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I want to welcome D.B. Jackson to the blog today!  He's here to talk about his newest novel Time's Children, the first book in a new series. I'll let him give you more specifics below, but you should definitely rush out and buy it.  Right now.  I'll wait. …  And now that that's done, here's D.B. Jackson (aka David B. Coe), who' really here to talk about how writing short fiction helps write novels:

My newest novel, Time’s Children, the first book in the Islevale Cycle, has just been released by Angry Robot Books. This is a time travel, epic fantasy series, and I’m incredibly excited to see the book in print. But while Time’s Children is the first book in the new trilogy, it is not the first Islevale story I’ve had published. “The Guild of the Ancients,” a short piece set in my world and featuring one of my key characters, appeared earlier this summer in Guilds and Glaives, an anthology put out by Joshua’s publishing company, Zombies Need Brains.


I love writing short fiction, just as I love writing novels. I believe that while the two forms obviously share elements, they also present the writer with different challenges and a host of opportunities. I often suggest that writers who are just starting out take time out from their novels to write some shorter pieces. Why?


I’m glad you asked.


1) Writing short fiction helps us hone our craft. Short stories demand an economy of prose and directness of narrative that are less essential in a novel. It’s not that novels can or should be wordy or meandering, but rather that with a short story we have 6,000 words or so to tell a satisfying tale, rather than 100,000. Every detail should have purpose. Plot points should follow one upon the other. Characters should be drawn with precision and care. Prose should be clean and concise. I love the challenge of writing a good short story, just as I enjoy constructing an effective novel. But while I’m not sure writing my novels makes me better at short fiction, I know that writing short fiction has helped me grow as a storyteller and writer of novels.


2) Short stories help with our character development and world building. I sold my first short story after I had published four novels. The story I sold was about an episode from the history of the world I created for my Winds of the Forelands series. I knew the outlines of the event – a key moment in that history – but until I wrote the story, I didn’t fully understand it. That understanding informed passages in the remaining Forelands books. Similarly, my story in Guilds and Glaives features a key character in the Islevale books: the time demon, Droë. Writing from her point of view, exploring an important moment from earlier in her life, taught me a good deal about her, and also helped me refine her voice. And in between that first published story and this most recent one, I’ve used short fiction again and again to inform my novels. Think of them as research, as a way to learn more about the ingredients to be used in your larger projects.


3) Selling a short story earns us money and advances our careers. Sure, the money we earn for novels will outpace the money for short stories. No question. Novels gain more attention as well. But start with the points I’ve made above. Writing the short story serves artistic purposes – honing our craft, sharpening our sense of character and world and voice. If we can then also earn a bit for the story, well that’s gravy. More, any sort of professional sale can help a beginning writer gain the notice and consideration of editors and agents. Put another way, the money we earn for a short story is secondary to the mere fact of the sale itself. For writers who are already established, the short fiction sale may carry less significance. But speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that I still value every sale, every new credit, and every opportunity to work with a new editor.


Not every short story has to be set in a pre-existing world. They don’t all have to be practice for our larger works. And not every short story needs to be sold. (Though I would urge you to submit those stories that you feel represent your best work. What do you have to lose?)  Even if writing a short piece does nothing more than polish your writing, it’s worth the effort. Because ultimately, while all the reasons I’ve given above ought to convince you to write short fiction, those are not the most compelling reasons I can offer.


The fact is, writing short pieces, crafting workable stories with so few words, is tremendously fun and deeply satisfying. I love the novels I’ve written, and I’m proud of all of them. But some of my most memorable experiences as a professional writer have come with my shorter work. So check out “Guild of the Ancients” and the other stories in Guilds and Glaives. And then check out Time’s Children. You might enjoy that, too.



D.B. Jackson is the pen name of fantasy author David B. Coe. He is the award-winning author of twenty novels and as many short stories. His newest novel, Time’s Children, is the first volume in a time travel/epic fantasy series called The Islevale Cycle. The book has just been released by Angry Robot Books. The second volume, Time’s Demon, will be released in May 2019.


As D.B. Jackson, he also writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy set in pre-Revolutionary Boston. As David B. Coe, he is the author of the Crawford Award-winning LonTobyn Chronicle, which he has recently reissued, as well as the critically acclaimed Winds of the Forelands quintet and Blood of the Southlands trilogy. He wrote the novelization of Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood, and, most recently, The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy.


He is also currently working on a tie-in project with the History Channel. David has a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Stanford University. His books have been translated into a dozen languages.


He and his family live on the Cumberland Plateau. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.



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One aspect to writing any novel of length (and even some short stories) is that on occassion you need to do the "time jump," a skip in some significant amount of time. Usually this is because events in the plot need some time to develope, and there's nothing of much interest happening to any of the characters or the plot during that time, so . . . just skip it. Pick the story back up when the action begins again, or when the characters next have a defining moment.

Sometimes, it isn't as simple as "nothing" happening during that time. Sometimes, one or two important things happen, but not enough to set those things off and spend the time writing about them in detail. In my book Well of Sorrows (written under the pseudonym Benjamin Tate), I had a significant time jump in the middle of the book. Significant meaning 67 years. Things happened to the character during this time, but I couldn't imagine spending a significant chunk of time and pages going over those things individually because . . . well, the weren't THAT important. During this time, the character was dealing with issues, intensely personal issues, but I decided that I could skip that and get his turmoil across once the story and the plotlines began picking up steam 67 years later.

In my current work in progress, I've just run into the same issue. Some significant things happen over the course of the 4 years that pass, but I decided that they weren't important enough to separate off completely. Mostly because there were really one one or two events for each person, and they all happen over the space of those 4 years (meaning they don't happen within a short time period; one happens here, then two years pass and the next happens, etc). Writing and chapter or two getting those things across seemed extreme. So I decided to skip them all completely.

