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A few year ago, I ran a couple of projects designed to help writers with some of the basic essentials of trying to get a novel published, things like query letters and plot synopses. Since then, my blog had changed and those links to those bits of writerly advice from various published authors have been lost. So I thought I'd run another set of projects to refresh those links AND to bring in new thoughts from today's authors. So for the next three days, I'll be running three projects, one on elevator pitches, one on query letters, and one on plot synopses. This is the central hub for all of the posts on:

Elevator Pitches:

Here are some thoughts on how to write elevator pitches from various authors. Not everyone does this the same way, so I'd suggest reading through the posts, think about the advice, and then decide which approach works best for you. Maybe try a few of them to find out. This is the first time I've done a elevator pitch project, so all of these posts are new. Also, I'll add to this list if more authors want to participate in the future, so check back every now and then and see if there's a new post on the list. I hope some of you find these projects helpful!

Here are the links:

Harry Connolly: (Added 9/19/2017)
Elaine Isaak/E.C. Ambrose: (Added 9/19/2017)
Kay Kenyon: (Added 9/19/2017)
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: (Added 9/19/2017)
Joshua Palmatier: (Added 9/19/2017)
Phyllis Irene Radford: (Added 9/19/2017)

Tune in tomorrow for the Query Project!

And now a word from our sponsor:


Zombies Need Brains is currently running a Kickstarter (at to fund THREE new SF&F anthologies and we need your help! We can't produce anthologies unless we can get the funding to pay the authors, the cover artists, the print and ebook designers, and the printers. That's where the Kickstarter comes in, and you, THE FANS! We've got a ton of stunning anchor authors on board, including NY Times bestselling authors and award winners. And we've got a ton of great reward levels, such as tuckerizations, signed copies of books by your favorite authors, and more! Our themes for this current Kickstarter are:

THE RAZOR'S EDGE: One man’s insurgent is another man’s freedom fighter… Where is the line between the freedom fighter and the insurgent, or is it simply a matter of perspective? When does fighting for a cause slip from right to wrong, where does the moral high ground become immoral, and when do the ends no longer justify the means? Edited by Troy Bucher & Joshua Palmatier, this military SF&F anthology will explore the heroes and villains on both sides of insurgencies, both in the realms of science fiction and in fantasy. It will include short stories by: Gerald Brandt, William C. Dietz, D.B. Jackson, Chris Kennedy, Kay Kenyon, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, Seanan McGuire, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., and Steve Perry.

SECOND ROUND: A RETURN TO THE UR-BAR: In 2011, DAW Books published AFTER HOURS: TALES FROM THE UR-BAR, the first anthology edited by Patricia Bray & Joshua Palmatier, starting them down the road that eventually led to the formation of the small press Zombies Need Brains. Now, we’d like to return to that legendary time-traveling bar with all new stories set throughout the ages. Here you will find heroes and villains alike, as the immortal bartender Gilgamesh serves up drinks mixed with magic and a dash of intrigue. And if you’re lucky, perhaps he’ll even mix you up his own special elixir! Edited by Patricia Bray & Joshua Palmatier, SECOND ROUND: A RETURN TO THE UR-BAR will contain short stories by: Jacey Bedford, Gini Koch, Juliet E. McKenna, C.E. Murphy, Kristine Smith, and Kari Sperring.

GUILDS & GLAIVES: Sword and sorcery has long been a much beloved staple of the SF&F community. Who doesn’t like a daring thief skulking through back alleys in the dark of night, or a deranged mage conjuring death spells in a bubbling cauldron? This anthology will tackle the subgenre of thieves, assassins, guilds, and dark magic. Edited by S.C. Butler & Joshua Palmatier, GUILDS & GLAIVES will contain short stories by: David B. Coe, James Enge, David Farland, Esther Friesner, Howard Andrew Jones, Gini Koch, Violette Malan, and Seanan McGuire.

If you'd like to help fund these anthologies, swing on by the Kickstarter at! And share the Kickstarter with your friends, family, and total strangers! We need more SF&F anthologies!

"The Razor's Edge" by Justin Adams of Varia Studios
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For other advice on elevator pitches, check out the Elevator Pitch Project:

An elevator pitch is something you need if you plan on attending conventions or writing conferences or if you go any place where you may potentially run into an editor or agent or even a fellow writer who might be interested in what it is you’re writing. If you happen to end up chatting with someone like this, they may ask you to describe your book. The elevator pitch is a short, quick statement—no more than a sentence or two—that is intended to hook the editor/agent/writer into asking you more. You need to snag their interest. Fast. It’s called an elevator pitch because, if you happen to run into this person in an elevator (which happens more often than you’d think), you need to be able to get it out before the elevator door opens and your prey escapes.

So, how do you summarize your whole book in just a few sentences? You don’t. That’s not the point here. The point is to give the editor/agent/writer a piece of your book that makes them want more. So you should focus your elevator pitch on whatever it is about your book that makes it cool, what makes it different from all of the other books out there on the shelf, what will make a reader pick it up and flip to that first page and start reading. That’s essentially what you want the editor/agent/writer to do: ask for more. If they do ask for more, then you can expand on what you’ve started and go into more details. How many details depends on the setting. (Are you chatting at the bar with drinks in hand? On a bus ride to the airport? In that elevator?) But if you can’t get them to be interested in enough in a few sentences to continue the conversation, then you’re dead in the water.

So, if you think the magic in your world is unique and interesting and never-been-done-before, then you should focus your pitch around the magic. Something like: “In the world of Evernon, the price for using magic is not pain or energy, it’s the loss of your senses—smell, touch, even sight. The mage Terell has nearly exhausted all of his senses when his arch-nemesis abducts his only daughter. Blind and deaf, does he have enough left to free Averie from Gondor’s clutches?”

If you think the world itself is cool, then focus on the world: “The luxury starship Excalibur has crash landed on an asteroid in the middle of a deadly nebula. The survivors’ only hope is to traverse the ionic storms, plasma geysers, and shifting rock of the asteroid’s surface and reach the abandoned relay station before the nebula tears the asteroid apart!”

I think you’re getting the idea. Focus the pitch on what stands out about your book, whether it’s the world, the magic, the characters, whatever. But as you can see, you can’t rely on just the “cool” aspect of the book. You should give at least a hint of the plot, the motivation of the characters. A glimpse of the overall conflict gives the editor/agent/writer the knowledge that there’s more going on here than just a cool concept. I’ve read many short stories as an editor where there was a cool concept but not story. You can’t sell a story or novel on concept alone. There has to be a conflict and human characters behind it to call it a story. The pitch needs to show that there is, even if no real details are given. Again, once you’ve snagged the editor/agent/writer’s attention, then you can go into the details.

So sit back and think about your characters, your world, your magic or science and ask yourself what it is about your novel that will make it stand out. The hone your pitch down to just that, with a hint of the conflict the novel is centered around.

But once you’ve done that, you aren’t done. Having a pitch is great; being able to deliver it is even better. You need to practice your pitch so that it rolls off your tongue smoothly, so that it fits into casual conversation. When the editor/agent/writer asks what your book is about, you don’t want to stop and stammer or say, “Hold on a second,” while you pull out a piece of paper with the pitch written on it. You should start right into it, “THE QUEEN’S WRATH is about …” A casual presentation will increase the chances that the editor/agent/writer will want to talk further, because it says that you’re so familiar with your work and world and characters that they’re like old friends.

This post makes it sound easy to come up with a good elevator pitch. It’s not. You don’t want to be doing this on the fly, so spend some time thinking about your work and practicing the pitch. It will pay off in the end. Good luck!

