Category Archives: Character

Don’t Ever Stop!

So… This little thing called PitchWars happened. It’s what triggered this particular post, but it’s not what this post is about so I’ll cover it very briefly.

It’s a contest where writers submit their first ~250 words and a Query to the four mentors of their choice and hope to get selected. In short (because I’m rubbish at being brief) I was selected by the Awefantabulous Renee Ahdieh.

Renee is exactly what I want and more importantly need in a mentor. Her feedback has helped me add layers of depth to CROW’S BLOOD that I knew were missing, I just couldn’t see where. I’ve learned some of my pet phrases, identified some comma issues I have, and so much more, and I’ve exterminated them with prejudice.

Anyway!

Seven weeks later, our part in PitchWars wrapped on January 22nd as it went to the Agent Round. The first 250 words were posted with a 35 word pitch (here in case you’re interested), in hopes of Agents commenting and making requests.

It’s those requests that bring me to the point of this post. I had 0 requests. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Let me tell you a bit about how this little writer’s ego works: I’m a brash, cocky, confident bastard. Except when I’m not, which is often. The key is that I try not to let that side show to the world at large too much. The only person who sees that side of me most often (my wife) does a great job of propping me up so I can continue being the confident bastard that I am.

I’d be lying if I said getting zero requests didn’t sting. It cut pretty deep. Those are my words! Right there, with that zero looking me in the eye, I could have quit. Packed it all in and reclaimed my TV and video games. I could have given up the dream and driven my wonderful wife insane.

I could have listened to the mean voice in the back of my head that kept whispering “Zero, that’s how many people give a damn about your words. That’s what they’re worth. That’s what your worth. Give it up. Go home. Loser!

I’ve heard that voice before. That’s the voice that comes around any time I put myself out there, whether I’m public speaking, writing, tweeting, or posting on my blog. I don’t like that voice. I made the decision long ago not to listen to that voice. That voice is an asshole. The things it says aren’t true and are designed to cut us where it hurts the most. That voice is borne of fear.

We all have that voice. The difference between those who go on and those who fold isn’t a matter of skill, or worth, or ego. It’s a matter of will.

So here’s what I have to say, not only to those who didn’t get requests in PitchWars, but to those who have ever queried, or submitted, or done anything that brought around that voice:

Don’t. Ever. Stop.

Do what you love, whether it’s writing, drawing, dancing, singing, building life-size models of X-Wings out of Lego, whatever it is, as long as you love it (and it doesn’t hurt anything).

As for PitchWars… Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! I’ve learned so much, and met so many wonderful, dedicated, and helpful people.

Until next time, I’m going to go write and revise, because that’s what I do, and I love doing it.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.” – The Bene Gesserit

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Filed under Agent, BookB, Character, Contest, Critique, deadlines, Editor, Ego, family, Feedback, Grammar/Spelling, Learning, MacBook Pro, Motivation, Pitch, Query, Revision, Twitter, Validation

One Third of the Way

I’m well past my due date for checking in. I haven’t even blogged in July!

That little progress bar at the right is moving along though. Slowly but surely, and as fast as it can with only an hour or two on most nights.

I’ve just come back from visiting my father in Winnipeg, which is a truly, uh, flat place. He’s lived out there most of my life, doing his thing, which I have to admit is doing a lot of good for a lot of people. I know my kids miss seeing more of him though. I do too.

Winnipeg has one thing I definitely do NOT like: Mosquitoes. Mosquitoes that were likely the cause of any and every mass extinction since they came about. That mosquito in amber in Jurassic Park? Yeah, my money is on IT being the reason dinosaurs were wiped out.

Pterodactyl-mosquitoes aside, we had fun spending time with family and seeing the sights out there.

I’ve updated the Movie List a few times recently. Between writing and other Real Life™ stuff this year I haven’t seen nearly as many movies as I’d have liked. I’m hearing that Pacific Rim is good fun though, so I’m working on seeing that.

On the writing/revising side of things (because, really, that’s the point of this blog), things are going relatively well… I think. That’s the problem with being a first time writer, and a really good reason to have Critique Partners: You’re too close to your own work, and you simply don’t know what you’re doing wrong!

No! Really! One of the major points of this revision is to give more depth to Flynn, the MC. I know I’m giving some more depth, but is it enough? Can there be too much? I really have no idea…

So I plan to forge onwards until this revision is done, then send it to my Alpha Readers and CP’s (and 1 or 2 new sets of eyes) for more feedback. I hope that they won’t shun me…

I do know that I’ve cleaned up some of what my CP’s and I found were real pain points plot/story wise. I only hope I haven’t opened more in doing so.

