration to think.  Their thoughts are important for explaining their actions and attitudes, but remember, you’re calling timeout on the story to put them in.
  • Scene descriptions.  Significant places deserve a great setup.  This isn’t as critical for minor or mundane locations.
  • Flashbacks.  I hate flashbacks, myself, but other people use them.  If you insist on dreaming or time-jumping, be as clear about it as possible.
  • Backstory.  Try to incorporate backstory in small doses, and interesting ways.  Do not halt the plot to present pages of information (Dammit Jim, it’s a story, not a dossier)!  Don’t begin the story with backstory, either- that was one of my big weaknesses once.  I now avoid writing an intro whenever possible.
  • Dragging out detail.  Instead of saying “Johnny got stabbed,” explain how the knife went in, when it began to hurt, etc.  You definitely want to highlight big moments this way.

A slow pace can establish a mood, draw attention to something important, create and lengthen tension, drum up reader empathy, and give a sense of more time passing- but be careful not to slow things down to a crawl.

How can you tell if your story is paced well?  You must have a finished draft first.  Spend a little time away from it, then go back and read it as though for the first time.  (Printing it out, or selecting a different font in your word processor, can help trick your brain into thinking you’ve never seen it before.)  At what parts do you think, “Man, I wish there was more here?”  Add in what your brain was craving.  At what parts do you think, “Geez, get on with it already!”  Make that stuff shorter.

It’s also critical to get other people to make the same review.  If there’s consensus as to what parts need to be faster or slower, take heed!  Once you fix those parts, you’ll be glad you did!  (I have more hints for eliciting great feedback here.)

Do you have any other tricks for managing pace?  Drop me a line in the comments and let me know!


Self-Promotion: Baby Steps for Total Beginners

nature017No one said this would be an easy climb.  Let’s get started!  (Image credit: imagebase.net)

When one works Tech Support, one tends to develop a dim view of salespeople.  Many of them are the former jocks who gave you hell in high school, now sporting fake tans, classy suits, and leased BMWs.  They care more about meeting their quotas than actually assisting people.  When their customers call Tech Support to complain that what they bought isn’t appropriate for their needs, they’re thousands of miles away on another Tahitian vacation, paid for by the company.

Overly pushy sales-beasts in other realms- cars, retail- only add to one’s negative image.  One tends to prefer e-commerce, where one can better ignore these pitches.

And then one decides to focus on writing- and realizes she has to be come her own salesperson.

I’m starting out as poorly equipped for this as one can be.  I’m a shy, soft-spoken introvert whose anxiety issues flare up in social situations.  Hell, I’m still at the stage where just sharing my writing with other people requires deep breaths and a big leap over an emotional hurdle.

But, I’m determined to get better.  A few things that make it easier:

  • I don’t have to go from newbie to pro right away, all at once.
  • Self-promotion isn’t anything like what the average corporate or retail salesperson does.

What actually sells books?  According to many who are doing it, it’s not about mass emails, hard sells, or spamming everyone’s Twitter feed.  It’s about making connections with people like yourself, who enjoy what you do.  It’s something that takes years to cultivate.

To be fair, I don’t have much to promote right now, except in the interests of getting read!  (Which I’m definitely interested in.)  There’s one short story I’ve sold that’s now free, and my Daily WTF articles are also free to read.  Even when I’m done with my novel, I don’t need to have a huge marketing machine in place for it.  I’d rather do heavy-duty promotion after I finish the whole Sword and Starship series I have in mind.  Why kill myself selling one book now when I can sell a box set one day?

