Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Now, those of you who wracked up a heavy word count, know this... your work isn't over yet. Sad, I know! But now that you have a large quantity of words, you now have to work on bumping up the quality of those words. So, take a break, pat yourself on the back, and put that crafting cap on your head and get back to work! ;-)
Also, a bit of personal news... it looks like I'll be getting a contract for my novella, The Scarlet Key, very soon! I'll try and post more about that as the months go on. It's exciting to think that sometime in 2011 people will actually be able to hold a book in their hands and read a story I thought up between school periods.
It's also very weird.
I'll keep you all posted on what I learn throughout the experience. See you around the net!
Monday, November 1, 2010
Last night I finished writing my fantasy novella (The Scarlet Key) for submission to a publisher. I shipped it off (via e-mail, as the guidelines required) and it's probably now sitting un-opened in the publisher's inbox. What will happen with it? I don't know. But I hope you get the chance to read it someday.
A bit of shameless backstory: After I first finished The Scarlet Key I was on a bit of an emotional high. I decided it was good enough to submit to a press--something I'd never done before. I found and bought an envelope big enough to fit my story into (not as easy as it sounds), and shipped it off. Shortly after I received a rejection letter detailing all the reasons I wasn't good enough.
I'm not a stranger to rejection. But it's interesting how things are so subjective, especially in the literary world.
For example: Contest judge #1 says I have wonderful voice, a sound grasp of my craft, and descriptions that bring my storyworld to life. Judge #2 says I have no voice, no talent with my genre, and no idea what I'm doing when it comes to description.
I sometimes wonder if writers let their bitterness get a hold of them more often than the average person. This industry doesn't exactly match the typical writer's personality, and it doesn't help that we're all so darn opinionated. I've observed that unpublished writers are generally more cranky than the published ones, and I won't say that doesn't make sense. It does, and it's the reason for all those rude comments on agent blogs. But there is a good way to handle rejection and there is a bad way.
If someone rejects you, DON'T GIVE UP! Take that rejection and funnel it into your efforts to better yourself, while realizing that one person's opinion isn't always the right (or best) opinion. Most of all, though, don't let rejection get you down. If you truly aren't ready yet, realize that if you persist you'll eventually succeed. Success isn't always measured by receiving the title Published Author, and in the end it's God you have to please, not others, and certainly not yourself.
As I mentioned, I'm waiting for feedback on The Scarlet Key. I believe in the story. I hope things work out and it gets published. However, I believe I've already succeeded at this writing game. How many prospective writers actually finish a novel during their lifetime?
(Oh, and I'll let you decide which of the aforementioned judges had checked the "Published Author" box at the bottom of their critique. ;)
Saturday, October 2, 2010
Jill Williamson, a Christy award-winning author, runs a site specifically for teen writers. Jill is a friend and mentor of mine, and she really knows her stuff.
Check out TeenageAuthor.com. Browse the pages of that site. Soak in some wisdom.
Also, if you're looking for some good Young Adult books to read, check out NovelTeen.com. I write and review for that site twice a month, so I can vouch for its quality.
See you next month!
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Most of the mistakes I’ve made can be found on this e-zine. Scroll down and take a look at all the advice I’ve given on so many different topics. Those posts are the fruit of learning from my mistakes. By making those errors and learning from them, I can help you guys avoid them.
That’s why I write these e-zines every month. It’s for you guys.
I’d planned for this post to be about editors and their roles at publishing houses, but I decided that’d be worthless information at the moment (though if you’re into worthless information, click here).
What you really need to know is that you are your editor. At first, anyway.
For what seems like the past million years I’ve been editing the first novel I ever wrote. As I type this, only 24 hours has elapsed since I finished writing that novel for the second time.
I wish I’d done things differently, but it’s too late now. Time to learn from my mistake and pass what wisdom I can onto you.
So here goes…
If you’re passionate about a story idea—something you know needs to be written—but have never written anything and had it critiqued by people who know what they’re talking about, don’t write that novel.