And now a word from our sponsor:


Zombies Need Brains is currently running a Kickstarter (at to fund THREE new SF&F anthologies and we need your help! We can't produce anthologies unless we can get the funding to pay the authors, the cover artists, the print and ebook designers, and the printers. That's where the Kickstarter comes in, and you, THE FANS! We've got a ton of stunning anchor authors on board, including NY Times bestselling authors and award winners. And we've got a ton of great reward levels, such as tuckerizations, signed copies of books by your favorite authors, and more! Our themes for this current Kickstarter are:

THE RAZOR'S EDGE: One man’s insurgent is another man’s freedom fighter… Where is the line between the freedom fighter and the insurgent, or is it simply a matter of perspective? When does fighting for a cause slip from right to wrong, where does the moral high ground become immoral, and when do the ends no longer justify the means? Edited by Troy Bucher & Joshua Palmatier, this military SF&F anthology will explore the heroes and villains on both sides of insurgencies, both in the realms of science fiction and in fantasy. It will include short stories by: Gerald Brandt, William C. Dietz, D.B. Jackson, Chris Kennedy, Kay Kenyon, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, Seanan McGuire, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., and Steve Perry.

SECOND ROUND: A RETURN TO THE UR-BAR: In 2011, DAW Books published AFTER HOURS: TALES FROM THE UR-BAR, the first anthology edited by Patricia Bray & Joshua Palmatier, starting them down the road that eventually led to the formation of the small press Zombies Need Brains. Now, we’d like to return to that legendary time-traveling bar with all new stories set throughout the ages. Here you will find heroes and villains alike, as the immortal bartender Gilgamesh serves up drinks mixed with magic and a dash of intrigue. And if you’re lucky, perhaps he’ll even mix you up his own special elixir! Edited by Patricia Bray & Joshua Palmatier, SECOND ROUND: A RETURN TO THE UR-BAR will contain short stories by: Jacey Bedford, Gini Koch, Juliet E. McKenna, C.E. Murphy, Kristine Smith, and Kari Sperring.

GUILDS & GLAIVES: Sword and sorcery has long been a much beloved staple of the SF&F community. Who doesn’t like a daring thief skulking through back alleys in the dark of night, or a deranged mage conjuring death spells in a bubbling cauldron? This anthology will tackle the subgenre of thieves, assassins, guilds, and dark magic. Edited by S.C. Butler & Joshua Palmatier, GUILDS & GLAIVES will contain short stories by: David B. Coe, James Enge, David Farland, Esther Friesner, Howard Andrew Jones, Gini Koch, Violette Malan, and Seanan McGuire.

If you'd like to help fund these anthologies, swing on by the Kickstarter at! And share the Kickstarter with your friends, family, and total strangers! We need more SF&F anthologies!

"The Razor's Edge" by Justin Adams of Varia Studios
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Benjamin Tate (*grin*) has posted on scene economy when writing over at his LJ ([ profile] benjamintate). Check it out!
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OK, now that all of the guinea pig drama seems to be over (Buddy is doing fine, so far), I can finally return to the writing posts I meant to do immediately after Albacon. This posts are based on the panels that I was on at the convention. I took notes at the time, but it's been long enough I don't know what some of the notes mean anymore, or remember what prompted the note in the first place, so this is just going to be me making comments about the topic, rather than an in depth report of what happened on the panel itself. I figured I'd start with the panel:

Exposition: I decided to start with this one because this is something that I struggle with myself. For every book that I've ever handed in, my editor has alway said for the revisions that I need to explain more about the world, that I need to show it. This more or less comes down to exposition. Part of the problem is that I, personally, don't feel that alot of what my editor wants in the way of explaining the world is unnecessary . . . BUT I've had enough people comment on my Throne novels that they wished I'd had more about the world in there that I've realized that my editor is right. (*gasp* Don't let her see this post!)

So, with the new work-in-progress, I've been trying to experiment more with adding in more world elements, and this means messing with exposition. You see, in the Throne books, the story was told through first person, so I introduced elements of the world exclusively through her by having her actually DO THINGS. I really don't like exposition. So everything came through as Varis, my main character, interacted with the world. When she went to the main street in the Dredge to steal food, you saw, through her eyes, the people of the city as they lived their lives. When she fled the Dredge, you were introduced to the "real" Amenkor as she experienced it herself. If there was something in the city that was interesting, but it never crossed paths with Varis, then you never learned about it.

The new books are all in the third person, so I can't use the excuse of POV to leave off the exposition. *sigh* So I've been working on getting in there somehow. Here are some of the other techniques I've been using; note I'm still getting the characters to interact with the world itself as the main method for getting this across.

Dialogue: Of course you can get some of the way the world works across using dialogue. This is tricky though, because an info dump in dialogue is still an info dump. What I usually try to do is incorporate the world information into a conversation that's really about something else. For example, today I wrote a scene where a young girl is recovering from an "illness" and is being taken care of by her father. While he feeds her soup, she asks him about a scene in the marketplace that she witnessed the day before that disturbed her. Her father then explains what the scene was about, thus revealing some of the politics of the world, but at a level that his daughter can understand and it's all disguised through the illness, which is the real focus on the conversation, since the father is trying to figure out what happened to his daughter.

Hearthfire Tale: This is another technique sort of related to dialogue. If you've got some heavy duty history to get across at some point, you can do it by having the characters sit around a campfire and share stories, or they can go into a bar or tavern and hear a hearthfire tale, etc. I was going to say that I haven't used this technique before but it was brought up on the panel . . . but I just realized that would be a lie. I did use it in the book that's "finished" and waiting to go through the rest of the publishing process. At one point my main character goes into a bar to get something to eat and hears the tale of something that happened while he was . . . well, let's just say "away." I needed to get this "history" across because it was the basis of a significant portion of the rest of the book, but the structure of the book didn't allow me to actually to do the story as narrative. So a hearth tale instead. The trick is to make the hearthfire tale sound natural and fit into the story.

Flashback: Ah, the tried and true flashback, where you mix exposition with narration. I probably don't need to say much about this, but the fact that it's so prevalent tells you that it's one of the easier and more effective ways to get in some exposition under the disguise of narration. The problem with this technique is that you REALLY have to be careful how often you use it. If there's another way to get across the information, then you should probably use that instead, even if the flashback would be "easier" to write. If you use them too much, they can get monotonous and the reader begins to wonder why you didn't just tell the story starting way back when, since you're flashing back to "way back when" so often. And they should be thinking that. If you're using flashbacks that often, it's probably a sign that you started your story too late and you need to go back and ask yourself whether you should start it earlier.

Prologue: And this is also a tried and true method for getting across some world story or back story that probably doesn't have anything do with the main characters of the book itself. (It's hard to have the character experience the world elements if they, say, weren't ALIVE during the actual event.) This is where the prologue comes into play. There's alot of discussion about whether prologues should be used at all in anything, and I say that yes, they can be effective. I intend to use one in my new work-in-progress, because those events are necessary to set up the main plot thread of the main novel . . . but then there's a significant time jump to where the main novel actually begins. It seems appropriate to offset these initial scenes as a prologue, even if it's a rather long prologue. It doesn't make sense to call it "chapter one" for example. So prologues are necessary in some books, in my opinion. Are the overused? Yes. I've read quite a few books where I felt the prologue was unnecessary OR that the prologue was actually chapter one and did not need to be offset with the "prologue" status.

And those are the things I've used (obviously) and been playing with for getting across exposition. I've been trying other things as well, but those are more at the line-by-line level and are harder to explain. And this post is long enough as it is. *grin* Hope there was something helpful in there!
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First off, I'd like to remind everyone who speaks/reads German, wherever you are, that THE GERMAN EDITION HAS BEEN RELEASED! Die Assassine, the retitled German version of The Skewed Throne with the awesome cover, is now available. Please feel free to order a thousand copies. Or one, whichever you prefer. *grin* The awesome cover, in case you forgot:

Also, I've chosen a winner of the signed "To Josh" book from the mildly disasterous signing event. And that winner is . . . [ profile] sheryl67! Congrats! Send me a message here on LJ with the address I should send it to, or send an email to, and I'll get that in the mail, hopefully in time to get it to your friend from miles away named Josh.

OK, now the writing topic. This was a panel at Worldcon in Montreal which I was a part of, along with George R.R. Martin, Laura Anne Gilman, Fiona Patton, Mindy Klasky, and M.D. Benoit. I'm not doing a rehash of the entire panel because I didn't take notes and I can't remember that far back, especially when it's so freaking hot outside. All I'm doing is giving you my thoughts on the topic, with some potentially interesting highlights from the panel itself that stuck with me.