I thought it might be interesting to talk about how I came about this decision, since it happens quite a bit in most books (I know I'm going to have another time jump later on in this work in progress, this time of about 11 years). Mostly, it's a "pro and con" kind of decision. You have to weight the options of actually writing those scenes outright, just taking the time and including it as part of the narrative, OR if you can simply get away with referring to those events as flashbacks or working it into the narrative as past events in casual conversation or something. In both of my examples, I decided it would work best to just work in the intervening events of the time jump as they became important in the current plot. In my second example (the work in progress), I really wanted to skip the 15 years total and work some of it in as necessary flashbacks or whatever. BUT, a few of the events were simply two important to leave as "asides" that get referred to as necessary. So I picked out those events that were most important, did a little finagling of a few other plotpoints, and worked in a "middle" part to my initial two part novel. I'm still skipping some time, but there was enough to flesh out that middle to make it a significant part of the novel. So I decided to skip 4 years, cover some significant events, and then skip 11 years.

So that's how I decide whether or not time jumps are necessary. Another question is how to get such time jumps across to the reader. There's the subtle approach, which I struggled with for a long time, because this just seems like the coolest way to handle such things. Don't SAY there's a time jump . . . work in little facts and subtle clues so that the reader realizes it on there own. Like I said, this is how I USED to try to do this, and I struggled with it tremendously. That I wised up. You don't have to be subtle. In fact, there's no real reason to be subtle at all. So why be subtle?

I ditched the subtle approach a few novels back. Instead, I just come out and say that there's a time jump. In my current chapter, the first after the 4 year time jump, I simply say the equivalent of "4 years later." You can put this in as a sort of subtitle to the chapter, but I know that when I'm reading a book, I almost never pay attention to such subtitles; I just start reading the chapter. So I'm likely to miss this, and figure other readers will do the same. So I just write the time jump right into the narrative. I think i had my character think something like, "It had taken her four years to reach this point . . ." and that was that. There's the time jump. I emphasize it more with some flashbacks, and of course I need to get in some of what happened during those four years (such as her parents dying, etc), and that hits the time jump over the head even more. But in the long run, JUST SAY IT. Tell the reader outright that there was a time jump. You don't need anything fancy, such as "the leaves changed from green to reds and golds and yellow" just say it's now fall. You can add some descriptive touches after that (such as the color of the leaves) but just tell it outright at first. Even if the time jump isn't as huge as those I described here, just say it outright, such as "two weeks later" and move on.

And those are my thoughts on time jumps. It's not a topic I've seen written about in any blogs, which surprised me. Although I'm sure someone out there has written about it before. Any other suggestions/comments on when and how to work time jumps into novels?
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Instead of telling everyone how the revisions are going today and revealing some insight into that process (which will get boring if I do it day-by-day for the next month), I'll post something else writerly and hopefully helpful: links to some of my past projects. I while back, I asked some published writers if they'd be willing to post a plot synopsis that they'd written that helped them sell and book, so people could see ones that WORKED. They could also post about how they go about writing the synopses, if they wanted. Then a little after that, I asked a different batch of writers if they'd do the same thing, and also asked everyone if they'd do something similar for query letters. So here are the three links to those projects. Everyone supposedly linked to everyone else's post, so you could travel from one to the other, but some of those links (being old now) may be broken, just to forewarn you. Hope this helps you writers out there!

Plot Synopsis Project I
Plot Synopsis Project II
Query Letter Project
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OK, so I spoke to my editor on Friday for about 3 hours on the phone about revisions to the book Well of Sorrows, which is the first book in a new series set in the same world as the Throne books and eventually has a connection to the Throne books, but that won't be obvious until later on in the new series. This is supposed to be a post about some of the kinds of things that editors may ask an author to change or "fix" or whatever regarding books, for those of you out there who are interested.

First off, note that this is the first book in a new series. That means there are generally going to be alot more comments from the editor than if this had been the third or fourth book in the series, mostly because the first book has to establish the world, the setting, the rules, all of that, while by the third book the world is usually already set and the rules are generally understood. The first book also has to lay the groundwork for the later books in the series, even if those later books haven't even been sold yet (as in my case--please go buy my Throne books so they continue to buy the books in this series!). In other words, this first book in some sense is more important and must be more detailed than the succeeding books.

In addition, Well of Sorrows is by far the longest book I've written for DAW at 180,000 words. This is twice the length of The Skewed Throne when it was sent in. So there's more to critique, and of course more that can go wrong. Here's what we talked about:

The biggest category for the discussions came down to worldbuilding and clarity: make how this works clearer; make this person's motivations clearer; make it obvious how the societies are interacting with each other and exactly how their cultures work. These are "big picture" things that as I go through the revisions make me focus on the little things in the writing. This isn't something that can necessarily be fixed by "inserting scene A here and scene B here" and whalla! that problem is fixed. This is . . . finer than that. If you inserted scene A there and B there, it's almost guaranteed that scene A and B are going to be infodumps, and of course you don't want that. This is stuff that I'm going to a) have to figure out the details of before I sit down to do the revisions and b) as I revise, find good places to insert a sentence or two here and a sentence or two there, so that when all of the sentences I've added in come together, you get the whole picture.

One of the things I'm going to do for this is go through all of the notes I took during the phone conversation and do a write-up of what my editor said and the things I need to add in order to fix it. For example, she wanted to know exactly how many people are in the populations of the three cultures that feature in this series. I need to add in things like how many people are part of each House, each town, how many are in the army, how long-lived each culture is, how many children they typically have, and how all of this affects their relationships to the cultures around them and their own culture. Those who live longer and have fewer children are going to be more devastated by losing 100 people in a battle than the race that has 10 kids per family because they're farmers and only live to an average age of 40. Things like that. I need to add in things like the backstory of how the culture of this race evolved, why they're so focused on the Land and its preservation, and why this culture was forced to leave their own lands and come to this land, and why they're all being attacked by the evil bad things. How come the evil reacts the way it does? (As you know from the Throne books, I don't have evil for the sake of having evil; my evil needs to be there for a reason.) So I need to list all of these things down so that as I revise for other things, when I see an opportunity to put in a quick dash of dialogue or a paragraph or two that gets some of these things across without using an infodump, I can do seize it. And check something off of my revision list of course.

So, there's the clarity and worldbuilding issue. Most of this type of issue comes up because while I know all of this info in my head, it doesn't necessarily make it to the paper, even though I think it has. This is what editors are good for: pointing out where you haven't filled in the world as much as you think you've filled in the world. I also discovered that, particularly in this book, while revising this the first time BEFORE sending it to my editor, I cut out chapters and pages that had worldbuilding material in them that was needed and I didn't realize it at the time. In this case, I HAD written that into the story, but it got accidentally cut later on. Editors are good at catching this as well.