Write a different one. Have it critiqued by people who know what they’re talking about. Learn from your mistakes, stuff that test novel in an obscure cabinet, and then… then write the novel you’re passionate about.
I wasted a good chunk of my teenage life writing a 150 thousand word manuscript that sucks. The passion was there, but buried under miles of horrendous craftsmanship.
Let’s face it, readers don’t care much about “telling” or adverbs. So why master the craft of writing fiction?
Because the passion behind your stories can only be inhibited by poor writing. A reader reads a book because they want to be lit by the flame that drove the author. They want to experience new things. Escape for awhile. Be inspired.
Imagine someone giving you a piece of candy, but first rubbing it in the dirt. On the inside, that candy still tastes good—but the faint taste of dirt will ruin the whole point of eating the candy in the first place.
There are many famous books out there as filled to the brim with passion as they are bad craftsmanship. Twilight comes to mind. There’s no doubt that the zeal inside of that book has set fire to many readers (mostly tween girls), but look at the top Amazon.com reviews of Stephenie Meyer’s first book. They all mention how the bad craftsmanship of the novel kept them from enjoying it.
Now let’s look at a book filled with passion as well as good craftsmanship: The Hunger Games. Look at the top Amazon.com reviews for Suzanne Collins’ book. None of them mention craft issues. That’s because it’s a sound novel.
See the difference? Bad writing affects your reader for the worse, even if it’s in a subtle way. Good writing helps you tell a more passionate story.
That’s why you should edit and continually strive to get better. I believe in the book that I just finished rewriting, so I took the time and edited it. It could’ve been less painful, but that’s the way it was. No regrets.
I can’t stress enough the importance of finding experienced writers to critique your work and mentor you. But you have to be careful here. If you’re mentored early on by someone who thinks they know what they’re talking about but really doesn’t, that’s going to do damage. So judge people by their merits.
Something else every writer should understand is that no first draft is flawless. You need to fine tune your paragraphs and let other people read your manuscript so they can give you their opinions on what you could change. Because you are your editor. You can either slack or put in the effort to write the best book you possibly can. It’s up to you.
The last bit of advice I’ll give you this month is something that applies to life as well as writing: never give up. If you’re passionate about something, pursue it with every fiber of your being.
That’s all this time. Come back next month for my recap of what I learned at the ACFW Conference.
Saturday, July 31, 2010
And what better way to do that than to give away an autographed book?
I recently got the chance to read and review Marlayne Giron’s book, The Victor. It’s a medieval tale of love, sacrifice, and betrayal. Go HERE to read my review of it.
I interviewed her as well, and you can check that out HERE.
How to win the autographed book? There’s three ways.
1. If you’re a teen inkling, leave a comment on this post with your e-mail address in an anti-SPAM format (like this: ChristianMiles [at] live [dot] com). If you’re not a teen inkling, take a moment to click the follow button in the sidebar.
2. In order to gain an extra entry, write a blog post about this e-zine and leave the link in your comment with your email address.
3. Go to my book review of The Victor, read it, and leave a comment over there in order to gain a third entry.
It doesn’t matter if you only do one, but your odds of winning will increase if you do all three.
I’ll randomly pick a winner at Midnight on my birthday, August 14th, and e-mail the winner in order to get their mailing address.
That’s all. Good luck!
Thursday, July 1, 2010
In the meantime, feel free to read this special version of a devotional I wrote for CLASH Entertainment.
Dealing with doubt.
When I was nine my mom told me God had given me a talent for writing. At that age her words were enough to keep me going, but seven years later things have gotten harder. It’s easy to look at what I’ve written at the end of the day and doubt that God has really given me a talent. Most of the time I’m left thinking, Who in their right mind would kill a tree to publish this?
I never would’ve entered a writing competition if it hadn’t been for my Sunday School teacher, who is also a writer. She encouraged me to enter a contest, so I did.
Doubt set in. Every day my dread for the feedback intensified. Finally, the results came back. I hadn’t finaled. I felt horrible, like I’d let everyone down. Then I read one of the judge’s comments. She’d liked my story, and had advice to help improve it!