ARGH!! Pictures came out huge. Trying to shrink them now. )
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So, what's been happening with the revisions? They're done, right?

Well, yes and no. The run-through of the revisions are done, yes. I've been through the entire book and changed everything that was on my list. But some of the things on that list weren't necessarily that specific of a change. Remember the multiple levels of changes. The bottom-level of changes were easy to fix, since they were things like "mention a knife in chapter 12, need to set the knife up in chapter 5." So you go back to chapter 5 and add in a sentence or two about the knife and walla! you're done. The mid-level revisions are less specific, but still easy to cross off the list. These were things like "add in a few scenes from Garius' POV after the meeting to get across the politics of his race." So you find a spot after the meeting where you can squeeze in a few scenes without interrupting the flow. But notice that "add in a few" part. There's some wiggle room there. How many scenes are necessary? How many do you need to get the point across? And Garius is a new POV character in this revisions as well, so you have to spend some time developing his character and backstory a little while you're explaining the politics of his race in those scenes. (Remember, every scene needs to do two or more things.) And then the top-level stuff, like "add in more about the Andovan culture!" Vague. How much do you add? How much is enough? Have you pushed the line and added too much? Did you info-dump? When can you safely cross this off the revision list?

As you can see, in the mid-level and top-level stuff, there's some leeway as to whether or not you're "done" and can cross things off the list. So what I've been doing the last few days is NOT actively working on the revisions, but actively THINKING about the revisions and asking myself, "Is what I did to fix this enough? Too much?" And overall, I think what I did was fine. You can drive yourself crazy thinking about this, so at some point you have to just say, done. There's only one thing that I think I need to "fix" before I do the official print out and send this back to DAW and my editor, and it has to do with Garius and his POV scenes that I added. Like I said, he's a new POV character in the book, so I can't just add the scene that tells of the political situation for his race. I need to develop his backstory a little bit, give him a life, give him motivation, basically make him a full-fledged character, even if I only have a few scene to do that. I did that during the revisions (he has a warrior son who's angry because of the death of his brothers, while Garius' wife just wants the fighting to end because she's already lost three sons to the war, and doesn't want to lose Garius or her other son, etc). I also added in alot more about the culture of Garius' race, to worldbuild, all in two scenes. BUT . . . I think I need to add one more scene, toward the end of the book, from Garius' POV. Basically, the role of this scene is to wrap up Garius' storyline a little bit. I made him a character, I gave him a storyline, and that storyline needs to have a conclusion of some sort.

Today, I will go back to the end of the novel and find a good spot to insert a scene from Garius' POV where I can finish off his story and that of his race. At least for this book.

In addition, I'm going to start revising (and hopefully finish revising) a short story called "Mastihooba" for that anthology I was invited to participate in. So revisions continue today!

But you probably don't care about that. You want to know about the contest!!! So here we go:

The winner for Sunday is [ profile] shartyrant! Congrats! Get in touch with me here on LJ in a message or email me at with the address I should mail the book to and a name if you want me to personalize it. Otherwise I'll just send a signed copy.

For everyone else, there's still 8 days left! I will be giving away a first edition signed hardcover of The Skewed Throne, one per day, for the next eight days. The drawing will be done at random based on the comments received on that day's LJ entry. So if you enter today, you're in the drawing for today only; you have to come back tomorrow and enter again for a chance to win in the drawing tomorrow; then come back again for the next day, etc. You have to comment on that day's LJ post to enter for that day, so if you stop on by and I haven't had a chance to put up the post for that day yet, you'll have to come back when it's up to enter. You can enter as many days out of the 10 as you wish, even if you win on one of the days (if you win multiple copies, or already have a copy of the book, I assume you have some friends you can give the book to, or perhaps you can donate it to your local library, etc).

This contest is to celebrate finishing the revisions of the new book Well of Sorrows, coming out in May 2010 in trade paperback, AND to celebrate the release of Die Assassine, the German version of The Skewed Throne, which will hit the shelves on August 11th in Germany. Here's the incredible cover:

So if you're in Germany or can read German, RUSH--I say again RUSH--out and buy Die Assassine! Once it's out of course. (It is available for preorder on the German, along with book 2, "Die Regentin," to be released in January 2010.) And please, please tell all of your friends about it, since it's going to be impossible for me to do many signings and other stuff to promote it in Germany. Especially since I can't speak or read German very well.

And there you go! Enter the contest (just comment!) every day for the next 8 days, and buy my German book!

That is all. Carry on.
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The editor-driven revisions of Well of Sorrows are done.

23 chapters
2 parts
No prologue
No epilogue
No fancy interludes in the middle
712 pages
114 pages of cut text (paragraphs and scenes I removed as useless)
197,680 words (according to Word's counter)
188,000 words (according to the standard 250 words per page approach)

Covering 70 years of one man's life. Sort of. *grin*

And I like it. The end gave me shivers. I like what I did with this. I like how it's a fantasy, but not the typical kind of fantasy (even though it has those trappings). I like my main characters and how they all turned out. I like this world.

So what's next? Well, for this book, I'll let it sit for a few days, fret over whether there's anything more I should change, and then I'll print out two copies--one for myself and one for my editor. Then I'll mail off the one copy to my editor and give the other to a beta-ready, someone who hasn't read any part of the book yet. Then I'll go to Worldcon. *grin*

I still need to write a dedication and an acknowledgments page. I'll do that while I wait for the page proofs to show up. Then I have to read the book again and can make minor changes during the page proofs phase. Minor changes meaning fixing typos and maybe rearranging a sentence or two, nothing that would screw up the pagination. No rewriting of any scenes, no inserting new scenes, not even inserting new paragraphs (unless my editor tells me to).

While this is going on, I'll also work on the "blurb" I'll use on the back of the postcards I'll have made to promote the book. I also intend to make bookmarks for this book, so I'll have to design those. Both of these project can't be completed until I get artwork for the book, so I'll probably be pestering DAW about that as well. They're probably already working on the artwork, to be honest. Or they will once they have the final version of the book from me.

And then comes the promo. I'll probably be asking some of you all to help with that when it gets closer.

But in the meantime, while I anticipate all of that fun stuff, I need to revise the short story I wrote called "Mastihooba" (thanks for all the crits all you OWWers out there!) and submit it to the anthology I was invited to . . . and then I can get to work on the next book. It will be either the new novel, new universe, Shattering the Ley (of which I'm already on the 6th chapter) OR, hopefully, the sequels to Well of Sorrows. Right now those sequels are called Leaves of Anguish and Flames of Sacrifice. I'm thinking of using the title Breath of Heaven for one of them instead, but we'll see what happens.

In the immediate future though, I see the gym. And then celebratory drinking at Delgado's with fellow writer Patricia Bray.
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But first, it's your last chance to win a free hardcover copy of Enigma, the sequel to Harmony, by C.F. Bentley over here. All you have to do is comment on the post and you're entered. Note: You'll also be entered into the monthly contest for a free DAW paperback. So enter two contests with one comment!

Also, don't forget the signing this coming Saturday (meaning TOMORROW) in Paramus, NJ! Here's the info for that:


AUGUST 1st, 2009
Noon-4pm @
Borders Express
Paramus Park Mall
600 Paramus Park
Paramus, NJ 07652
S.C. Butler; Barbara Campbell
Laura Anne Gilman; Jackie Kessler
Joshua Palmatier; Anton Strout

Feel free to mention either the contest or the signing in your own blog if you have readers who might be interested.

So yesterday, when I sat down to work on the revisions, I had 90 pages left to go. I intended to get 45 pages done, because at this stage nearly all of the top-level material has been crossed off my list. ALL of the mid-level stuff is crossed off, and I only have 2 or 3 bottom-level things left. All of the major new scenes I needed to write and add in are done. All that's left is tweaking these last few chapters to reflect the changes I've already made, and to try to smooth out sentences and wordage and all that. Oh, and try to find things to cut. *eyeroll*

So I figured it would be easy to get those 45 page done during the day, before the gym. But NOOOOOO! When I sat down and went over my revision notes again (as usual) before writing . . . I had a panic attack. All of the little niggling doubts rushed in with a concerted attack and I succumbed to them. PANIC ATTACK!!! What if the stuff I've added sucks? What if it isn't working the way I think it's working? What if it isn't enough and I need to add more? What if it's TOO MUCH and I need to edit it down? What if this facade of being a good writer has been so slipshoddily produced in this book that it's transparent that I'm a hack and people will plow through my weak plot like it was tissue paper and they were the football team arriving onto the field with fans cheering them on?!?!?


