Thursday, August 26, 2010

Listen to the Voices In Your Head...

Now you're probably wondering, has this guy suddenly opened shop as a shrink and is trying to drum up business or something?  Rest easy dear friends, that is not the case.  When I say listen to the voices in your head, I'm talking about the characters your writing about.  You may have them completely fleshed out in your head.  Their appearance, personal history, likes/dislikes, the works.  But once you start writing about them, a lot of that is going to change.

I can't tell you how many twists and turns my book has taken because characters will suddenly be running off in a totally different direction than what I had planned.  They take side trips that sometimes work really well. It's even happened with some of the secondary and background characters.  I'll be writing a little walk on scene with them and BANG,  I know their background and history and how it will play a key role in the main story.

Now this works out great for me since I'm planning a series of novels.  Some of these secondary characters and their back stories, are going to become the main characters in some of my later books.  It already happened with my first novel, which is still under rewrite. One of the secondary figures had lost a parent in a strange traffic accident that still has a number of unanswered questions hanging over it.  I was going to make this part of my current work, but the book was becoming too long.  So I've set that part of his story to the side for now.  But, I've hinted heavily at that mysterious accident that made him become a cop, thus sowing the seeds of interest for that later book.

So be flexible when this happens to you.  If the characters aren't behaving themselves, they may be laying the groundwork for later stories.  And sometimes, you may even have to remove them from your current project altogether, because you have a totally different vision for them elsewhere.

My last piece of advice for today is this.  If you start hearing other voices in your head, that are not anyone nearby or in your writing do the following.  Make an appointment with a head specialist.  Just remember to pause at GO and collect $200.00.  You'll need it to pay for the session.

Enjoy and keep writing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ideas and Inspirations and "Dark Shadows"

I'd like to write, but I don't know what to write about.

Sound familiar?  When people talk to me about what I'm trying to do, I hear that same refrain over and over.  And I know where they're coming from.  I only decided to try my hand at writing about two years ago.  Why didn't I do it sooner?  Because I had nothing but fan-fic ideas.  Inserting myself or my friends into situations involving established well known characters like Dr. Who, Harry Potter, etc. Although my friends and I were involved, we'd just get to lend a hand and interact with these beloved characters who were still the star of the stories.  Or I'd create an original character/being who, happened to cross paths with The Doctor.  My creation was not superior to him, but they got to work together and went their separate ways.  This was fun because I was involved in fan clubs with their own newsletters where these tales would be published.  So I had both an outlet and an audience.  But when those clubs went away (about 15 years ago) I continued to play with story ideas in my head.

Then I found something from my childhood... DARK SHADOWS on DVD.  I first ran across this series when I was 3 years old.  I didn't fully understand what was going on, but I knew I liked Barnabas Collins the first good-guy vampire on TV.   I had come in during the Leviathan storyline and watched as faithfully as I could.  But, parents, school, etc. tore me away.  But I never forgot the show or Barnabas Collins.

Then my wife discovered the series in reruns, while attending Pomona College in Claremont California.  Like me, she too got hooked.  So we always kept an eye out hoping to find it in reruns in Sacramento or for sale.  Finally four years ago, we found it on Netflix and started watching from the beginning.  This refueled my desire to kick around story ideas not involving us or our friends.  I started to think about how I would update things and started to lay the groundwork for writing it, just for my own amusement.

Then we reached the end of the Barnabas storyline, and were introduced into a parallel timeline where he had never become a vampire and had a son, Bramwell. This storyline did not involve vampires or werewolves but a family curse that Bramwell, the unwanted poor relation, would help defeat.  I began kicking ideas around of how I would have approached that storyline which involved a ghost and a curse.  I found myself saying, "A ghost? Ah, I would've done this... And introduced such and such type of  character... Then I would've gone with a completely different threat like..." and before I knew it I had created a story idea that was completely different and original. 

Once this sank in I began writing the ideas down.  Changing the names, creating new characters and situations and thus began my first original writing project.  I was 2/3's of the way through the first draft, when my wife pointed out that setting the piece in 1807 may not be the best idea.  If I was serious about getting published, a story in a modern day setting might be easier to sell.