However, I have started taking a few small steps toward being more comfortable with self-promotion:

  • I’ve set up a mailing list for folks what want to know what’s up with my work.  In return, I give them freebies and special heads-ups- but only when stuff actually happens.
  • I spend a fair bit of time on Google+, getting to know cool new people from all over the world.  I have profiles set up on a few other social networking sites as well, but G+ is what I like best.  Besides, if I spent too much time on all these sites, I’d have none for writing.
  • I’ve tried to share smaller bits of writing more often, like with SaturdayScenes on G+, and these very blog posts.  I want to convince readers I’m worth taking a chance on, once I have books out.
  • In public, I make more of an effort to talk about the fact that I write.  It’s my job now, after all!  If people express an interest, I tell them more about what I write.

Here’s stuff I want to start doing in the near future:

  • Meet more people- not necessarily other writers, but also sci-fi and language enthusiasts via Meetup.  This is especially important as I no longer work full-time, and would gladly bunker in my house without human contact for the rest of time if not prodded.
  • Find more online communities/blogs where people might be interested in the kind of stuff I write- NOT so I can spam these communities with sales pitches, but so I can interact with the members and get to know them.
  • More free stuff!  I eventually want to polish up and release more short stories.  Maybe I’ll sell collections of them one day.

All of these steps nudge me out of my comfort zone a little bit at a time, which is both scary and wonderful.

What advice might you have for me, someone who’s just starting out with self-promotion?  Please leave a note in the comments!


Be In The Present

cookie-monster-wisdom

My spouse does long-form improv- similar to what you see on Whose Line Is It Anyway?, only a given scene lasts several minutes instead of a few seconds.  It requires tons of practice to keep such a long scene engaging and funny off the top of one’s head.

Sometimes, an improv scene peters out when characters get stuck talking about stuff they already did, or plan to do in the future.  During rehearsal, coaches will yell “CUT TO THAT!” In other words, quit talking about it and SHOW us that stuff.

I can’t count all the times I’ve heard writers (and their supporting characters) go on and on about badass protagonists and their badass feats- that all happened before the story begins.  If that stuff was so cool and integral to shaping the character, why aren’t you writing that story?  It’s way more engaging to watch the struggle of an ordinary person turning into a badass than to start with a badass who one-hit-kills everything in sight, and thus is never in much danger.  Imagine if Luke Skywalker just droned on and on about that time he fought Darth Vader.  Is that the movie you’d want to see?  Of course not.  CUT TO THAT, Luke!

When constructing scenes, think hard about what the present moment has to offer.  What’s at stake?  What do the characters feel?  What are their goals, how do they intend to accomplish them, and what gets in their way?  What opportunities exist to establish tension?  If you can’t come up with good answers, then do you need this scene at all?

Be mindful of the present with dialogue as well.  Don’t let character conversation meander into recollections or speculation that isn’t pertinent right now.  I have to keep reminding myself of this thanks to many years of Star Trek RPGs.  From TNG onward, Star Trek was chock full of briefing scenes where characters discussed the Problem of the Episode and how they wanted to approach it.  These scenes made a lot of sense to emulate in role-playing settings.  The players could interact with each other, form plans for dealing with the crisis, and develop their characters at the same time.

To the players, the briefings were interesting and useful.  To outside observers, though… they’re boring.  Imagine sitting in on a project status meeting at a company you don’t work for.  The meeting participants are getting a lot out of their collaboration (hopefully), but you couldn’t care less about this shit.  You don’t have a reason to care- and that’s the big problem.  Briefing scenes are usually dumped at the beginning, before your audience knows any of the characters or cares about the stakes.  Even if they do show up later in the narrative, how necessary are they?  What’s more exciting- seeing the characters scramble to disable the warp core as klaxons blare and time grows short- or seeing them sitting on their asses in a tranquil conference room, debating the feasibility of rerouting the engine room plasma conduits?

It’s not always bad to have characters reminiscing or talking about the future.  You can do so as a means of establishing character or explaining what comes next- but keep in mind that it gets dull fast.  It also throws the brakes on advancing your plot.

Look for ways to make the present moment engaging in some way.  If you can’t, choose a better present and go from there.

What tips do you have for living in the moment?  Drop me a line in the comments!