What this meant was that I spent nearly all day going BACK to all of the brand new scenes that I'd added in and all of the scenes that I'd made significant changes to and reread them all on the theory that they sucked. What I found was that they did NOT suck, and all I did was change a few sentences here and there to make things smoother, maybe a word or two, and waste my entire morning and most of the afternoon rereading things that I didn't need to reread. I did finally convince myself that the revisions I'd already made were good and I was happy with them and they satisfied what my editor asked me to do . . . and so I did get back to new revisions eventually. But it meant that by the time the gym hit, I'd only gotten about 25 pages of new material covered. I was disappointed, because I wanted to get the revisions finished TODAY. So after the gym (and a meeting with my fellow SF&F writers at the Cyber Cafe), I got my ass back in the chair and did another 20+ pages late last night. So I'm starting today with only 45 pages or so of revisions to cover. Here's hoping I finish.

And here's hoping there are no new panic attacks between now and then. *grin*
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First off, there's a chance to win a free hardcover copy of Enigma, the sequel to Harmony, by C.F. Bentley over here. All you have to do is comment on the post and you're entered. Note: You'll also be entered into the monthly contest for a free DAW paperback. So enter two contests with one comment!

Also, don't forget the signing this coming Saturday in Paramus, NJ! Here's the info for that:


AUGUST 1st, 2009
Noon-4pm @
Borders Express
Paramus Park Mall
600 Paramus Park
Paramus, NJ 07652
S.C. Butler; Barbara Campbell
Laura Anne Gilman; Jackie Kessler
Joshua Palmatier; Anton Strout

And now the writing post. Last Friday I was working on the revisions (because that's all I do on the weekdays now) and I hit a scene that my editor had suggested I add more to. That's not new. What was interesting about this addition that hasn't come up yet in this revisions batch is that THIS time, the scene she wanted me to add was one that I'd purposefully omitted. The reason? Violence. And dramatic tension.

As you all know, I don't generally shy away from violence in my books. The Skewed Throne wasn't exactly chipmunks dancing through the forest. However, for this one scene the main characters arrived after the violence for dramatic purposes. So they see the results but not the actual act. I explained the results so that you pretty much got the picture, but of course it wasn't as graphic because it had already happened.

My editor felt that I needed to add the actual scene. I'd left it out for dramatic reasons. If I go through the event as it happens and then have the main characters arrive, it wouldn't be as much of a punch in the gut to the reader. So . . . I figured out how to have the punch in the gut and still do the scene as my editor wanted, so everyone's happy. AND it highlighted some of the magic in the book and its limitations. I still tried to write the scene so that the violence isn't graphic, leaving the details up to the reader. The point of the scene is that they'd like to know who killed the man, not the violence itself, so I tried to highlight that aspect. I think it works well.

So, sometimes you're editor wants you to go there, even if you don't. And in my experience, most of the time the editor is right. I didn't go there originally because of the dramatics of the scene--I wanted that punch--and so in order to satisfy my editor I had to do some additional thinking and figure out a way to satisfy us both. I know I'm not the only writer out there who's had their editor say they couldn't "fade to black" at a particular moment. Patricia Bray's editor asked her to include a rather nasty torture scene that she'd shied away from; the scene needed to be there to emphasize the characterization and motivation.
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Before I get to the little comments on Revisions: Subtle Changes, they released a trailer for the movie Alice in Wonderland, which I thought I'd share:

It certainly looks like a Tim Burton/Johnny Depp production. I will, of course, go see it. And buy the soundtrack, since it's by Danny Elfman. What do you guys think?


So we all know I'm working on the revisions to Well of Sorrows. I've talked about the phone call from the editor, adding in brand new scenes, finding places to add in brand new scenes, and assorted other issues that have come up so far. Now something new has begun to happen: the subtle changes.

I've mentioned that alot of the revisions are subtle changes, especially regarding adding in things of the worldbuilding sort. Throw in a sentence or two here telling about how the structure of the guards works. Adding in a more lengthy description of the town there. Contrasting the Alvritshai culture with that of the human culture. Etc, etc, etc. Those are subtle changes of course, but I'm running into a slightly different kind of subtle change right now.

Basically, I've reached the point in the revisions where I'm making changes to the actual "plot" so to speak. Well, the plot isn't really changing, but one of the things my editor wanted was for me to be more straightforward with some of the elements of the plot. (I have a tendency to try to keep things subtle, kind of like the idea of "show don't tell" but my show sometimes slips into "hey, if you could see behind this curtain and under this concealing box you might be able to see through the distorted glass enough to get the point" which isn't helpful at all. Sometimes my editor has to whack me upside the head and tell me to lose the curtain, box, and perhaps the distorted glass.) So, I've reached the part of the book where I need to put in some of the blunt plot. This part isn't actual hard in any way. I mean, you just come out and say it, usually in the dialogue between a few characters, and usually along the way you add in some worldbuilding flavor. That's not the issue.

The issue is that after that point, for the rest of the book, I have to read every single sentence and analyze every conversation and tweak it with the idea that nothing is hidden any longer. All of the characters who took part in the new blunt conversation are now privy to all of the information, so there's no dancing around the topic any more. It's known. But of course in the original version it WASN'T known, so you've got to make those changes that make it clear that now it is known. And these changes are usually pretty subtle. Sometimes it's just changing a word or two in the sentence. Sometimes you have to cut a little bit of a conversation (along with some of the resultant gestures and actions of the characters). Sometimes you have to rip entire conversations apart and rework them with a new point or a new idea brought to the forefront because the main idea has already been discussed bluntly elsewhere. (Most conversations in my books have multiple points that I want to get across, so I can't just delete the entire conversation unfortunately.)

What this does to the revisions is slow things down. Since I'm looking at each individual sentence and asking myself whether it needs to be tweaked or can stand on its own, I'm not moving as fast. And of course, if it need to be changed that slows me down even further. This is bad enough when you're being blunt about one particular plot point. But when, like me, you've started being blunt about, say, FIVE different plot points, things get a little hairy. Needless to say, the revisions aren't moving along as fast as they were before, when all I was doing was adding in a new scene here and there for clarification purposes.

For example: I spent all day yesterday working on Chapter 16. At this point, I've changed and made blunt about four things--what the Wraiths are up to (although there's still a surprise waiting on this front); what happened 30 years before during a critical battle; a significant revelation about Aeren's past; and which lords support Aeren, which don't, and which have unknown affiliations. With all of these changes to watch out for, I only managed to get through half of the chapter. And I still have one spot marked where I have to go back and add more to a scene once I figure out exactly what it is that I want to say there.

Part of the problem, of course, is that I'm nearing the end of the book and things are starting to happen. All of the setup has been done (mostly) and things are starting to unravel, leading to the climax of the book. I haven't pushed everyone up over that big drop on the rollercoaster yet--we're still climbing--but it's getting close. So all of the changes I've made throughout the book are coming together, hopefully in a good way.

How do I handle all of the changes? How do I keep track of them all? Well, aside from my list of "things to change" that I made after talking to my editor, I pretty much keep it all in my head. I have no special computer program or system or anything like that. I just read my notes before I begin work for the day, to refresh my memory on what I've already done and what still needs to be changed, and then I start in. I do have to page back to double check some changes on occasion (and sometimes this means going back 200 pages to find that one sentence that I changed so I can see how I changed it or phrased it or whatever), but overall it's just in my head. I think this is one place where the mathematical part of my brain comes in handy. Part of doing mathematics is keeping very careful track of all of the little minute details of the proof, so that nothing is left out or forgotten. Same thing with the minute details of the changes I've made in the novel. (And some mathematical proofs are as long as novels.)