So, that's the top level kind of thing that gets discussed. There's obviously a layer beneath that. This layer usually involves more specific things. For example, I was asked to add in more scenes from two viewpoint characters in particular: Garius and Aeren. Now, Aeren already has quite a few scenes written from his POV, but my editor felt that there needed to be more from him because a) he was an interested character and she wanted to know more and b) because it would give us a little more perspective on his culture earlier on in the novel if I added in some scenes from his POV when Aeren first meets the other main characters. At the moment, we meet Aeren, but don't get anything from his POV until MUCH later on in the book.

Garius is a different story. I haven't written any scenes from his POV in the book at all, but my editor felt that he'd give us an opportunity to see the third culture in more detail (since the third culture is the one least addressed in this book) and it sets up this culture for later books in the series, when the culture plays a larger roll. So this addition isn't necessarily because his character is interesting, but it gives us a chance to show more of the culture through someone from the culture's eyes. It will make that culture, and this character in particular, much more three-dimensional. I hadn't done much with this culture or character because he and the culture don't play a huge roll in this book. My editor felt laying groundwork for later books would be a good idea now.

She also wanted me to add in some scenes involving the priesthood of the one cultures religion. Again, to establish and flesh out more about that religion. Similarly, I need to add some more conversations/scenes about Lotaern, the head of the religion in one of the other races, to flesh out that religion, how it operates, and how it related to the power structure of that culture, because a significant part of this book is how that power structure is changing during the course of this book and how it affects the outcomes of the later books.

As you can see, these type of fixes typically require adding in additional scene to the novel (especially the POV scenes) or adding in more to already existing scenes, such as continuing a conversation as the topic changes or something like that. In other words, these fixes aren't as subtle as the top-level fixes. I can actually plan these fixes out a little more ahead of time. For example, I already know where I can add in a scene involving the priesthood of the one culture. The moment my editor mentioned this as a problem, a character popped into my head, along with a scene with the main character, that would help fix that problem.

This level also includes some fixes that require more significant changes to the book. My editor did not feel that the make-up of the wagon train was exactly right, and felt that the make-up of the dissidents in the port town was off as well. So I need to go back and rethink how the dissidents in the port town formed and how, from that, the wagon train make-up would form. This requires reworking the first half of the novel to a large extent. Nothing of the plot will really change, or the main characters that I already have in play, but it does mean that during the rewrites I have to change the tone of any section involving the dissidents in the port town, changing wording and such, conversations, etc, and I need to do that consistently through the entire book. This is much more detailed work than adding in a scene. This is altering scenes on a sentence-by-sentence level, often word-by-word. A much more grueling task in the long run, especially with a book this size. I don't have anything that requires me to physically rip apart the book scene by scene and repair and repatch it so that things work, which I'm eternally greatful for.

So that's the middle level. Now the bottom level of fixes. These are typically the easiest to fix, because they're so specific, and because they usually only require a few sentence changes. My editor points out where, in specific scenes, I've done something studid continuity-wise, such as said the main characters has a knife, but I've never mentioned the knife before, or I said he's been there for 2 days when he arrived that morning. This sometimes relates to potential plot holes as well, such as when my main character conveniently DOESN'T use his magical ability for no apparent reason when using it would make life so much easier (which is fixed without too much hassle by just mentioning why he couldn't use it in that instance, or having him try to use it and fail for some reason; or which can't be fixed so easily and perhaps requires a ripping apart of the plot at that point and reorganizing). Sometimes it's something simple like having someone of a different race escorted into the city and NOT having them draw the curious attention from the general masses. Sometimes it's because I'm trying to have a scene do too much, like when I have Aeren watching 2 different parts of a battle that he's actually participating in as well. He can't possibly fight and keep track of the 2 other areas of action all at the same time (although I apparently thought he could at the time). Have fantasy-worlds not heard of multi-tasking?!?! Geesh!

In any case, those are the kinds of things that get discussed during such talks regarding the book. There are also other things, such as the deadline for the revisions (GAH!) and when the book might be coming out and such. My editor had looked up the release date, but hadn't written it down, so I'll let everyone know once she looks it up this week. And she will, because she needs to make certain the deadline she gave me is good and won't be calling me next week to ask where the revisions are when I'm only up to chapter 3. Right now, I have until the end of August to revise the entire book. This is good, because I know I can do that without too much fuss. We also discussed upcoming conventions and such where we might be able to get together to discuss other things, such as whether they're interested in buying more books from me and whatnot. This is the main reason that I'm now attending Worldcon in Montreal. *grin*

So in summary, buy my books, so that DAW buys more books from me. *evil grin* And if you have them already, thanks. And consider buying them for your friends. Because I like revisions. They are fun.

Now off to do them . . . OOOOO!!!! Look at the shiny email!
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Hey, all! A while ago, when I ran the Plot Synopsis Project, it was suggested that I also do a Query Project. I didn’t have the time then to organize it, but I’ve put something together now. What you’ll find here (from me) is an old post that I’ve reposted with some changes, mainly dealing with the actual paragraph pitch that I included. In the first posting of this, I made a pitch up on the fly, and it sucked. This time, I put in the pitch I actually used in the queries I sent out to agents and editors regarding that particular book. I’ve also tweaked some sentences and whatnot since the original post.

So, here’s my advice on how to write a query and what it should include. At the end of the post, there are links to a bunch of other authors who’ve agreed to post one of their own queries (one that netted them an agent or editor) along with comments about queries in general. Some of the authors participating never used queries, and they’ll explain how they got published without them, or why they didn’t need them. But most of us used queries to catch someone’s attention. As always, this is just our experiences and our advice, which may or may not be the best advice out there. Use your own judgment after considering what we’ve all had to say. And good luck with your own agent/editor hunt!

What I have to say about queries )

Here are links to the blogs and webpages of other authors participating in the Query Project. They will all have different things to say, and some of the same things, so read through them carefully and ask yourself how you want to present yourself in a professional manner to an agent or editor . . . and then write and send out those queries! You certainly won’t get published without sending material out to be seen . . . and yes, rejected. But that’s another post entirely. *grin* Everyone should be posting these today, September 12th, so if you go through the link and there isn't anything there yet, check back later. They may not have gotten to posting it just yet. (Plus, they may be in a completely different time zone, like . . . France or something.)