I thought about this long and hard, and decided she may be right.  So, I put that project aside and started a modern day piece.  But, I included a descendant of the family I had created for the 1807 story, as part of my cast.  While she wasn't the star of the new book, she would play a crucial role in it.  This would lead to her becoming the main focus of the next novel, which would have direct ties to the events that involved her ancestors back in  1807.  This of course would lead me to finally complete that particular story, and show my audience what led to the events of the 2nd book.

So here I am, two years later.  My first completed novel is still undergoing editing as I await to hear back from an agent I queried.  The 2nd one is partly written, while the 3rd book set in 1807 awaits completion.  All this because I was inspired by a TV series from the 60's.  But, I've also been getting inspiration from books by H. P. Lovecraft, August Derleth, Stephen King, Peter Straub, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and others.

So if you're wondering, "What can I write about?", look to the things you enjoy for ideas.  Such as movies, TV shows, books, hobbies, etc.  What kind of setting can you come up with for a story?  What events are happening in that setting?  What kind of personalities might we encounter there?  Once you figured out those questions, try running with it.   

Remember there's only so many stories out there.  Boy meets Girl.  Boy loses girl because she's an android or an alien.  Boy gets girl back after being cybernetically enhanced.  How many times have we seen that one?  But, it's what touches and twists you put on it that can make it new and original.

Happy writing all.

PS:  For all you Dark Shadow fans, in case you haven't heard, Tim Burton is bringing it back to the big screen with Johnny Depp as Barnabas.  They plan on making more than one film, if the first one is a success.  And we all know there's a lot of stories we'd like to see them do.  Keep your eyes and ears open and check it out when it arrives in I believe 2011.

PPS: Also, the original cast of Dark Shadows have been doing Audio-Dramas on CD.  These are new stories with the actors and actresses reprising their roles from the series, complete with the original opening music.  They are terrific.  You can find them on Amazon.com or through Big Finish Productions.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Solid Advice from An Agent About What to Expect

What is the Role of an Agent?

http://chipmacgregor.typepad.com/main/2010/08/what-is-the-role-of-an-agent.html

I found this article thanks to Rachell Gardner a literary agent with WordServe Literary.  She posted it on Twitter and I found it to be extremely informative and helpful.  For those of us who have yet to get that call from an agent saying, "Love your writing, I'd like to represent you..." the points brought up here are incredibly important.  You must have a good idea of what the agent's role is in your business relationship.  Furthermore, Mr. MacGregor also gives great advice about what an agent SHOULD NOT be doing.

I strongly advise you all go and click on this link and learn from it.  I know I did.

Now, I have to get back to rewriting my novel, which I have successfully brought down below the 100,000 word mark.  I've removed a lot more than I expected, but was able to add new scenes and situations that raise the tension and mystery levels to new highs.

Later everyone, and keep writing.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

You Must Have Character(s)...

The great revision continues...  Which is why I haven't updated recently, sorry about that.  But, it's been quite the chore trying to whittle my novel down from 123,500 words to below 100,000 words.  Hardly a Herculean task, but it is time consuming. Mostly because when I've removed certain large scenes, I've been able to slip in new smaller ones.  These new scenes have helped move the plot along more quickly, but also build tension where there hadn't been enough before.  In the end I'm winding up with a better product.  Hooray for rewrites!

But I haven't been just doing the revision, I've taken time out to do some reading for my own enjoyment.  Currently, I'm re-reading "Ghost Story" by Peter Straub.  I first read this book back in 1980 and became enthralled.  Who would've thought that a mystery involving 4 old men, a young writer and a teenager could be such a page turner.  I enjoy Mr. Straub's handling of the characters and settings.  I also found the concept of using a Manitou for an antagonist quite refreshing.  How true Mr. Straub's is to the legendary creature is up for speculation.  All authors have the opportunity to put their own touch on such legendary and mythological creatures.  One only has to look at Anne Rice's or Stephanie Meyer's and their completely different takes on the vampire.