So that's where I am at the moment. I plan on finishing chapter 16 today and starting 17. I better start chapter 17 today or my schedule for getting these revisions done before Worldcon are screwed.
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Revisions, revisions, revisions. I've made it through Part I of the book (called "Colin" for those who are interested in teases), which gets me to page 275 out of 650 approximately.

And the doubt has set in.

This is something that always happens during the revision process, at least for me. At some point, I start questioning what I'm doing. In particular, I start questioning whether I'm doing enough. I mean, I'm trying to make changes that someone else has suggested, and some of those suggestions aren't necessarily changes that I feel are absolutely necessary. I don't disagree with them, but . . . What this does though is make me doubt what I've done. Am I adding enough of the worldbuilding that my editor wants? Obviously, I didn't feel it was crucial to the story or it would be in there already, but my editor feels differently. So I add a little bit there, a sentence here, a touch of world color there . . . and now I'm far enough into the book to begin to wonder if perhaps I should have done a little more. Maybe I should go back to this scene and put in some more, or that scene, or the scene over there.

I hate the doubt. Because I want the book to be the best that it can be, but I don't want it to contain gobs and gobs of fluff. I've seen and read quite a few books out there where I think there's a lot of fluff (bloat is what I call it, really) and I don't want my books to have that. Ever.

But I also know that one of the criticisms of my previous books, in particular The Vacant Throne, was that readers wanted to know more about the cities, more about the world.

So, at this natural stopping point in the book, I'm sitting back and asking myself what more I can add and where, and if at some point I'm going to go overboard and bring in the bloat.

And also, I need to make significant changes in the first chapter of Part II (called "Shavaeran") so perhaps *cough cough* I'm procrastinating just a bit.
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Revisions continue of course. I've run through all of chapter 9 and added a new scene to chapter 8. This is a brand new scene for the novel, something that wasn't in any previous version so couldn't be "resurrected." In fact, this scene couldn't even be "kneaded" into a current scene like the one I resurrected earlier, because this is a total POV shift from any of the characters I've used in the book so far. My editor wanted me to have a few POV scenes from this one character much earlier on in the book, to signify how important this character becomes in the second half of the book as early as possible.

So, while reading chapter 8, when the character first appears, I was looking for where I could either break a current scene and jump to the new POV character OR where the already written scenes broke naturally and fit the new POV scene in there. The problem is . . . I'm a fairly tight writer. Meaning that if you look at any of my previous books, my scenes aren't short (meaning I try to write them in such a way that there's a transition from one new action to another if possible, not a break) and even the breaks are designed so that the final sentence of one scene before a break often leads into the first sentence of the new scene after the break. So inserting a new scene in anywhere interrupts the flow no matter where I try to put it, at an existing break or not. Inserting a brand new scene from a new POV isn't that easy.

But in chapter 8 I found an existing break that would work. It kind of interrupts the flow, but the new scene needed to be short because it's the first time we see these two characters from their POV. So a brief introduction to them. The idea was to essentially say "Hi!" and to point out that these are two different cultures meeting for the first time, so you should get the idea that their cultures are different and get a sense of the new culture (since the one we've seen is analagous to ours in most respects).

So, I wrote the scene, plopped it into place, revised the new scene, went on to more revisions of existing scenes in chapter 9, went back to the new scene and reread it, made more changes, added in a few new things, went back to chapter 9 and looked for places to add in additional scenes from this new POV, went back to the new scene and added in a few new thing, decided those new things were overload (trying to do too much in a short scene) and took them back out, then declared the new scene finished.

So here it is, the new scene.


“Why are you helping them? They obviously don’t want to listen, like the last group.”

Aeren didn’t turn to his Protector, kept his eyes on the strange group of brown-skinned people as they made their way back to their wagons and cookfires. The one called Walter was already speaking to the group’s leader, Tom, arguing with him. He found their language harsh, their names strange . . . but intriguing. Their beasts called horses--so large, so powerful--frightened him, their clothes coarsely woven and cut, and their customs savage, without proper form and structure, but still. . . .

“I’m helping them because they do not understand.”

“You are helping them because you are curious. They are primitives, wandering into a land they know nothing about. We should leave them to the dwarren.”

Aeren turned to his Protector then, frowning at Eraeth’s scowl. “This is not your Trial,” he said defensively, even though he knew the Protector was partially correct: he was curious. He’d approached Colin because they’d appeared the same age. And because Colin did not carry a weapon.

“No, it is not. But I am your Protector. I--and the Phalanx--are here to protect you. From the dangers of the plains, from the risks of the Trial . . . from yourself.”

Aeren stiffened, his shoulders straightening in indignation. “I am not the child my father assigned you to protect twenty years ago!” The words came out harsher than he intended, petulant and not fitting for the son of a House Lord, even a second son. He saw the instant disapproval in Eraeth’s eyes, in the lips pressed tight together.

He turned away from that look, caught his breath and held it to calm himself, then said, “This is my Trial, Eraeth. Are you now an acolyte, part of the mystical Order? Who are you to say that they,” he nodded toward where the strangers were preparing their wagons for travel, “are not part of the Trial? Do you know Aielan’s will?”

Eraeth stepped forward, so that Aeren could see him out of the corner of his eye. “No, I do not know Aielan’s will, but I fail to see how they could be part of your Trial. You have, in essence, already passed. You’ve faced the dangers of the plains and the dwarren. You have seen the Confluence, have drunk the rose-tinged waters, have gathered your proof.”

“But I have not yet returned home.”

“All the more reason to leave these strangers to the dwarren. This is not our land. This has nothing to do with the Alvritshai.”

“Not now,” Aeren agreed, “but they continue to appear on the plains. Eventually, they will head northward. We should learn as much about them as we can.”

Eraeth merely grunted, although it was tainted with grudging agreement.

They remained silent for a long moment, the air between them tense, shouts from the strange group rising from the hollow where they’d taken refuge for the night. Eraeth had been his Protector for twenty years, had taught him the nuances of being a member of a House, had trained him in the art of the sword, the bow--all of the arts of the Phalanx guard.

But everything would change now, with his passage through the Trial. He would no longer be Eraeth’s student; he would be a full member of the House, the Protector’s master.

And neither of them had figured out exactly what that meant yet.


And even on the reread during this post I changed a few things. So obviously the revision process is still ongoing even for the new scenes.

In any case, I need to add a few more scenes today from Aeren's POV. I've already marked two potential spots in chapter 9 and will look at those first. I'd also like to get chapter 10 finished, although it will likely only get a read-through of the existing scenes with appropriate changes made to those, and marks for where new scenes could be added.

However, my partner has the day off. I may not even get to that.
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So, more revisions today. Yesterday, I spent the morning finishing up the rest of chapter 5 and then worked on chapter 6 and 7 in the afternoon. Neither of those chapters required much in the way of work, just a few adjustments. For example, since it was suggested that I work in a little bit more of the religion of the human race in the book, I decided to add in a head priest in an earlier chapter. It also became obvious that if I placed this head priest into the picture, that he'd notice that the wagon train group didn't have a priest and would want someone to go with them. So I added in a priest traveling with the group. Wherever appropriate, I inserted references to this new priest in the group. I'm not doing much to make this priest a character of huge significance, but I might need to go back and put in a little more character references.

I'm now up to a point where I need to add in more significant scenes from a main character's POV, so the revisions will likely slow down a little bit.

I figured I'd show you guys what I did with that "resurrected" scene the other day, sort of a "before" and "after" picture. This was the scene that I deleted in my zest to cut words from the manuscript:

A long scene )

Now, as I said a few days ago, I couldn't just plop this scene back into the story because things had changed significantly enough that I had to put it into a different location. So the setting had changed, and the characters present, and . . . well, you get the idea. So, after plopping this scene as is into the appropriate new location, I had to knead it and meld it into place so that it fit and didn't feel out of place and when you're reading didn't feel like it had been inserted at a later time. Here's the new version:

The new (perhaps final) version. )

So there, you can see the revision process in action. Sort of. *grin* That little bit of revision took about 2 hours of my time. All the kneading to make it smooth is hard! But worth it in the end.