Since then I’ve learned that developing our God-given talents is a step-by-step journey. If we let Satan plant doubts in our minds, much like they sank Peter’s steps when he walked on water, they’ll sink ours. I’ve entered two more writing contests since that first one, and, though I didn’t win either, my scores have been higher. In ACFW's Genesis Competition, I was in the top 25% of writers. I’m improving, and someday God will be able to use my talents for His glory. Meanwhile, when doubts set in, I’ll pray. Nothing kills doubt faster than taking my eyes off of myself and setting them on God.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Jacob set out to write his fantasy novel, Kestrel’s Midnight Song, while in the fourth grade. It took him two years to finish the first draft. Upon reflection, he says, “I wasn’t as disciplined as I should have been. I went through long periods of stagnation, felt like giving up several times.”
Luckily for readers, he persevered.
Kestrel’s Midnight Song is a mystery-fraught adventure novel about a shepherd boy named Micah. King Darius commissions wool to be sheared for his new wardrobe, and Micah’s sheep are unlucky enough to be chosen to make the long journey to Gable Kingdom Castle. Along the way they face many dangers, as well as the giant creature on the book’s cover.
When asked what the drive behind writing a novel at such a young age was, Jacob replied, “When I first set out to write a novel in fourth grade, it was probably for fame and fortune. But I quickly got hooked on the joy of writing itself. I like taking bizarre stuff that could never be real... and experiencing it. With book two, though, I will have to be much more disciplined. The deadline looming on the horizon should strike enough fear into me to keep me focused.”
To wrap up my interview, I asked Jacob how his faith affects his novels. He said, “There are definite Christian themes in my writing. I like books that push me, make me think. And I’d like to use the time and gifts God has given me to accomplish more than entertainment. Fiction is a powerful vehicle for Truth and I intend to use it as such.”
Having read Kestrel’s Midnight Song myself, I can only conclude by saying it’s a fantastic story. Jacob Parker is truly a diamond in the rough. Being young hasn’t affected his ability to tell a powerful story. I can’t wait to read his next book.
You can find Jacob online at http://www.songlore.com/. To read the full interview, click here.
Stay tuned for next month's e-zine: THE EDITOR
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Getting an agent.
A literary agent is a person who takes on writers as clients and sends their manuscripts to the editors of various publishing houses. These people are usually well-connected with the publishing world, but some are not. You can’t be too careful when trying to find an agent, so don’t let your emotions get the better of you. Remember, this is a business deal. Your agent will be getting around 10% of every dollar you make. Be cautious.
How do you do that? A good agent will list their clients on their website. This is an acceptable practice, and it helps writers a lot. If you recognize some of the names on the list, good! If you don’t, look them up on Amazon.com to find what books they’ve published and with who. Look specifically for the authors within your genre, and see what publishers the agent collaborated with in order to sell that person’s book. Is the publisher respectable? Would you want your book published with them? Ask yourself these questions.
After researching and analyzing the resulting data, you’ve weeded out the bad agents from the good. Now you can write your query letters!
If a generic query letter existed, it’d consist of three paragraphs. One paragraph to summarize the book, one to identify your target audience, and one consisting of a biography and list of prior publications.
However, a generic query letter does not exist. The above formula is helpful, but you need to check the individual agents’ Submission Guidelines to find out exactly what they want in a query letter. This is available on their websites.
Lots of agents are opting to receive email submissions instead of physical letters. This can make it easier for them to function, but you shouldn’t expect things to go faster because of it. All in all, it doesn’t matter. Just be sure to follow the Guidelines minutely.
Some people suggest you send out fifty queries at a time. It can take up to six months or longer to get a response, and that’s wasted time if you’re just going to get a Form Letter rejection. I’d say to send out two batches of letters. With the first you’d pick out ten dream agents to query, and with the second you’d send out the other forty. Either way, don’t only send out one at a time.
After you’ve sent your query letters… you wait. Don’t waste this time pining away in agitation, write another book! This will help you deal with the anticipation.