However, I think it's Mr. Straub's manner of dealing with his characters that I find most enjoyable.  They have their faults, weaknesses and frailties.  Yet they struggle against such incredible odds to win the day.  A flawed character is a far more interesting person to read about than a  perfect one.  The perfect character who is the most beautiful, talented, able to handle any situation can get downright boring fast.  Unless the author has given them a really well written adversary that challenges all their skills.  

Of course, in most books the protagonist is going to win the day.  But how they overcome their own insecurities, self doubts?  Do they have a history that haunts them or holds them back.  Did something happen in the past that cost them something emotionally, mentally or physically.  How does it relate to what their facing now?  Tie all those things together and you can wind up with a character the audience can relate to and want to cheer on.

That's all I've got for today.  More soon.  Enjoy your weekend everybody.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

It's Still About The Rewrites...

I thought I'd said enough about rewrites in my last entry.  Well, I was wrong.  Mind you I've put away the hockey mask and chainsaw.  At least for the moment.  I managed to remove entire scenes and sections in one day bringing my word count down from 123,500 to 107,000.  Now, I've donned a surgical mask and am using a scalpel.  Why?  Because after removing the most obvious sections that took up too much space, the novel needs to be edited page by page.  I've reduced some of the word count by simply taking sentences and rephrasing what's being said, but with fewer words.  Yes, this is a lot of work, but so was writing the story in the first place.

Now, I can only speak for myself on this matter, but I'm finding editing and rewriting no bigger chore than creating the story.  Some people can get downright tired of going over the same scenes again and again, or dealing with the same characters. They get to the point where they want to add a new character armed with an Uzi to get rid of the others and put an end to it.  While that's an interesting thought, it tends to ruin the rest of the story.  Unless of course you're writing a mystery/thriller and that happens to be the opening scene. But if its not, then you need to look at things in a different way.  If you are planning future stories with some of these characters you can gain new insight into them while doing your rewrites.  Even secondary characters can start looking more interesting to you.  At least 2-3 supporting cast members in my novel, may be getting their own story (short or long) down the road. 

And that file I mentioned in my last entry, where I've been placing the scenes I've removed from the draft I'm reworking...  It's grown to 60+ pages (double-spaced).  I have much more material to work with for the sequel as well as the beginnings of at least 2-4 other stories.  In other words, while rewriting can be the pits it can also be the seeds that become  so much more.  Remember, most of us are in this for the long haul.  And we need to keep coming up with more story ideas.  You can wind up with a treasure trove of them by keeping what you didn't use.

On a personal note, one thing I discovered during this latest rewrite was that  I was losing the tone of the novel (mystery/paranormal-horror) by focusing too much on lighter moments with the characters.  Friendly banter, teasing, etc. makes your characters seem more real for your audience.  But don't lose track of whatever perils and complications await them. Cutting some of this down a bit will also reduce your word count.  In my case considerably.

Well, that's all I've got for now.  Time to scrub up and continue the surgery.  The novel is down to 103,700 words and I'm barely a quarter of the way done.  Remember the target length for a new author is between 80,000-100,000 words (for adult fiction).  Keep writing everyone.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

It's All About the Rewrites...

I've been busy lately with a lot of new contacts thanks to this blog and Facebook.  I'm also on Twitter these days, though I don't Tweet a lot.  At least not yet.  I resisted Twitter and doing a blog for some time, because I didn't think I'd have a lot to say.  But it seems that I do.  My biggest challenge is not blogging too often, for fear I'll run out of good topics.  That and the fact that I'll be heading back to college at the end of this month.  I don't want to suddenly cut back on my readers, that would seem unfair and inconsiderate.  And I know I can keep up with doing 2 entries a week while I'm studying.  Especially since there seems to be a lot to do when it comes to blogging, at least for me.  I always write my entry and then let it sit for a while.  Then I'll come back and look it over, do some cutting, pasting, and  rewriting before finally posting it.  

