Category Archives: Story Elements

Thiiiiiiiis close!

The last five days have been harrowing, dreadful, bone-chilling days. With my latest revision complete and polished, and with my Query Letter and Pitch polished for #PitchMadness, I really only had one thing missing from my arsenal: A Synopsis.

Let me define that little eight-letter-word for you as best I can: 
Synopsis [si-nop-sis] (n):
  1. A brief or condensed statement giving a general view of some subject.
  2. An evil  creation of agents and editors for the express purpose of torturing writers.
  3. A soul-sucking vampire in word form.

There’s no perfect consensus in the writing world on what exactly a synopsis is but this is what I’ve found to be most often repeated:

  • 1-5 single-spaced pages
  • Block formatted paragraphs (no indents)
  • Double-space between paragraphs (a single blank line)
  • No smaller than 10pt font
  • Outline ONLY the main plot of your book
From what I’ve seen, 2 pages is the standard length for an agent (at least with the agents I intend to query in my first round that require them).
Sounds easy enough right? Just take your ~60,000 – ~115,000 word (240 – 460 page) book and boil it down to ~1,000 words. Oh, and keep it interesting! Remember: You’re selling your idea here!
Simple right?
ARGH!!!
So here’s what I did: 
I went through my manuscript, skimming chapter by chapter, and making notes of the major points of that chapter. I tried to keep it short and ended up with around 2,900 words.
Then I went through and mercilessly cut anything that didn’t directly have anything to do with the main plot. 1,900 words.
I pared, whittled, reworded, and tweaked every sentence, revising from my quickly written notes to the most sparse text I could get while still maintaining clarity and some semblance of flow. 1,300 words.
I did that two more times, ending at just over 1,000 words, which fit nicely within 2 pages at 10pt Arial and 10pt Times New Roman.
Then I called it a day.
Now, that ordeal is done until I’ve had someone other than me, who’s read the last revision, go over it and tell me what I’ve done wrong.
I have to apologize and thank my wife and children for bearing with me and giving me the time to work on this and a sounding board for my complaints, and my friends and followers on Twitter who have had to deal with me exploding/ranting/whining/begging over the past five days. I’m sorry if I’ve gotten on any of your nerves.
– Alex
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Filed under Agent, BookB, Critique, Editor, Grammar/Spelling, Learning, Pitch, Query, Real Life™, Revision, Story Elements, Twitter, Word Count

The Power of Description

I’ve been struggling with this very concept from the start. Description is NOT my strong suit when it comes to writing. I think I do plot, character, and action reasonably well, what I tend to skim over is description of setting.

I’m conflicted on how much effort I should put into improving it, and I think I’ll have a better idea once Crow’s Blood (BookB) has been in the hands of a few CPs and my Alpha Readers have had a chance to go through it start to finish.

I’ve been trying to come up with a way to get my point across. I’ve been handed the perfect tool. I want you to go watch something, something that may well blow your mind. Alan Rickman making tea…

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Back? Good. Hopefully you watched the whole thing, it gets real right around 4 minutes in. Back again? Fantastic!

Now you’ve just watched 7 minutes of Alan Rickman making tea in slow motion. Tell me, without going back to look at it, what did the room look like? How about the wall behind him? The desk? I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I could tell you more about the look on his face, or the tea-bag, or the lemon than anything else in that video.

That’s my point, and I want you to argue with me about it. If the action and the characters are compelling enough, do I need to do more than give the absolute basic framework of the surroundings? Crow’s blood weighs in at ~100,000 words/~430 Manuscript pages (unedited), and it’s reasonably fast paced.

I try to provide what description is necessary, while avoiding great gobs of exposition that will mess with the pacing and ultimately be forgotten. I’m sure I’ll have more to discuss on this after I get finished with this revision (7 chapters to go) and work through my first round with some Critique Partners, but I want to know in the comments (if possible) if anyone else feels the same, or if I’m crossing some line in the sand of fiction?

Oh and I really just wanted everyone to watch  7 minutes of Alan Rickman making tea, because it’s AWESOME!

– Alex

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Filed under BookB, Editor, Ego, Id, Learning, Revision, Story Elements, Word Count

Acknowledgement Problems

I read a blog post recently stating that Authors should keep their acknowledgements in their books short and concise. It got me thinking (not that I’m in a position to start thinking about an Acknowledgements Page yet but bear with me). I don’t know about every other aspiring writer but I have a strong need for good information, external validation, and support. How on earth would I pare down the massive list of everyone who’s given me a little (or big) push, or some really key piece of information that inspired or helped me limp through this process called writing?