Paul Crilley
Chris Dolley
Diana Pharaoh Francis
Gregory Frost
Simon Haynes
Jackie Kessler
Glenda Larke
John Levitt
Joshua Palmatier
Janni Lee Simner
Maria V. Snyder
Jennifer Stevenson
Edward Willett
David J. Williams

ETA: Links have been updated to take readers directly to the query post (rather than just that author's blog), although I didn't get permanent links for one or two of the authors on the list.
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First off, I'd like to say that I DID manage to get off my ass this past week and get started on one of the two proposals that I'd been putting off. You remember. The two proposals that I couldn't get myself to begin because I knew that each story had a major flaw? The proposal I started was the one where I knew who the main character was and what the basic plot was, but I didn't have the COOL factor yet. I have no idea why I started with this one, but I did.

And I almost immediately ran into a problem: worldbuilding.

You see, all of the stories that I've written over the past 15 years have all been set in the same world, except for one (and that one was set in our world, so not much worldbuilding was required on my part). I started writing in that world in high school. Nearly every story I've ever come up with has been set there. Starting with the first novel, way back when, I've been writing and writing and writing . . . and in the process, without consciously realizing it, I've been worldbuilding and worldbuilding and worldbuilding. I mean, this world has HISTORY. I know events that happened over the course of thousands of years, and how those events affected other events, and other parts of the world, and different people in that world. I'd say that, besides the three books already out on the shelf and the one I just finished, I have another . . . 15+ novels set in this world. Not to say the world is completely flesh out. Where would be the fun in that? But it seriously has some detail to it already. GOOD detail.

So, when I sat down to work on the new proposal, I hit a wall. No, that's not right. I slammed myself repeatedly into the wall until I was bloody before I finally sat back and said, what gives?

What gives is that I blithely in my head imagined that I could sit down and whip out a proposal for a science fiction world where I know the story . . . but not the HISTORY. I don't know jack shit aboout how these worlds came to be in the state they are in at the moment the book takes place, when all hell is about to break loose. And guess what? Knowing the history is kind of essential.

And here's my problem: I didn't realize it, but doing all of that writing way back when in high school (and then college), with stories that haven't seen print, I was doing that essential worldbuilding. It wasn't planned, and I had no clue that THAT was what I was doing, but it happened.

And it hasn't happened yet for this new proposal, this new BOOK. I'm going to have to take some time and write out the history of these worlds, and I have to do it without actually writing stories, because I don't have the time. I can't write three novels to figure out what's going on in this universe just so I can sit down and write the novel that started it all. That worked for high school and beyond because I DID have the time. Not anymore.

So, I'm going to have to learn a new skill: worldbuilding. But worldbuilding on the fly. Most of this worldbuilding will likely not appear in the end proposal, but it will be essential to that proposal making sense and, perhaps, selling. Anyone up for a history lesson?

Oh, but I do have a tentative title for the proposed book: Blood of the Sisters. It probably doesn't sound that cool until you know that the Sisters are planets.

Aha, you say. Now there's a bit of intrigue, a little piqued interest. (Or so I hope.)

And guess what? That title also gives me the COOL factor that was missing from the proposal.

*happy sigh* Sometimes things just work out, even when they don't.
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First of all (and off topic), thanks to everyone who's given advice and/or suggestions on the titles for the sequels to Well of Sorrows. I believe with your help I've narrowed it down to some good possibilities (see previous LJ post), and I would not have been able to do this without the help of you here at LJ. No one seems to like the title Breath of Heaven at all, which I kind of rather like, but using that title for that book would have been a stretch anyway, since "breath of heaven" is actually used for something else in book 1.

Now, back to the topic, which is related in a way. I'm in the process of writing the short paragraph plot synopses that you include in cover letters and query letters, as well as the much longer plot synopses you include with the partial or the full manuscript once they've been requested by the agent or editor. As I struggle with this, I'm also helping a friend tweak their own long plot synopsis. This is about some of the things I've thought about while doing this.

First and foremost: It's MUCH EASIER to see what's wrong with someone else's plot synopsis and make suggetions for how to fix it. So DO NOT trust yourself to write the perfect plot synopsis without having the synopsis pass through at least one other person's hands before sending it off to an agent or editor. GET SOMEONE TO READ IT! Preferrably a few someones, since more eyes will catch more things. I have a few victims set up already for my synopses once they're finished (hey [ profile] pbray and [ profile] jennifer_dunne!). They've already gotten drafts of the query letter I'm sending out. But the point is, as the author of the book and the synopsis, you're FAR FAR too close to the materials to see the spaces between the words. So get someone to read it so they can point out things that you overemphasized or underemphasized, because you won't see those things yourself. (Well, you might if you set the synopsis aside for an extended period of time and then come back to it later . . . but most of us don't have the time for that.)

Now for some actual advice about how to write the synopsis itself: GIVE UP. I don't mean give up writing or give up trying to get the synopsis written well. That's just silly. What I mean is that the key to writing an effective plot synopsis is that you have to give up on most of what you yourself feel makes the book cool and unique. But notice the key word there: MOST. You don't give up on ALL of it. In fact, you want to include what makes the book cool and unique as well.

Confused yet? *grin*

Here's what I think the trick is. First, identify what it is that makes your book cool and unique. Once you have that, notice that, typically, this coolness and uniqueness is spread throughout the book. It doesn't just appear in one spot, it's actually threaded throughout multiple characters and multiple plot lines. Now, you want to include all of those plot lines, all of those characters, but in a plot synopsis you just can't. It's impossible. If were possible then you wouldn't need the entire book, you'd only need the plot synopsis itself. So the trick is to pick out one representative plot line to use in the plot synopsis. Give up on using all of the other cool plot threads and use just one. This way, you still have what makes the book cool and unique in the plot synopsis, so that's coming across to the agent or editor, but you don't have 100 pages of coolness and uniqueness, you only have 5 or 10 or 20 (whatever the agent or editor is looking for). When you pick the thread that you're going to use as your representative, make certain it's the most common thread in the book, or the biggest, or the one most related to the overall basic plot. In essence, what you're doing here is weeding out subplots, but I think I've said it in a slightly different way.