Finally, after a millennia of waiting, the mailman starts to deliver the replies. Rejection after rejection. You feel like a complete failure. Most of these letters aren’t even personalized! You want to give up. Why did you even subject yourself to this torture, anyway?
Then, a reply with a note scrawled in the margin: “Looks promising, but I’m swamped right now.” You tear out your hair wondering exactly what “promising” meant, and then get another response. Someone wants to see more! You dance around your house, type up a cover letter, and send off your requested manuscript.
As you wait yet again, you get another request. You ship that one off. You wait some more. The first agent gets back to you. Rejection. Maybe they supply a reason, maybe they don’t. Your heart breaks.
Agent two contacts you… he/she loves your manuscript and wants to represent you! Floodgates of joy open. You’re not a failure! You talk with the agent, ask questions, get to know each other, then receive a contract. You sign it and everything is made official. You have an agent!
Together, you make a Proposal and the agent ships it off to the editors of various publishing houses. Some reject it. Some have already reached their book quota. Some show interest, but have to back out. And then… your agent finds a publishing house that loves it, passes it, and wants to acquire your manuscript!
Here your agent is especially helpful. He/she handles all the legal junk and gets you the best deal possible. You approve and sign the contract, then ship it off.
Come back soon for next month’s E-Zine: THE EDITOR
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Not all acts are created equal. The first act takes up ¼ of the story, the second takes up ½, and the third takes up the remaining ¼. The Middle should be twice as long as the Beginning or End.
Each act contains a disaster that propels the story forward. The first disaster comes at the end of the first act, where your Main Character is forced past the Point of No Return. The second disaster comes smack dab in the center of act two, and it’s there to keep your story from getting boring. The third disaster comes right at the front of act three and drives your Main Character to the End. Simple, huh?
Let’s look at the three-act structure of the popular movie, Star Wars: A New Hope. The movie is 125 minutes long, so the first act should take 30 minutes, the second should take 60 minutes, and the third should take up the remaining 30 minutes. This leaves us with roughly 5 minutes for the credits, which have absolutely nothing to do with anything.
Act One and the First Disaster
The movie starts with a large ship attacking and docking a smaller craft in outer space. Vader is introduced. Leia is captured. R2D2 and C3PO escape with critical information involving the Death Star. On the planet they’ve escaped to, the droids are captured by Jawas in a massive tank thingy.
But Act One isn’t over yet, we’ve only passed the fifteen minute mark!
The Main Character, Luke Skywalker, is introduced. He buys R2D2 and C3PO from the Jawas, but R2 runs (rolls?) away and the trio is attacked by Dread Sand People! An old man named Ben saves them, and they discover the secret message that R2 holds. Ben asks Luke to join him in the rebellion against the Empire, but Luke will have nothing to do with it. Instead he returns to his uncle’s farm—only to find it burned to a crisp by the Imperial forces tracking the droids.
This is the first disaster. Because of it, Luke returns to Ben and says, “I'll come with you now. There’s nothing for me here. I want to become a Jedi like my father.” Ahh, the Point of No Return.
Act Two and the Second Disaster
Ben and Luke need a ship in order to reach the Rebels. They find Han Solo, a smuggler and the captain of the Millennium Falcon, and convince him to take them on as passengers. Luke practices Jedi skills and the ship is attacked by a Tie Fighter, which drives them into being captured by the planet-destroying travesty, the Death Star. Ben goes off to shut down the tractor beam while Luke stumbles upon Princess Leia and decides to rescue her.
After accomplishing his goal, Ben faces off against Vader and ends up perishing in the act. Luke is on his own now and must deliver R2’s secret intel to the Rebels by himself. This is the second disaster, and it comes halfway into act two.
Luke and Han escape with Leia and, after a space battle, the Millennium Falcon reaches the Rebel base. They present R2’s intel about the Death Star and a desperate plan is conjured to destroy the planet-wrecking Death Star, and thus abolish the Emperor’s plans forever (yeah…sure).
Act Three and the Third Disaster
Han Solo turns his back on the Rebels and tries to get Luke to come with him. But Luke, on his quest to learn the Force and avenge his adoptive parents’ deaths, sees that the only way to bring Justice to the Empire is to abide by the Rebels’ suicidal plan. This is the third disaster, and it draws everything into focus.