All of this holds true for writing in general.  When I completed the first draft of my novel, I hit the word count tool and was shocked.  The count was 190,000 words.  Yes, you read correctly 190,000 words.  I didn't think I knew that many words.  My first thought was, 'Please tell me this thing has gone banana-wackies on me.'  Sadly, it hadn't.  So I knew it needed some serious editing and rewriting.  Little did I know I was about to take my first journey down that infamous, and really long path, known as the learning curve.

I started looking up guidelines at my local library where I was nearly kicked out for gasping too loud.  Okay, there might have been some colorful language involved too.  But only because I knew I'd read books that are 300-400 pages by authors like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Peter Straub and others.  So what was wrong with me doing something really long?  But then I went back to their earliest works and realized, they didn't start out that way.  You have to be a solid, established, best-selling author to get away with books that long.  Remember, you're an unknown quantity from a publisher's point of view.  They take a bit of a gamble on every book they put out and they want good sales in return.  And they're putting the money out to make those books a reality.

Eventually, I went back to my novel to see where I could do some cutting.  Lo and behold I found where I had repeated important ideas and plot points in several different places.  Can you say redundant?  I knew you could.

This is why we need to go over our work when it's finished.  Unless you're at it everyday and can somehow keep track of all the points and facts you've already put down, this can happen.  I was at this novel on and off for months, so it was bound to happen.  I just never realized how many times it did.  So I began my rewrite by eliminating those mistakes.  But, I was careful to keep the key elements and information where they had the most impact.   I also removed scenes and concepts that were interesting, but not essential to the overall plot.

So now I had it down to 123,500 words.  Yay me.  I started querying and doing more research.  I found out yesterday that the acceptable word count for a brand new author is usually between 80,000-100,000 words.  I took this news with dignity and good humor... eventually.

After an hour of uncontrollable sobbing (remember my previous entry on not dwelling on the bad stuff for too long), I got out of the corner and dusted myself off.  Then, I headed over to the closet and pulled out hockey mask and a chainsaw.  Yes, I know Jason Vorhees doesn't use a chainsaw but it just felt right on this occasion. 

So, now it's time for more rewriting.  Luckily, it doesn't involve the Prologue and first chapter that is waiting to be looked over by the nice agent I've mentioned in my earlier posts.  I already have some good ideas where to cut and what characters and events should have less screen time. 

HOWEVER... (sorry for the capitals but I feel this point is important).  I am not going to just delete those scenes or toss them in the trashcan on my laptop.  I created a folder for the items I remove from my novels to preserve them.  Just because they aren't necessary or working for this particular book, doesn't mean they're useless.  Change the names or situations and you've got a ready-made scene for another storyline.  You might even get an idea for an entire story from those fragments.  And the only space they're taking up is a tiny bit of memory on your computer.  I've even kept the earlier drafts of my novel before the cutting began.  I find it important to be able to see where it started and whether or not I kept to the spirit of my original concept.  

So you can see how rewrites can actually help you avoid costly mistakes and even give you the basis for future novels.  It can be hard work, but it can also mean the difference between getting that agent or that publishing deal we're all chasing after.  I've even found that by shortening my work, the story flows more smoothly and the tension mounts faster.  This allows the book to get a good hold on the reader's imagination.  One of the best compliments I got from one of my Beta-Readers (see previous entry on those folks) was that she didn't like reading my novel at night.  Because she wanted to actually go to sleep and knew she'd have a hard time putting it down.

Now it's time to put my hockey mask back on, oil up the chainsaw, and get to my own rewrite.  And remember, writing is a lot of work.  But it's worth it in the end.

Oh, and if you're wondering what genre I write in, I'm afraid I have a hard time classifying it myself.  What do you call a novel involving a reluctant psychic, a 16 year old mystery, scenes of horror with a sci-fi twist thrown in towards the end?  If you figure it out, please leave a post and let me know, because I'm having a difficult time explaining it to agents.  And you need to know what genre you're working in, before you start sending out queries.  But that's a subject for another entry some other day.