Now, typically, there's more than just one thing in the book that makes the book cool and unique. So by the end of the process above you'll have three or four threads that represent why your book is cool and unique. Now you're ready to write the plot synopsis itself. The key is to weave the threads you've picked out together so that it gives a coherent representation of the book. I make this sound easy. In general, this is the hardest part, at least for me, because the temptation is to bring back into the synopsis all of the threads that you already decided to cut out, which of course you can't do. That defeats the whole purpose. So keep yourself to the threads you've chosen. Only bring in other threads that you've "given up on" if there's no way the chosen threads will work together without it. You want the plot synopsis to read smoothly and sometimes you need a little extra something in order for that to happen. But try to keep to the threads you've chosen as much as possible.

In the end, the threads you've woven together will tell the agent or editor exactly what your book is about AND will reveal why your particular book is unique.

A few notes that have been mentioned before regarding plot synopses that should not be forgotten:

Remember that the plot synopsis is not just about plot. You should include the character's development as well, so one of the threads above should be how the character grows or changes during the course of the novel, emotionally.

Remember that you have to reveal the ending. This is not the time to tease the agent or editor so that they want to read the book. They want to know whether the book will be marketable, because they're already interested. So make it clear what happens to the good guys, the bad guys, and how everything wraps up at the end, both plot-wise and character-wise.

For fantasy and science fiction, remember to include the magic or the science that makes your novel unique. Again, you can do this by picking a particular thread that shows throughout the book why your magic or science is cool and unique, but if that magic or science doesn't somehow intertwine with the ending of the book . . . perhaps it wasn't actually necessary for the novel.

Lastly, just a quick comment, based on my experiences writing these plot synopses: I find that when I try to write them using this idea, the threads that I've chosen to use usually combine rather well without tons of effort as long as I keep myself restricted to those threads and don't try to bring in a ton of extra stuff. And when I'm done, it does form a good representation of the book as a whole. In the end though, this is just a suggestion for how to write plot synopses, or a way to get started. It works for me (most of the time), but it might not work for you. as the saying goes, "mileage may vary."
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This post topic comes courtesy of Sherwood Smith ([ profile] sartorias). It's something that came up in the comments of her Author Introduction last week and I agreed with her comments in the post, but didn't say anything much there. However, the magnitude of what she said didn't really hit home until I started to think about my next project (now that the revised version of Well of Sorrows has been handed in to the editor). What's the next project? Well, I need to write out the plot synopses for books 2 and 3 of the Well series, so that I can hopefully sell them.

I hate synopses. I'm not that kind of writer. I'm sorry. I like to let the novel shape itself as I write. But we've had this discussion before, so I'll leave it and get back to the point.

As I begin to contemplate writing these plot synopses, I realized exactly what it is I know about the book ahead of time . . . which is jack shit. Or rather, it's exactly two or three IMAGES from the book, which people tend to call scenes, but in fact they aren't. I work on images, and the scenes and the rest of the book grow from those images. That's how I operate, which is why writing the synopses is so hard. The growing into scenes and then into a book happens WHILE I WRITE. It doesn't happen ahead of time.

For The Skewed Throne I had exactly one hardcore image burned into my mind. It actually became burned into my mind while I was writing another book (called Sorrow, unpublished for now; this is where most of my images come from . . . while writing other books). The image? I saw the main character, a young girl, sitting on a boat in the harbor of a city. As she fishes (or whatever she's doing) a White Fire burns toward the city from the ocean, a huge wall of white flame that more or less immobilizes her with its vastness and the fact that it cannot be escaped. This Fire burns through the harbor, pure and terrifying, but doesn't actually burn anything in its path. It burns something inside you, and then it passes over the young girl and then through the city . . .

And it leaves behind a huge question: HOW WOULD SUCH AN EVENT AFFECT THE GIRL AND THE CITY? What would change if something like this occurred? How would people react, what would they do?

That was the basis for The Skewed Throne. That was its IMAGE. Those of you who've read the book will notice that the scene itself never actually made it into the book. It wasn't really the scene that was driving the book itself, but the image is what caused me to ask the questions, and the questions were the important part. Those of you who haven't read the book, WHY THE HELL NOT?!?!? But you're probably asking yourself, "Where is the Throne in that image?" Well, the throne didn't come in until later.

But back to the image idea. Part of the discussion in the comments related to whether character came first or setting or what. You'll notice that in this particular image, ALL OF THAT IS THERE ALREADY. So I can't say that character comes first. In the image, the young girl has already begun to form, and will be formed as I begin answering the questions the image inspired. The setting is obviously already there: a harbor, a port, a city on the edge of water. But again, the rest of the setting (which I tend to think of as another character in and of itself) won't be formed until I start answering the questions.

So, as I begin pondering how to write the plot synopsis for books 2 and 3, I find myself asking what IMAGE is driving the books. I know the image for the second book and the image for the third book.

For the second book, I see in my head a HUGE tree (not your standard size tree, but one even larger than the redwoods) with autumn leaves, so vivid--orange and red and yellow--and from the bottom limbs of the tree there hang cages where criminals are sentenced to death by exposure. I'm getting a strong sense of the idea of justice from this image. In the background, I see a colossal city on the hill. The city is surrounded by an army, and large portions of the city are burning. And the kicker for the image (at least for me): THE TREE IS BURNING. This is why I want to call the book "The Autumnal Tree", although according to those here on LJ when I first proposed this title, it sucks. I still like it though.

The third book's image? Well, I can't tell you that because it would spoil things too much.

In any case, I now need to sit down and start thinking about the autumnal tree and what it means. I already know the main character, and you should notice that the image itself doesn't contain any characters at all. But I need to figure out what the city is, where the army came from, why it's there, why the city is burning, how justice factors into the story, and, most importantly, WHY IS THE TREE BURNING? What is the significance of that? I can feel that there's great significance to it, although I don't know what it is.

Since this is book 2 of a trilogy, I already have things to work off of from book 1, like a few characters that have to appear in book 2 (although not many), as well as an initial concept for what the main character's main issue is. I didn't resolve a major plot thread in book 1, so of course I'll have to pick that up and mess with it more in book 2 and resolve it in book 3 (I already know how it resolves), but all of those things aren't connected to the image I have yet, and so the trick will be to figure out what those connections are.