Today will be different though. Today, I'll be adding brand new material. Kneading won't be necessary, but new material always takes me longer to write. I think part of this is because my brain is in editor/revision mode and new material requires the "creative" side of my brain, which has been turned off at this point. I have to kick that creative side awake, and it's grumpy and bitchy when it first wakes up. (And I don't drink coffee.)
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At the end of last week, I opted to not post about the revisions because if I did it every day it would get boring very fast, since they're likely to last a good month. But here's another revision post which addresses something that comes up with revisions on occasion: RESURRECTION.

Yes, yes, I'm going to talk about bringing things back from the dead.

First, you have to understand my process of writing: I sit down and write the book. By the end of this draft, I realize what the book is REALLY about, and so I go back and do a revision of the book based on that. Part of this first revision process is typically to cut out as much of the garbage in the book as possible, but some of it is also to cut the word count down, especially on Well of Sorrows, because it ended up being one HUGE book. So I cut alot of scenes due to length that weren't garbage but that I thought wouldn't affect the outcome of the book in the end.

This is the version of the book that I sent in to my editor.

Well, while rereading chapter 5 with an eye toward what my editor suggested I fix on Friday, I realized that a scene that I had cut for length before I sent it to her is actually important enough that I need to resurrect it from the "cuttext" file I have (because I've learned to keep a file of everything of significance that I cut just in case) and try to insert it back into the chapter in some way. I can't put it in wholesale, since the changes I've made already make it out of place, but I need the characters and the intent behind those characters back in the novel, to make it more realistic. And while discussing the rewrites with my editor on the phone, there were actually a few other locations in the book where she suggested I add in something and I said that I had a scene like that in the original version but I'd taken it out. So I'm going to do some serious resurrection later on in the book as well.

The scene I need to resurrect for chapter 5 isn't a big scene at all. It sets up a potential massacre (that comes to be but off scene, so to speak) and pushes the envelope a little on the emotional part of this chapter. I'll add in the scene to fit (smoothing the edges around it of course) and then I'll refer back to the scene again much later in the book to drive the point home, but that's all that will happen in the revision process regarding this particular piece. Some of the later pieces will have a much more serious impact on the plot and characters. It all comes back to the layering in the book. I've got all of the top layers down already, I just need to put in some of the deeper layers to make the book richer, and this resurrection of this scene is one of those deep layers. Most people probably won't even remember or notice this one scene in the overall context of the book itself.

But, the lessons to learn from this are: always save your cut text because you never know when you'll need it and, of course, zombie scenes rule.
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So yesterday I did just what I said I did in the post about my editor conversation: I sat down and opened a file and rewrote all of the notes I took during the talk with my editor about the revisions she was looking for on Well of Sorrows.

For those curious, I divided it up into the three levels that I talked about yesterday--top level, mid level, and bottom level--and used bullet points on each level, writing down what the revision suggestion was in different words and in more completeness than in my notes (because of course I didn't write everything down while on the phone), followed by any thoughts I had on how to fix it, such as inserting a scene in a specific spot, or adding in that priest character I mentioned, stuff like that. As I go through the novel and make the fixes, I'll strike out each bullet point (not delete it, just strike through it). And as I sit down to work each day, I'll reread most of the bullet points (even some that are crossed out) to refresh my memory about what I'm looking to fix. Obviously some of them won't be applicable until later on in the book, but if I keep reminding myself about it because it makes my brain think about it and my brain might come up with some interesting solution along the way, and if it does I'll want to jot it down in this file. I like to do this kind of approach because as the revisions proceed I can see the strikeouts in the file and it helps make it seem that I'm making actual progress.

So I created that file and it took alot longer than I thought it would, so that's pretty much all that happened on the revision front. I also did a few other things related to writing online, but that was more along the lines of promoting the book and some other business-related emails and such. Today will be the first day of actual revisions: Chapter One.
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Before the writing topic, some updatery. First off, the winner of Maria V. Snyder's SIGNED copy of Storm Glass is none other than [ profile] wolfsilveroak!! Congrats!! Just send me your address either as a message here on LJ or send an email to and I'll get that mailed out to you ASAP.

Second, Balticon rocked. It was great to see everyone there, hang out, catch up, and spread rumors. *grin* Attendance seemed light on Friday and Sunday, but Saturday was busy as usual. I returned home on Sunday, so don't know what Monday was like. I know the dealers room sold out of The Vacant Throne by Saturday morning, so I restocked Larry until I left. The most heart-stopping moment I had was on the trip down when stopping for lunch. I reached for my wallet to pay . . . and I didn't have my wallet! After a few moments of panic, the wallet was found in the seat of the car. Since I was 3 hours away from home already, I didn't want to have to go back. And I wouldn't have had to, since [ profile] pbray offered to make me her paid man for the weekend. *grin* Weirdest phrase overheard during the weekend: "emopants". Weirdest phrase I uttered over the weekend: "Ooo, I haven't shaved my nipples recently."

Third, gardening. I spent all of yesterday planting all of the rest of the vegetables that we'd bought. I will strangle my partner if he buys any more. We still have a few seeds we might plant, but hopefully everything is in the ground now. List of things planted (either a second batch or for the first time): corn, peas, carrots (3 kinds), peppers (3 kinds, including a purple/white variety and pimento), tomatoes (4 kinds, including a white cherry tomato), cucumber, okra (an experiment), and I think that's it. I lost track. In any case, we should have an interesting growing year. The artichokes are looking really good.

OK, now on to writing and the ever interesting topic of COVER ART:

Behind the cut for those who care. )

So what about you guys? What do you think causes some covers to be good and others bad? What covers do you think worked particularly well and which ones sucked?
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I started this first person POV conversation a while back and got pretty far into it when I realized that there were a few other things I wanted to say, but that the post was getting a little long. So here's the continuation.

One of the best and most effective uses of the first person POV is when the writer has an untrustworthy main character. This is basically a main character that is hiding something from the reader, or it outright lying to the reader in some way, shape, or form, and the best way to lie to the reader is when the story is in first person. Because when the reader is reading something in first person, they automatically trust that first person POV because, in essence, that POV is theirs. They become the character, and so they automatically believe that they are getting all of the information they need from that character . . . which isn't always true. In fact, it's almost never true. In third person, the author can give the reader information that the character doesn't actually have if necessary because they can move to a different POV character, or they can be writing in omniscient (with a "hidden" narrator looking over the shoulder of the characters) and that narrator can point out things the character didn't see, etc. So in essence, in the third person POV you're actually getting MORE information from the characters and author than you are in first person . . . but the perception of the reader is exactly the opposite. They feel like they have more information because they feel like they ARE the character, and why would they lie to themselves? So they automatically trust everything they're given, when in fact, the main character in first person could be feeding the reader only what they want the reader to know and/or see, leaving out some good little bits that paint the main character in a different light. This is called an untrustworthy main character, and it can be used to great storytelling effect . . . in the right hands.

And that's the key. This is an extremely effective way to "fool" the reader and have a really good twist in the book at some point. (And BTW, it CAN be done in third person as well.) But it only works in the right hands. And if it doesn't work, it usually goes horribly, horribly wrong very fast. In effect, as a writer you should only lie to the reader if the CHARACTER would lie to the reader at that point. You can't lie to the reader just because you as the author would like a little plot twist at a certain point. The character's personality has to be the main driving force behind the lie. Otherwise it will fall flat and the reader won't trust the AUTHOR anymore, rather than the character, and then everything goes wrong because the reader won't buy you're next book because you've violated the author/reader relationship and the trust is now gone. (Just like lying to someone in a real world relationship over something important usually destroys the relationship.) And in order to pull off an effective lie from even the character's perspective, you still as the author have to leave in enough clues pointing to the lie as you can, so that when the reader gets that revelation that the character is untrustworthy at some point, they can go back and see the truth well before the revelation. In other words, they can go back and say, "How did I miss that? It was so obvious I was being lied to!" And that, my friends, is why writing an untrustworthy character is so damn difficult. You have to lie convincingly while at the same time pointing out the truth. A very hard thing to do well. And as I said, in the wrong hands it just goes horribly bad. But in the right hands. . . .

So that's a great reason to use first person: when you have an untrustworthy character.