As for a deadline? I aim to be done this pass before the end of August, mostly because at the end of September I’ll be reaching a year on this book and I think I should be moving faster.

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Filed under Alpha Readers, BookB, Character, Critique, deadlines, Feedback, Learning, Real Life™, Revision, Voice, Word Count

Doing My Homework

I have 3 full critiques back on CROW’S BLOOD, for which I must give heartfelt “Thank you!” to my Epic Critique Partners: Colton Hibbs, Clare Mitchell, and Rachel Russell.

Not only did each of you trudge your way through my last revision, you took the time and effort to provide me with detailed and insightful criticism. Some of it is so obvious now that you’ve pointed it out that I don’t know how I didn’t get it right the first time. Your notes will make my work better (if I’m up to the task), and that’s awesome!

All of them (and the partial Critique I received from the lovely and talented Kat Ellis) highlighted one pretty major problem: It takes far too long to connect with my main character Flynn (and even longer in some cases to like him at any level). As he’s the main POV, that’s… awful.

Here’s the thing: I know these characters, every one of them. You can ask me a question and I can quickly tell you how each one would answer it. What sort of things they would like and dislike. How they would react under certain circumstances. I can even describe the mannerisms, idioms, and rhythms of their speech. From my main character, down the the smallest side character, (yes, even to the one guard that sucker punches my POV character).

I can’t tell you what they had for breakfast (unless it’s relevant), but I can get inside their heads if the need arises.  I didn’t do this by building out detailed character sheets or writing throw-away scenes with them (though I did that for some more prominent characters).

It’s just something I do whenever a new character is created. I put myself in their shoes/boots/socks/sandals and work my way through them. What motivates them. What are their goals in life. It usually comes pretty quickly.

Problem is: It wasn’t coming across on the page. So what was wrong?

That’s where the homework came in. I’ve spent the better part of my evenings reading, and doing exercises from a workbook on Deep POV, while it’s not perfect, and I don’t necessarily agree with everything in there. It’s written by a professional who certainly seems to know what they’re doing (at least considerably better than I do).

The best part is the exercises. I’ve read plenty of websites describing and giving examples of how to give good character, and great POV, but none of them went so far as to give relevant exercises in a work-book format. Something about it all just “clicked” (I think).

So I went through that workbook (it’s only 60 or so pages), did all the exercises, and took a look at my own Work In Progress. What. A. Mess. I have “tells” everywhere (something I tried desperately to avoid and clean up last pass), narrative separation/distance, and my POV character does indeed seem flat and voiceless (he’s NOT like that in my head). I have my work cut out for me to reel this sucker in to a deep POV.

Needless to say, it’s going to take a while for me to hit my stride on this revision pass, and I may reach out to some of my CPs earlier on (if they’re amenable to looking over some small chunks) to see if I’m on the right track, or ruining what good I had. I’ve spent most of this evening (my first night back at revising my own work) and have only worked through the first 5 or 6 paragraphs.

Like I said, slow going. But I’m trying to be careful with my new powers, to ensure that I employ them for the forces of good.

As for copy edits, and Canadian (not “British”) spelling vs. American spelling, and my blatant and continued misuse of commas… I’ll get to them, once I’ve sorted out my critical character issues.

– Alex

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Filed under Alpha Readers, BookB, Character, Critique, Editor, Ego, Grammar/Spelling, Id, Learning, Revision, Viewpoint, Voice

Carefully Stacked and Marked Electrons.

Electronic Data. It rules everything these days. It’s our money, our jobs, our entertainment, and our memories.

So much of our lives revolve around little 1’s and 0’s flitting about on the merry tasks we set them upon.

Well, today, I sent a meaningful and important stack of those 1’s and 0’s half-way around the world to someone I barely know. I finally finished my critique of a CP’s work-in-progress manuscript, and I can only hope I’ve done it justice.

Here’s the thing. I received it on April 7th. I’ve had it for two and a half months! I had to ask myself: Why did it take so bloody long? We’re nearing the half-way point of 2013 and I’ve consumed 14 other books this year (1 of those is another WIP from a CP), so what was different about this?

Was it a hard read? No, it was quite enjoyable, considerably more enjoyable than what I imagine mine was for them to read. The characters were compelling, the descriptions and setting were simply beautiful, and the spelling and grammar were fantastic (you have no idea how important that is!).