In any case, I realize that pretty much all of my novels have come down to a single image, something so strong that it begs for me to write it. Now to get busy and get the damn thing started!
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So today, since I DON'T have to go teach and DON'T have some pressing papers to grade or exams to design or lecture to write (hee hee!) I've decided to spend my morning hours writing a blog about *gasp!* writing! That hasn't happened for a while. But I've got a list of topics and things that I've been MEANING to blog about regarding writing and SF and Fantasy in general, and I hope to WILL start blogging on those on a more regular basis now that the day job is finished. It can't interfere with the finishing of the current novel of course, but I can only write so many hours per day on that without achieving burn-out. So, here's the latest writing-related blog post on:

The Muddle In The Middle )

And that's the latest writing entry. If you're in Binghamton, NY, today (May 14th) remember to stop on by the signing at the Binghamton University bookstore from Noon to 3pm, and if you can't make that there's also the Meet & Greet at Antonio's in Endicott tonight (May 14th) starting at 5:30 for an hour or so. Book to buy and get signed will be at both events.
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I've been . . . well, I HOPE, "helping" someone with their agent hunt issues. Advising at least. And it crossed my mind that I hadn't actually told my agent hunting story, that I can remember anyway, here on LJ. And I think there are some interesting things to note about my story for new and aspiring writers out there. I definitely think there are some good lessons to learn . . . but I'll leave the final decision on whether there's anything worthwhile to take away from this to you, the readers. So, here goes . . .

Adventures in Agent Hunting )
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This is supposed to be an update on the progress of the new book, Well of Sorrows, so the numbers are at the end. But I found myself thinking about something today while writing and I thought it interesting enough to share, sort of as a writing tip.

Every book is different.

What I mean by this is that so far I've written *mumble mumble* many books. *grin* No, no. I've written . . . six complete novels and I'm on my seventh. And what struck me today is that each and every book was different experience for me as a writer. None of them were the same, none of them were easy, but they were all hard in different ways. So I thought I'd talk about HOW they were all different, in the hopes that everyone out there will realize that every book is a struggle and that even after you're published, it doesn't get easier.

My first book, Sorrow (unpublished), was hard simply because I was teaching myself how to write. I mean, teaching myself the basics. Think basic. Now think more basic than that. I mean BASIC. Yeah, that basic. But I had fun while writing it. If I hadn't been having fun then it would never have gotten finished. And at the time I was writing it, I thought it ROCKED! I tortured my best friend with this novel, and when I finished, I went back and reread it and decided it sucked and I could do better. So I wrote it over again. And again and again and again. And my best friend read every single version. THAT is the sign of a true best friend. Thanks [ profile] comixboy. He still reads everything I write. So that first book was hard because I didn't have a clue what I was doing and it was a huge learning process. I probably wrote my proverbial "million words of crap" during that book alone.

The second book, Eventide (unpublished), was a sequel to Sorrow and in this book I learned that having a ton of characters who suddenly aren't all in the same group and are having their own individual adventures SUCKS. For this book, I struggled with holding a thousand threads between two fingers. I count this as a finished novel, even though it didn't really end. For this book, I just had too much going on all at once and I learned that not every character needs or even deserves to have front time. You have to pick and choose which characters to follow, and even though you KNOW what happens to some of the side characters, that little adventure just isn't important enough to include in the book. Very hard lesson to learn, because all of those little adventures were interesting to ME.

I also learned that you should never write a sequel until the first book in the series sells. It's just not worth the time, when you could be writing something else that might sell. Oh well.

The third book, Fever (unpublished), gave me problems for a completely different reason. I knew how to write well by this point, and I'd learned my lesson well in the second book and decided I didn't need a cast of thousands for this book. I had one main character, everyone else was secondary. So what was the problem? I decided it needed to be written in first person. And it DID need to be written in first person. But I'd never written in first person, and so I struggled through a good chunk of the book learning how to do that. I think this was valuable time spent well though. Because it helped tremendously while writing . . .

The fourth book, The Skewed Throne. First person narrative in a dark and gritty fantasy setting. All of the previous books led up to this I think. But Skewed Throne still wasn't easy to write, mainly because in order for the book to work I had to be evil. You all laugh, but I mean that. I'm not a wicked person. I don't like anything that violent, don't like slums, and can't imagine myself killing anyone. And yet . . . and yet . . . in order for the book to work I had to BECOME all of that. Maybe that's actually WHY the book worked, because I'd learned that it wasn't enough to just sit down and write what came to mind. You had to BECOME it for it to come alive. And in Skewed throne, I did that. I asked myself the hard question (what would it take for me to kill?) and pushed myself to write some hardcore scenes. Violence, death, emotionally traumatic scenes. I pretty much pushed myself in every possible direction I could think of at the time. And it must have worked because that's the book that caught attention and got published first. It snagged me a three book deal.

Easy sailing, right? All I had to do was write two more books!

The fifth book, The Cracked Throne, was immediately a challenge simply because of pressure. The first would be out shortly and now I had to produce something equally as good. It was under contract and *gasp* under DEADLINE. I'd written Skewed Throne at odd moments over the course of 2 years basically (mostly during the summers, in between semesters of grad work). I no longer had the luxury of time. But . . . the book surprised me. It actually WAS easy to write. Oh, don't get me wrong, getting myself to sit down and churn it out was still hard, but I didn't flail around trying to figure out what it was about or where it was going or anything like what I'd done on all of the previous books. This book just . . . clicked. Everything fell into place. Every plotline, every character arch . . . everything. It couldn't have gone better if I'd planned it. At this point, I figured I'd learned it all, that from now on all of the books would just fall into place like well-trained minions and it would be smooth sailing from here on out.


The sixth book, The Vacant Throne, immediately began kicking my ass. Let's call this the slayed beast rearing its ugly head syndrome. The first problem was that I suddenly realized I had WAY TOO MANY CHARACTERS! I obviously did not kill off enough characters at the end of the second book. So I'd fallen back into the same problem as the second book I'd written . . . but this time I had more experience under my belt, so I figured out how to handle that. Some characters just didn't get the page time that they may have otherwise been given, in a world where editors don't care about page counts and profit lines and things like that. *grin* This wasn't that big of a problem at all, because of past experience actually. But it was a sign of things to come. Because this book began being a problem child in a different way: it didn't like it's prescribed ending. I struggled in this book because I kept trying to push it toward the ending I thought it was supposed to have, and it took me half the book to figure out that it actually had a different ending. Then it took some time for me to give up on the original ending and just let myself accept the new ending. Needless to say, this book did NOT click into place seamlessly. I think it took so long for me to "give up" on the original ending because I was under contract, and a deadline. Why risk experimenting with some unknown ending when I had to get the sucker done? But I did give up and so far the reviews on the book are good.