Another thing I didn't go into in the last post regarding first person is some of the varieties of first person. There's the obvious types of writing styles that may require first person, for example, writing the novel as a series of journal entries, or letter, or as a memoir. These types of books are hard to pull off effectively because letters, journals, and memoirs have to have a certain tone to them. It isn't the reader having the first person POV character's thoughts, there's a little more to it than that. People think and write differently, and putting your thoughts into words gives those words a slightly different inflection. In some sense, putting the characters thoughts into letter, journal, or memoir form is RESTRICTING those words, since we typically order our thoughts and phrase them different when writing them down. Also, in letters and such, there's an inherent audience for the letter (whoever it's addressed to) and we all reveal different things to different people. I might tell my friend [ profile] pbray something that I wouldn't tell you guys on this blog for example. (And yes, blogs are a form of first person POV in action, aren't they? Where's that first person POV novel written as a series of blogs with subsequent comment threads? I haven't seen anything like that on the shel--wait, forget I said that, it's MY IDEA, HANDS OFF! *grin*) In another sense, though, it's very FREEING as well, because in a diary, for example, people don't feel a need to restrain themselves, because the assumption is that no one will be reading the diary--at least nobody of importance. It can be more personal, more revealing, and probably won't lend itself well to the untrustworthy character plot either, unless the character is actually lying to themselves directly in the diary.

So those are some effective ways to write a first person novel: in the form of letters, journals, diary entries, as a memoir, etc. I believe Stephen King did that with his novel Carrie to some extent, didn't he? It's been a while since I read that one.

And the last thing I wanted to talk about regarding first person POV novels (for now) is combining first person with third in the same novel, or even writing a novel from multiple first person POVs.

First person with third can be done well and effectively, but should only be used for a specific reason, something to do with the plot. Usually it comes into play because the first person POV can't see and hear or be part of every little twist and turn of the plot in all novels without it becoming obvious that the author is manipulating things unrealistically so that they CAN see and hear or be part of every little twist and turn of the plot. When the "author intervenes" to make something happen, and the reader can feel that in the writing, then the book is made of fail. To get around this, an author may take a few scenes throughout the book and write them in third person from another character's POV so that the reader can realistically share those relevant plot points without it feeling like author intervention or manipulation. So, in the end, the book is MOSTLY written in first person, but there are a few sections that are in third. If your novel is written mostly in third person and you only have a few sections written in first . . . then I'd say you need to reconsider that first person POV character. Why does that need to be in first? That's the crucial question. If it's used minimally in the book, then you'd better have a damn good reason for it to be in first, not simply that you want it to be, or that it seemed like a cool idea at the time. There has to be some kind of plot element that requires that it be in first, or perhaps a significant character element. You can't use the first/third POV change as a gimmick to make your book appear "different." So typically, the first/third POV thing is used when the book is MOSTLY in first, with a few sections in third, with the occasional EXTREMELY RARE exception. And I emphasize the "extremely rare" part of that, and reiterate that you can't use this as a gimmick.

Another version of this is using multiple first person POV characters in the same book. This is hard. Let me say that again, this is extremely hard. Again, you must have a good reason for this, and not be using it as a gimmick. And the reason that it is hard is because EVERY SINGLE FIRST PERSON POV CHARACTER MUST HAVE HIS/HER OWN VOICE, and that is extremely hard to pull off. In other words, the reader should be able to identify the first person currently "speaking" as soon as they start reading a particular new section, and they should be identifying who is speaking by the person's voice, NOT because the author conveniently told them who was speaking in the chapter header, or in the first sentence, or in the dialogue, etc. It all comes down to the voices of the characters and making them distinct and instantly recognizable and that takes a shitload of skill. I mean that. If the voices AREN'T distinct and instantly recognizable, then the reader is going to spend the first few pages of every new scene or chapter trying to figure out which person's head they are in . . . and that means you've failed as a writer. The reader shouldn't have to work at reading the novel. I don't think this multiple first person thing a skill I currently possess (although I'm always getting better at the craft, I hope). I would not currently tackle a multiple first person POV book right now unless someone paid me a significant amount of money and gave me a few years to work it all out and get it right. I'm getting closer to being able to do this I think, but I'm not there yet. And I've been writing a LONG, LONG time. If you're going to attempt this, then be aware that such books are extremely hard to sell, simply because it is so extremely hard to MAKE IT WORK WELL. And what is usually at work here is that the book should really be written in multiple third person limited POV, which is as close as you can get to first person POV without it actually being in first person. And a multiple third person limited POV novel is much easier to sell. You still have individual voices for the characters, but you don't have to be as strict in making those voices completely and utterly distinct. And it's less confusing for the reader in the long run.

So, that's what I have to say about first person POV (for now). Comments? Questions? Anything about first person that I haven't address yet, things that I inadvertently left out? (Remember this is based off of a panel at a con, so there are likely some things we didn't get around to addressing in those 50 minutes of talk time.)
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Before I get to the writing bit, I noticed that has ALL THREE of my paperbacks on their 4-for-3 special. So you can get all three of the Throne of Amenkor books, and then pick another paperback book (that's also part of the special) for free! The newest paperbacks aren't part of the special, but the ones that have been out for a few months usually are, so it's not like the ones on the special are extremely limited or anything. So go forth and buy! Click through this link (The Skewed Throne) and you'll help fund the free book giveaways here and at [ profile] dawbooks. Go on. I'll wait.


OK, now that you're back, on to the writing post. This was the last panel I was on at Boskone, and it's one of the typical panels you see at lots of cons. I was also the moderator, so I took more notes on this one than the others. That still doesn't mean I have good notes, just more (unreadable) scribbles than the others. *grin*

So, the idea was to discuss writing the first person POV in books. In particular, I wanted to discuss why you would want to use first person in the first place, or why you shouldn't use it, and what advantages and disadvantages it has. Pretty much all of that is tied together. I also wanted to discuss on the panel why some people have such a strong opinion about reading first person POVs. I've run into this quite a bit: a strong aversion to first person POV.

So, the mechanics first, I guess. First person POV, where you're inside the head of one of the characters and ONLY in that person's head for the duration of the book (or those scenes in the book), is a great way to pull the reader into the story, because the reader in essence "becomes" that first person character. They see everything through that person's eyes, they get that person's innermost thoughts, and it gives the reader a sense of immediacy, a sense of actually LIVING the novel. If it's done right of course. As you read, you feel like you are THERE, doing what the character is doing, feeling what the character feels, hating and crying and loving and laughing right along with that character. I think emotions are more raw in first person. Pain hurts more, grief is more shattering, love is more intense. Overall, EVERYTHING is more intense. That's why I chose to use first person for my books. I wanted the reader to be there, in the scene, experiencing everything first hand. Also, the magic that my main character uses is more personal than in most fantasy novels. There aren't any streaks of lightning or fireballs in the first novel. Such things exist and some of the magic is visible in my world, but most of the REAL magic is happening on a different level, one that can't be seen and is hard to describe UNLESS I use the first person. I think the emotional impact of first person is the real reason I chose to use it thought, because the magic COULD have been done in third (it would have been harder but possible), but I wanted people to live Varis' life along with her. Because the story really is about Varis, about HER, not the world. It's a very character driven story, and character driven stories about a single character are often better done as first person.

So, some reasons to use first person: immediacy of action and emotion; pulls the reader deeper into the story; magic of the world (or some other part of the plot) dictates first person; a single character is the driving force behind the story; it's a character-driven story.

That list isn't complete of course, just some of the things that came up during the panel. And of course, it only works if the first person is done well.

When shouldn't you use first person? Well, the general response is when the story involves more than one POV. If parts of the plot or action must be told when the main character (the potential first person POV character) isn't around or isn't involved, then the novel probably shouldn't be told in first person. Yes, you can get away with having other characters tell the first person POV character what happened second hand, and you can even manipulate the book enough to have that first person character "accidentally" overhear an important conversation that reveals incredibly important information . . . but you can only do that so many times in a novel before such techniques become trite and obvious and just plain stupid. (My general working theory is that you can only do such things ONCE in a novel and get away with it; the second time you do that, you've blown it . . . unless, of course, you have a magical throne that allows the main character to ransack a person's memories. *grin*) So, if the main characters isn't there for a significant portion of the main action . . . first person is probably not going to work. Because with first person, you MUST restrict yourself to that one person's thoughts, actions, and feelings. You have to get across everyone else's thoughts, actions, and feeling by using what that one character sees and hears and notices. And this is hard.