The attack begins. Every Rebel ship that approaches the Death Star is destroyed, and only Luke is left to try. R2 is damaged. Darth Vader is on his tail. Luke turns off the computer and hears Ben’s voice in his head, “Use the force, Luke.” Darth Vader has his finger on the trigger and… Han Solo shows up and drives Vader away. Luke uses the force and blows up the Death Star. All conflicts are resolved. Luke has discovered the Force, his family is avenged, and the rebels have triumphed. The end!
So that was a full outline of Star Wars: A New Hope. If you’re one of those Star Wars obsessed people who know everything from the name of Yoda’s first love to Chewbacka’s middle initial, you’ll note that the acts don’t exactly correspond to the times we gave at the beginning. Act one took 40 minutes, act two took 58 minutes, and act three took 22 minutes. In fact, the credits are the only thing that stuck to their allotted 5 minutes. But guess what… that’s fine. Writing is an art, and like any art there’s some leeway that goes with it. But the tried and true way to structure a novel is this: three acts, three disasters. Stick with it, and you’ll soar with the Jedi Masters of the craft.
Monday, March 1, 2010
When starting my first novel, I couldn’t get more than a few pages into things before I’d freeze up and stop. I had no idea where things were going, so I couldn’t keep up the momentum. When that happened I felt like I wasn’t trying hard enough, like I was a quitter. But no matter what I did, I just couldn’t get the words on the page. How frustrating!
One day I was browsing the internet, feeling like a complete failure, when I stumbled upon an interview with the popular teen author of Eragon. As it turns out, he had the same problem when he was just starting to write. Eragon is a book that stood on the New York Times Bestseller List for over 120 weeks, so obviously the author got from point A to point B. How’d he do it? Outlining.
An outline is a complete overview of the novel you intend to write. My first outline was seventeen pages long, not including my extra notes, and I wrote it in a furious one-hour brainstorming session. You don’t need to write seventeen pages (seriously, I had snippets of dialogue in that monstrosity), even only one page is fine, but you do need to write it. Writing an outline now will give you practice for that critical synopsis you’ll someday include in your proposal.
Some writers have dubbed themselves "Seat of the Pants" writers. These people like to sit down and write their books knowing little to nothing about the plot or characters involved. If that’s the way you do things, cool. I don’t have a problem with that, it’s a method that works for some people. However, it isn’t perfect. A common trait with first draft manuscripts that weren’t outlined is that they wander about from sub-plot to sub-plot, racking up the word count higher and higher. A novel like that would be a pain to edit, and I just don’t see the point. So I outline.
One argument against outlining is that it takes the surprise out of things. I haven’t found that to be true, even with my seventeen-page whopper by my side. The characters and plot have surprised me several times, sometimes in major ways. It may be a good idea to leave some things vague, though. You can just write the Monkey Princess broke out of the castle, you don’t need to outline exactly how she blew a hole in the wall with the bomb concealed in her crown and swam across the moat. Less is more sometimes, especially if you want some explosive surprises. Just make sure you have your major plot elements down.
When outlining it’s important to keep an open mind. At some point you’ll leave that Outliner’s Omniscience and write your first draft. Once you get onto that nitty-gritty level with things you may realize that some of your earlier plot points don’t make sense anymore. Good! Change them so that they do. You may want to write a new outline at this point, or fix the old one to suit your changes. It isn’t an issue unless you treat it like one.
If you want more info on exactly how to turn your story idea into an outline, visit this web page: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/snowflake.php
Note: No Seat of the Pants writers were harmed in the writing of this article… lol
Monday, February 1, 2010
There are two main parts to an MRU. The first is the Objective External Part and the second is the Internal Subjective Part, and they happen in that order. Confused yet? In human speak—Motivation and Reaction. A Motivation would be something that happens to your protagonist, like a thief putting a gun to your protagonist’s head. A Reaction would be whatever action your protagonist takes, like handing over his wallet. They need to happen this way to truly give your reader a Powerful Emotional Experience.