So what's up with the seventh book, you ask? How is the seventh book different? Well, first off, I went back to third person. And getting out of the first person groove after writing four novels in that POV . . . is hard. I think I'm out of that mentality, finally. But the book is still difficult. This time, the book just doesn't seem to want to end. In all of my previous books, especially the published ones, the plot was always rather well contained. Meaning it didn't go off in random directions and ask me questions along the way. Thought provoking questions. The other books ranged a little bit, but they always returned to the main plot thread/idea in the long run. This book . . . is free ranging all over hell and back. And after struggling against this initially, I finally broke down and have just let it run. It's a first draft, and when it's done, I'll have to come back and do some major, major rewriting. Trim all of the fat, so to speak. I've never written a book like this. I know writers that do ([ profile] scbutler springs to mind) and it's certainly been an interesting experience. I've reached the point in the novel now where I know there IS a novel here, a good one I think. I just have to get it finished and start the chainsaw.

So, moral of the story? I don't know. But thinking back on each of my published novels in particular, I see four completely different experiences while writing the books. One clicked and just came together, as if written on its own. One rebelled and chose its own endings. One was just alot of hard work, but linear work. And the current one . . . well, it's a little gangly and overgrown for its own good. Each different. But each one fun in the end. If they weren't fun (with their own heartaches along the way), I wouldn't be doing this. It's too much work otherwise.

In any case, here's the wordage for the work in progress. I finished chapters 15 and 16 recently (I forgot to report when I finished 15). So:

Words for Well of Sorrows: 125,500.
Words over budget: 25,500.
Worries: None. It will work out in the end.
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So, I was browsing the old LJ friendslist and [ profile] wldhrsjen3 posted the following questions:

"How much character description do you like? Do you prefer an author to keep things rather vague so you can form your own mental pictures, or do you like a clear picture of the people in the book?

And what is the best way to slip description in without interrupting the flow of dialogue or the pacing of a scene?"

I ended up leaving a rather long comment (for a comment) and I thought everyone might be interested in it. So here's my response:

OK, I generally leave the majority of the description of characters and places and whatnot up to the reader. I always find it annoying (and generally just skip ahead when reading) when a writer goes into some kind of heavy-duty description of a character in a novel. Unless something in that description is important to the plot or to the character (such as eye color because later on that's how they identify the thief, or a scar whose back story gives the character added dimension) I don't think it should be included. So I skip it. Or I give a rather vague description of the character. . . . Although now that I think about it, my "vague" descriptions are usually used to show something about the character. For example, I describe Varis at one point in The Skewed Throne, but the information I give the reader paints a picture about her world: her small form (due to starvation), her torn and tattered clothing, her matted and dirt-smeared hair. All of those details give you an idea of how she lives, but I dind't tell you about her cheek bones or the color of her eyebrows, etc. Such details didn't add anything to the story, IMO.

Others might not agree. That's just what I think about character descriptions and how I use them in a story.

No good suggestion on how to work them in. Like everything else, it should flow. I try to mix the descriptions into the other aspects of the story, such as the dialogue. You can mention how a character's long hair obscures their vision by having another character who cares for her reach out and brush the hair out of the way during a conversation. Things like that. But you can also do a more blatant description. For the above description of Varis, I actually had her think, "I don't know what he saw when he looked back--an eleven-year-old girl who looked as if she were eight, with tattered clothes, dirt-smeared skin, matted hair, cowering against the alley wall." Something like that anyway. I know that in the Throne novels, I made a conscious decision to describe things with a BAM! BAM! BAM! approach. So the basic structure was detail-detail-detail, then back to the story as quick as possible. That worked for Varis. But the new novel can't use that structure because it's got a different voice. So a single answer on how to work in the descriptions just doesn't work, because it depends on the novel and its voice.

Feel free to comment here or, better yet, over at [ profile] wldhrsjen3's original post--or both!
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So today, I think I finished up the current chapter, but will have to read through it tomorrow to see for certain. I'm expecting 7 more chapters in this book, but I have to say that the plot is moving much slower than I expected. Which got me to thinking (always a bad sign). [Aside: This is more of a writer ramble than a writing post, but that seems to be the main theme of my tips lately.]

I keep telling myself that this book is going too slowly, that it should be moving faster, that I'm spending too much time on this and that and the other thing (even though it's a first draft and I shouldn't be worried about that yet). But today I sat back and asked myself why I've felt that way through the whole novel, and why it doesn't seem to be speeding up, and I realized that what I'm doing is comparing this novel to the previous Throne of Amenkor books . . . and I shouldn't be doing that. If it were a continuation of the Throne books, then yes, I should be worried. But it's not. This is a new series, with new main characters, essentially a new "world" because it's not set on the Frigean coast, with new cultures and everything. And it's scope is much larger than the Throne books. They were focused on one person, then one city, then two cities in the region. This one has already traveled from one continent to another, and explored three different regions, and I've hit a few different cities, not all human in nature . . . so of course this one should be moving at a slower pace. It's exploring more, not just in setting and worldbuilding, but in characters as well. The Throne books were from Varis's POV, and she was very no-nonsense. She used short, clipped sentences, got down to the facts as fast as possible, and came to a quick decision on what to do about it for the most part. The new characters are different. One if very formal, so his sentences aren't clipped or short, but longer and drawn-out. The main character isn't as "active" as Varis, simply because his life doesn't demand it, so he doesn't use short sentences either. Shorter than the formal-dude, but not clipped. He doesn't use as big words as the formal-dude either.