Another reason to NOT use first person is voice. If you're going to use first person, that characters must have a very strong voice, and that voice must in some way be relatable. The reader has to be in sync with the character and has to understand that character and their motivations, and the reader has to be able to put themselves in that character's place. If they can't, if they can't get into that characters head in a believable way, then the book isn't going to work for them. They'll be constantly kicked out of the story because they just can't relate to what the main character is doing. So the character's voice has to be strong, because it has to "overwhelm" the reader's own character to some extent, so that the reader can set themselves aside and become this new person, so that they can live this new person's life.

And again, this can only work if the first person is done well.

So how can first person be done horribly? Oh, there are so many ways. The first is just at a grammatical level. One of the biggest traps (I found) with first person is sentence structure. The tendency is to write things using the "I" all of the time. You end up saying things like: "I felt a pain in my back as I lifted the crate full of lead ingots." Or: "I saw the man cross the street and enter the darkness of the alley." One of the biggest things I learned while writing that first first person book was that there's no need for the additional I's. In fact, I tried to eliminate as many I's as possible while writing first person. We're supposed to be inside this person's head, so we don't need them. The reader knows who's speaking, who's thinking, who's feeling, who's seeing, etc, so you can leave all of that "I" crap to the side as much as possible. Just say what's happening! "A pain exploded in my back as I lifted the crate full of lead ingots." "The man slid across the street and entered the darkened alley." Much more immediate and much more succinct and engaging. So eliminate as many of the I's as possible when writing first person.

Another trap to bad first person is that it's really just third person but with all of the he's or she's replaced with I. I think the main difference between first and third is how immediate everything feels, the impact of emotions and actions. In first person, it should feel like it's RIGHT THERE, in your face, happening RIGHT NOW! Third person is a little more removed; you're standing at a slight distance. So if you aren't going to take full advantage of the immediacy, if you're going to feel removed, as if you aren't really living in the moment, then DON'T write it in first person, because it comes off as badly written first person, when it could be really good third person instead. So ask yourself when you're writing whether or not it feels immediate or whether it feel removed. If it's removed, then you either need to change to third person, or go back and rewrite it to take full advantage of the immediacy of first. (Removed first person usually means that you as the writer aren't really connected yet to your character, and that comes out on the paper as a sense of distance.)

There plenty of other ways to screw up first person, but those I my two biggies. What it all boils down to for me is that when you're reading first person, the fact that it's first person should be COMPLETELY INVISIBLE. When I'm reading, I don't want to the notice the I's. I don't want to really "see" them at all as I read (hence the elimination of as many of them as possible). I also don't want to feel distanced in any way. I should be RIGHT THERE, in the moment, and when I am, I won't even notice that I'm reading. If the write has failed on either of these two levels, then I begin to notice that I'm reading, and that I'm reading first person, and at that point, the writer has failed. In my opinion. I think this makes writing first person a little more challenging than writing third. In fact, I'll go out on a shaky limb here and say that I think first person is harder to write because it is so much more character-driven than third. Third person, because of the sense of removal, tends to be more plot driven. But feel free to disagree with me.

Yikes. This topic is bigger than I thought. So what I'll do is cut this conversation off here and let you guys bring up some of the things I didn't mention about the basic mechanics of first person. There are a few things we discussed on the panel that I want to touch on--such as the untrustworthy first person POV, some of the first person techniques you can use like journal entries or letters, and the advantages/disadvantages of alternating between different POVs (first and third POVs in the same book, or even multiple first person POVs in the same book)--but if I do that here that will make this post WAY too long. So save those comments for the later posts. Hopefully I'll get to those within the next week.

For now though, we've got plenty of good things to discuss: Do you think first person is harder to write, or easier? What are some other ways that first person can be done badly? What are some other reasons that a novel should be written in first person, and what are some where it shouldn't? Do you agree that first person must have that sense of immediacy in order to work?
jpskewedthrone: (Default)
In lieu of an actual long writing post by me here at my LJ, I present you with a long writing post by me at [ profile] sleigh's LJ instead. *grin* Check it out! I ramble on about my process for writing and "how all those words happen" for me, then point out that the process is different for everyone.

A new writing post here should appear later this week, on a different topic of course. I'm still working my way through the panels at Boskone. Soon, I will be doing panels from Lunacon. (Which reminds me that I need to post my Lunacon schedule sometime soon.)
jpskewedthrone: (Default)
This was something I meant to mention during the Men Writing Women post I did last week, but it got lost in all the other thoughts I was writing at the time and I only remembered it after I hit "post." It came up during the panel, sort of a tangent.

One of the things that came up was that most people like character-driven stories, that without the character for them to connect to, the story by itself wouldn't necessarily be interesting enough to keep them reading. So, this brought up in my mind the question: Do we write female characters because we can "safely" delve into more emotional turmoil, more visible emotional turmoil, with a woman character than a man? In our society (it even came up on the radio station as I was driving to work yesterday), it seems to be more acceptable for women to cry and show their deeper emotions than it is more men. Men aren't supposed to cry. They're supposed to be strong and suck it up and bury those emotions deep and not let them out or let them show and FORGE ONWARD! Whereas a woman in the same situation is allowed to show how emotional they are, to let it all out and share it with the world (and thus the reader), and then FORGE ONWARD! So does this mean that having a woman as a main character makes it easier to have a more character-driven story?

I don't necessarily agree, but it's an interesting question. Why are there so many urban fantasies with women MCs rather than men? (I bring this up, but I think this is true not because of the emotional question but because of the market/audience for that type of book.) I don't agree because I have written books with male MCs and I certainly hope that those books are still very emotionally involving and character-driven in nature. However . . . I would say that it's harder to write a male MC and get the emotional drive across, because you can't let them cry at the drop of a hat or anything like that. Which is wrong in the long run, but it's the nature of our society (as the radio station discussion proved). The male MC can't kill people in the battle and then the minute the fighting ends burst into tears over all of the life that's been sacrificed to win the day. Now, he can find that a friend died during the battle and grieve over the body . . . but pushing that grief to tears might be a little much. So I think it's harder to get the emotional turmoil of the male characters across, because you have to make that emotional turmoil internal somehow for men, while the women have more external outlets for those emotions. (I'm not saying there is no internal turmoil for women, just that there's more visible external indications of that than are allowed for men.) And if we agree that it's harder to show the turmoil externally for male characters, that makes making the story more character-driven harder in some sense.

At least in theory. As I said in the Men Writing Women post, none of this thought process actually occurs when I sit down to write. I don't consider any of these things while actually writing. The characters show up and they tell their story and they all have emotional turmoil and when all is said and done, it's my job as the writer to get that emotional turmoil across whether the character is male or female and to make the story character-driven. And I have to admit that one of the biggest struggles for me as a writer is to get that emotional turmoil across. When I first started writing and getting feedback from other aspiring writers (at online workshops and such), I was weakest in the area of emotional development of the characters. I had to work very hard at showing the emotions rather than just not including them (focusing on the plot and not the character), and then later on, just telling the reader the emotions rather than showing them. (I think that's the road for most people: ignore the emotions and focus on plot, then try to do the emotions but end of telling the reader what they are rather than showing them, and then the breakthrough to how to show the emotions rather than telling them.)

BTW, this is the part of the panel where we started talking about doing the character-driven story for other types of characters, like aliens (who wouldn't think and react emotionally the same way as humans). At this point, at a question from [ profile] pbray who was in the audience, we were talking about when the characters would be treated equally, and I said that eventually we'll be writing novels from the alien's POV and we'd find out that as the alien ripped the head from it's human victim it was really crying inside. *grin*

In any case, thoughts on this? Do you think it's easier to write a character-driven story if the MC is female? Are men harder to write because of society's restriction on not allowing men to cry (except in certain situations of course)? Would the alien really be crying on the inside as it dismembered the annoying human parasites that have invaded its ship? Curious authors want to know!


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Joshua Palmatier

September 2017

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