Let’s put on our safety goggles and dissect this ugly frog, shall we? Okay…
Sir Gigglebee the Bold brandished his sword and charged Sir Lame of Nowhere.
Sir Lame ducked away and slammed his visor. Time to end this. “En Garde, foolish Sir Gigglebee! Your days of boldness are at an end!” Sir Lame hefted his shield and charged.
This is one complete Unit. In good fiction, once you finish one MRU you do another, and then another, and then another… The point to remember is that first drafts are for getting the words on the paper, no matter how terrible. The real magic happens in the rewrites, so don’t worry about trying to make things perfect the first time around.
Now let’s get deep with these things—real deep. After your protagonist has been given a Motivation they need to React. A Reaction has three parts that writers say need to happen in order. Here’s the three parts:
A.) Instant reaction—snort, giggle, nod, chuckle, grin. You really don’t think about these things, you just do them. (Sir Lame ducked away and slammed his visor.)
B.) Internal feelings. Like anger bubbling to the surface or thought. (Time to end this.)
C.) Dialogue and/or action that you think about. (“En Garde, foolish Sir Gigglebee! Your days of boldness are at an end!” Sir Lame hefted his shield and charged.)
When writing your character’s reaction, you don’t need to include all three. You can use only one or two, but unless you have a very good reason not to, keep them in order. Imagine how odd it’d be to read a paragraph that starts with dialogue, then internal thought, then an instant reaction. How backward would that character feel?
Now I have to confess, I don’t always follow the Reaction Rule. The difference is that I know I’m making an error and put it in anyway. In the end I usually just restructure that error to make it correct or cut it. That’s probably for the best.
Once you get your Motivation Reaction Units correct you’ve discovered the secret to compelling fiction. Cool, huh? If you’ve got a question you’re itching to ask be sure to leave it in the comment section.
Check back next month for Volume 8
Friday, January 1, 2010
The arrow flew toward the target once Billy released it.
A bright rainbow behind the church steeple could be seen by all.
The sentences above all share a common problem. Can you see it? I tried to make it increasingly difficult to spot as they progressed. Read them again with that in mind. Find anything? If not, don’t feel too bad.
Each sentence was written in passive voice. Meaning what? The action is being done to the subject, not the other way around. Three things create passive voice: “to be” verbs, sentence structure, and telling. The above sentences could all be fixed by tweaking their structure. Active voice powerfully moves your character through the scene. Passive voice does not.
Writing in active voice enables the reader to turn words into pictures. Passive voice creates awkward sentences, which don't sound smooth when read out loud.
But wait! How can you tell for sure if your writing is active or passive? One way to identify passive voice in your writing is to test out how strong your verbs are. Weak verbs (like “wandered”) don’t create a picture. Strong verbs (like “ran”) create a picture. “To be” verbs (like is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been) are a surefire way of indicating passive voice. What do I mean? Read this sentence in which I’ve marked the “to be” verb: All of Jake’s games were planned by me. If this had been Active, it would’ve read: I planned all of Jake’s games. No “to be” verb! Yay!
Don’t get me wrong, passive voice does have its place in fiction. But there are only two situations where it should be used.
1. When it is more important to draw our attention to the person or thing acted upon: The abandoned vehicle was apparently found by the Sheriff during the early morning hours.
2. When the character in the situation is not important: The rainbow could be observed by all after the thunderstorm.
If you identify a section of passive voice in your writing consider revising it. Your reader can’t really experience things if they are backward.
So, to sum all of that up, passive voice is when your character is being acted upon by the subject: The airplane was driven by Joe. Active voice is when your character is acting on the subject: Joe drove the airplane.
Just so you can see what those first sentences would look like revised, I’ve rewritten them for you. (The subject is in red, the object is in blue.)
Eloise kicked the car.
Billy released the arrow and it flew toward the target.
Everyone could see the rainbow behind the church steeple.
Happy New Year, everyone! Stay tuned for next month's E-Zine: Motivation Reaction Units.