But if you think about the different types of books out there, you can see the same thing happening. You've got the huge doorstoppers . . . but they're doorstoppers because the story and world demand that there be lots of words (for the most part; I realize there are exceptions, some rather bestselling exceptions even). And then there are thinner books (most of the urban fantasies pop to mind) because those worlds and characters don't need as much explanation. I mean, it's easy to say that the main character is a zit-faced teenager working at Starbucks to pay for his bicycle and have the reader get a rather good image, along with a few assumed character traits. But if you have to describe an Alvritshai lord with pale skin and angular cheekbones wearing a deep blue shirt with slashes of red showing in subtle cuts in the fabric and breeches with boots . . . I've already used twice as many words and I haven't given you a clue about the lord's character, or how it may be different from a human lord. That's going to take a little more work.

So, why am I so worried? I shouldn't be, and that's the point. Not even because this is a first draft. I shouldn't be worried because this isn't the same type of book as the Throne books, and I find that I keep struggling with that idea as I write. Am I going to have to cut words from this when I'm done? Oh, yeah, big time baby! But I doubt it comes in as trim as the Throne books in the end. In the word sense. If it has to be the same number of pages, then I'll have to cut some plot.
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This is not an official writer tip, meaning it's not supposed to be an organized description of something a writer may need to know. But I wrote today, and I'm not happy with what I wrote, even though it's not really bad, so I figured I'd try to sort out what might be wrong with it by writing things down on LJ. So this will be a rambling post that in the end will probably have no point. But maybe you'll see that "professional writer" doesn't really mean squat in the end; we all stumble and struggle with the same crap when we write.

You've been warned. *grin*

Enter At Your Own Risk )
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So the exams are graded (they did better than I expected, but they still took a long time), and the sickness is ALMOST gone (still got phlegm). So I think my recent time crunch is at an end. This means a return to the writing posts. Or so I hope. I'm behind by a few weeks, but hopefully I'll be able to catch up and then keep on track for a while.

Before that though, I want to thank all of my friends who came out to see me sitting in my throne during the art walk this past weekend. It was a blast! And I sold some books as well. The first night was by far the best night, with literally thousands of people wandering by. The second night was supposed to be less busy than the first night . . . but not as dead as it ended up being. I think barely 20 people wandered through the gallery. I still managed to sell some more books, but it was certainly a disappointment overall for everyone, especially for the artists. We'll have to see if they do something similar again next year. I'll definitely try to do another First Friday signing, perhaps once the third book comes out. But thanks to everyone who stopped by to tease me. I never got my crown, but the throne I was sitting in got lots of comments.

In any case, on to the writing!

History and Fantasy )
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Well, I made it home from Connecticut fine. I chose to come back late at night, so that I'd miss all of the traffic, which worked out well except for the fight to stay awake during the last hour of the trip. But I had my can of coke and chocolate to keep me company. The talks went well, I thought. And the reading/signing afterward as well. Once again, I thank Leigh Grossman for giving me the opportunity to speak to his classes.

I'm still working on chapter 9 of Well of Sorrows. I figure there's one more scene to go and it will be finished, but it's long enough now I'm contemplating splitting it up into two chapters instead. We'll have to see how long this "last" scene is. It's the most significant scene in the book, except for the end scene of course; the turning point for the main character. And it's a serious turning point. So it probably won't be a short scene.

Anyway, on to the writing tip. *grin* I've been working off of the same topic for a while now, but I think this will finish up what I have to say about the structure of books as a whole and the form of scenes. I've talked about how this can make or break and book (for me) and expanded on what the peaks and lulls are and how I try to put them all together so that they "work". But I didn't get teh chance to explain how you can screw yourself over as a writer by promising a peak and delivering a lull, or vice versa.

Peak and Lulls: Language )
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[ profile] barbarienne asked last week in the comments section of the writing tip post whether I could try to explain how I write the peaks and lulls I discussed in that post, which was about the form of the entire novel, as opposed to the form of a particular scene. So here's my attempt. *grin*

Peaks and Lulls )

I'm not sure I answered [ profile] barbarienne's question with this post, but I'm sure she'll let me know. *grin* Or at least I hope so. Like I said, it's not something that's easy to explain.

Now off to write some more peaks and lulls in my current book. I'm in a lull actually, headed toward a major peak, starting to push and push and push the main character to that point. We'll see what happens I guess.
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So last week I was bitching and moaning about this book I read that sucked and that one of the things I found that made it suck was the main character and the fact that I just didn't care about her. Really. I was actually rooting for the bad guys to kill her.

But anyway, that wasn't the only thing I felt was "wrong" about the novel . . . and I use quotes because again, any novel written will never appeal to everyone, so this novel that I hated probably has a whole slew of people who loved it and, if I revealed what the actual book was, would hunt me down and kill me. But it wasn't a book for ME, so I read it and finished it looking for WHY it didn't appeal to me, and one reason was the main character.

But the other reason had much more to do with writing than that. I'm going to call it "form" because I can't find a better word for it, but it has to do with the structure and pace of a novel, and for me, it was all OFF in this novel, as if the book and I were on completely different rhythms at the time. So here's what I think about this elusive thing I'm calling FORM (but which likely has a much better name that I just can't think of):

I Like A Well-Toned Figure )

Oh, and I'm posting this on Thursday because the new semester has started and I teach classes pretty much all day Fridays now. I expect to be posting the writing tips of Thursdays from now on, but we'll see what happens. I've only tortur--I mean met--my students once so far, so we haven't gotten that far into the semester as yet. I do still intend to post a writing tip a week though.

And I fixed all of the writing tip tags, so if you click on it, you should get all of the writing tips I've posted so far.
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I read a book recently and it sucked. I mean, really sucked. And no, I won't tell you what book it was, because whether or not a book sucks is usually a personal taste thing, so I'm sure there are people out there that think it rocked. But anyway, I read through the whole book, because I always read the entire book even if it sucks in order to figure out WHY it sucks in the hopes that I never do the same thing myself. My reaction was bad enough to this book that I almost couldn't finish it (and keep in mind this is a published novel, but a major publisher). In the end, I think there were two fundamental things wrong with it: the character and the form. I'll talk about the character problem today as my writer tip post, and mess with the much more elusive and difficutl idea of "form" next week (in my head it has something to do with the "weight" of scenes and information, but I haven't gotten it down into a coherent idea yet).

So, the character in your novel:

Sympathetic Characters )
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I had a request from my previous post to do a writing tip topic on queries, so I figured WTH, I'll see what I have to say about that. *grin* So here goes:


Query? What's a query? )


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Joshua Palmatier

March 2019

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