So what was it? In a word: Fear. That’s right, I’m a coward.

I hate making other people uncomfortable, and I know that my internal Editor is a complete asshole. I don’t ever want to be as hard on other writers as my Editor is on me.

Would they hate me for pointing out how I felt about that sentence? That turn of phrase? That plot point?

Was I putting too many comments? Beating a dead horse? Nit-picking (GUILTY!)?

Was I missing things that I really ought to point out? Things that would help more than what I was catching? Things that actually mattered more than my hang-ups?

And SO much more. I was never an angsty teen. Why was this all coming out now? And over something like this?

I’m a cocky, self assured, smart-ass, bastard. Ask anyone who knows me, they’ll jump right on that sucker.

Here’s why: This is someone’s soul. Yeah, yeah, touchy feely crap. I know! But it’s true. Little known fact: Writing isn’t easy.

It’s a lot of hours pouring everything you have onto a page (that usually consists of those carefully stacked and marked electrons, and not so much dead trees and ink). And what you have when you’re done that first round of effort is usually a great big steaming pile of electrons that need to be poked and prodded, and in many cases thrown away and replaced, before you have something you can even let anyone see.

know how much effort I put into getting CROW’S BLOOD where it is now, and it still has a good ways to go (I have some Character Voice issues with my main POV to sort out, namely, I left too much of it out). Every mark I put on my partner’s Word document made me cringe.

So I procrastinated. That’s something that’s easy, and I can procrastinate with the very best of them! And hey, no one’s feelings get hurt by procrastination! Hell, I spent more time with my wife and family avoiding someone else’s Word document than I think I spent with them in the entire 3 months while I was writing the first draft of my own.

Well enough of that. I needed to put on my space-marine helmet, and grab my magical sword, and get past the barrier I set for myself. I needed to find that fear and kick it’s ass.

Did I mention this is also the first time I’ve done a full mark-up? I needed to finish it and return it on principle. The first is always the most difficult.

I can only hope I got it right, or that I can vastly improve my skill at writing carefully worded apologies.

– Alex

P.S. I didn’t return a mark-up to Colten, my other CP, and dear friend, but we had a really good long talk where I outlined my thoughts and we discussed some of the finer points. I’m looking forward to what he’s doing with the story and can’t wait to see the next draft.

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Filed under Character, Critique, deadlines, Editor, Feedback, Grammar/Spelling, Learning, Revision

Once more, with feeling!

Ahem. So, staying in character, I’ve been neglecting my blog. For a while there I was easily dropping 3 updates a week. It’s been nearly a month since my last update.

So a quick (hahaha, no, not really that quick) rundown of what’s been so damned important that I haven’t had time to even drop a few lines here.
I have a Critique Partner, the wonderful and insightful Colten Hibbs, who was kind and gracious enough to let me into his beautifully realized and deep faerie tale world. I made it my first priority, above even my own writing, to read through his draft, and provide him with meaningful feedback (which I hope I’ve done). He’s now hard at work on his next draft, and based on our discussions, I can’t wait to see this next one.
Colten was amazing enough to give me a marked up copy of CROW’S BLOOD with loads of goodies and notes that are improving my writing ten-fold  (I hope).
Going through those notes I cheered (at the parts that were important to me that he just GOT), grimaced (at my own failings and some of the gunk he had to sift through), and had some incredibly awesome revelations. 
I have to share the biggest of those revelations with you.
One of the points that’s been brought to me repeatedly was that it takes too long to get attached to the MC (Main Character). Colten highlighted that he didn’t begin to feel even remotely attached to (and at points wasn’t even sure he liked) the MC until around Chapter 6!
That’s a death sentence for a book folks. That’s it! It’s over! 99% of readers will drop a book considerably faster than a bad habit if they’re not engaged and buying in to the MC by the end of Chapter 1. Clever blocking and world building can only get you so far.
New light was shed on this problem (which I had absolutely no idea how to fix, and maybe still don’t) when Colten pointed out that I have several Spot POV Chapters, where it’s the only Chapter you ever engage with that character, where I manage to do it right. They’re engaging and connect you with the character, in that single chapter.
I’d like to say I had a Eureka moment and got to run down the street in little more than a towel, but alas, it’s not that simple. But I had somewhere to start! It had been sitting there, right in front of me, for months… Critique Partners bring fresh eyes indeed.
I studied those chapters, making notes and everything. Then I studied them again. Then I studied them again. Ok, so that’s how I do it. Fantastic. 
Now why couldn’t I do it with my MC?
I, uh, don’t know. Except perhaps that I maybe have too much time to spend with my MC?
I spent the first week wrestling with Chapter 1. I wanted to add more insight into the MC without killing the pace (I like the pace I’ve set). I think I’ve achieved that, and I’ve since moved on, all the way up to Chapter 11, making little touches here and there, and giving a little bit more of the MC (also, making him a little more consistent).
My word count is shifting a bit (getting a little longer), but I’ll be ruthless in keeping it under 100,000.
Depending on where my other Critique Partners are in their read-throughs, I may ask them to go with this latest draft, or I’ll just sit on it until their feedback comes in, and parse theirs too, making any changes I feel warranted.
So that’s what I’ve been up to, and now that I’m back in the swing of the writing side of things, I’ll get back to updating my blog a little more often.

– Alex

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Filed under BookB, Character, Critique, Editor, Ego, Id, Learning, Revision, Voice, Word Count

Revision 2 complete!

This is my first attempt at a novel length work. I’ve been reasonably good with writing short fiction and stage plays in the past. I’m learning just how different this process can be, especially when it comes to revisions.

The first revision resulted in an entire rewrite of nearly 2/3 of the book. This pass I’ve just completed probably rewrote another 30%. Entire chapters were scrapped, rebuilt from the ground up, and in some cases moved.

I hope I’ve cleaned up all the plot holes and character inconsistencies at this point.

The next pass will be targeting passive voice, word choice, and grammar. It should be considerably faster as I’ve been doing some of that on this pass I’ve just finished. Still, I’m putting it out there for Critique Partners (my post on CPSeek.com is getting no love so far) to have a go at it with the intent to get fresh writerly eyes on Plot and Character (please! please! please don’t look at grammar just yet!).

The novel isn’t the only thing that’s getting revised either. Thanks to some help from Lauren Spieller and this epic post on her blog, my Query has been getting some love too. Distilling 100,000 words to a single page query has been frightening. I can only hope I’ve done a better job on the story itself.

Even if this novel never sees the light of day I’m better for it. I’ve had a lot of fun and learned a great deal along the way that will help with the next one.

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What’s in a name?

…that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

– Romeo Montague to Juliet: Romeo & Juliet by Shakespeare

Character names, book names, chapter names, pen names. They’re all malleable to one degree or another and there are choices and reasons for all of them. 
I started thinking on the topic tonight because of an article on io9.com about character names that should be banned for all time (of which I have used… none!).
Spiralling into the topic of names was so rough on my overworked brain that it almost derailed my revision session this evening. 
You see, I write under a pen name: Alexander C. Pierce or Alex C. Pierce. It’s not my real name, though Alexander and Pierce are my 2 middle names, which, when bookended by my first and last name sounds almost as awesomely pretentious as Benedict Cumberbatch (best name EVER!). I include the C. at this point because a Google Search on Alexander Pierce brings up such a HUGE list of results including convicts, authors of propaganda, and so much more, that I needed a bit of separation from what is apparently a very common name.
I use a pen name for a few reasons, not the least of which is that I have ideas and themes for stories that may be controversial that I don’t necessarily want to blow back on my family. Nothing too outrageous, but I’d rather not put other parties at risk. I also have a long standing tendency to NOT use my real name online (outside of work, though Facebook has ruined that to some degree… thanks family and friends!).
But the subject of names goes so much further, as the article on io9 aptly points out character names can play a big part in engaging or putting potential readers off, and they’re not exactly easy things to come up with. For a time I used a program called Everchanging Book of Names, which was great for secondary characters if you could figure out how to use it (it’s not that hard once you read the instructions). I’ve come to understand Scrivener itself has a name generator built in, which I haven’t used yet as my characters all have names at this point.
I couldn’t tell you where half the names of my characters come from, but I haven’t received any negative feedback on them yet (though I have heard some interesting thoughts on where I might have cooked some up). I only hope they’re not derivative of some other work that’s sitting in the back of my skull because I think they’re awesome! (the io9 article points out that might be a problem too).
As for chapter names and book names… I’m flexible with those and they tend to change on a fairly regular basis at this point in the process. From what I understand if I go and get published the publisher will have a say in it as well and I’m ok with that.
What are your thoughts on the use of pen names? How do you come up with names for things? Let me know!
– Alex
P.S. Chapter update for my Alpha Readers, I’ve dropped up to chapter 23 and I’m starting to get feedback from multiple people! Thanks!

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