Let me give you an example of what I mean.
Offline, my main support comes from my lovely wife. She allows me the time to write, which is a pretty big consideration, we have a 3 year old that keeps us busy and a 13 year old in Rep Hockey, so she’s sacrificing her alone-time with me. She also props me up when I have my little personal crises and think that I suck and shouldn’t bother. All in, it probably helps that my writing keeps me out of her hair and makes me far less grumpy on the whole.
We just passed our 16th anniversary together, as I’m only 33 you can do the math and figure out that we’re Highschool sweethearts. I wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s a light in my life and a strong foundation I can always turn to.
For information, like most, I tend to go online and I devour anything I can find on the subject of writing. I’m like a writing zombie constantly in search of other people’s brains. There’s a lot of great stuff out there if you look, books, blogs, podcasts, and Twitter people (Tweeple?).

You know what I’ve found along the way? An awful lot of contradiction with a strong core of consistency. Most of that seems to come from the fact that there are really very few keys to becoming a successful and accomplished writer. The rest of it is a matter of personal style and what works for the individual.
It appears the key points to being a halfway decent and possibly successful writer are as follows (in no particular order after the first):
  • Write every day.
  • Finish what you start.
  • Allow yourself to suck (on the first draft at least).
  • Read often (and in the genre you write for).
  • Have a story to tell.
  • Revise (and revise, and revise, and revise, and revise)!
  • Persevere
Other elements such as outlining/architecting vs. pantsing/discovery writing, character vs plot, etc. are all up for debate (on the whole). I myself strongly believe in a combination in both cases. 
I outline my plot and story arcs heavily while allowing both to change drastically if “discovery” strikes or something feels flat. 
When it comes to scenes and characters I have to “write myself” into them, which is most definitely a “discovery writer” thing to do.
Prose, grammar, and spelling are all things to be cleaned and touched up in revision as far as I’m concerned. Yes, I have some inspired moments while writing the first draft, and some of them may even make it into the final manuscript, but I won’t know that until I get there.
That’s what I’ve got so far, and it’s by no means clean or polished and certainly up for debate. Like everything to do with writing, I’m learning as I go. Without the people that I meet online, or the podcasts and blogs that I follow with their myriad of tips and helpful information I wouldn’t be nearly as far along as I am.
It will likely take several more books to streamline and work it out for myself, and that’s a good thing, because it lends to my whole solution to the “Acknowledgements” problem: Write and publish enough books to cover everyone. It’s going to take at least 20-30 books.
– Grimm
P.S. I was originally going to list and link some of the blogs and Twitter folks that I follow but I’ve decided against it in this particular post, as many of the tips and information comes from multiple sources and it would just be a mess. Instead I’m looking to add a people/links bar to the already overcrowded right hand bar once I clean some stuff up.

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Filed under BookB, Character, Discovery Writing, family, Grammar/Spelling, Learning, Outline Writing, Real Life™, Story Elements, Twitter, Validation

A nice day for writing.

Ah, I got to sleep in today, which was nice.

We dropped the kids off at my in-laws last night and went to see Seven Psychopaths. It was a fantastic movie and made #2 on my Movie List for the year.  If you saw and liked In Bruges (and you really really should), then you’ll love Seven Psychopaths.  Conversely, if you’ve seen Seven Psychopaths and liked it, check out In Bruges.  Colin Ferrel plays a screenwriter suffering from writers block, and the character is written and acted superbly.

After the kids got home we went to hockey practice, where I backed my car into someone’s van and left a note.  They seemed reasonably pleasant when they called me, hopefully it doesn’t cost a small fortune to repaint a bumper.  Still, there was no screaming or swearing on the phone.

I spent my first hour of writing time helping my oldest daughter with homework (computer problems were slowing her down), then sent her off to bed.

Needless to say, when I sat down to write with my cup of tea it was nice and relaxing and exactly what I needed.  I’ve written just over 3000 words in 2 hours.

Tonight I pushed this draft into the Third Act, crossing that barrier in the space of roughly a chapter and a half where my protagonist goes from constantly reacting to the world around him to being proactive.  It’ll need some cleaning for sure, but I think I’ve pulled it off convincingly where character motivation is concerned.

Hook Line and Sinker enters into its Third Round tomorrow morning, I can’t wait to see how the YA section goes.  I’ve been following it closely and it’s getting down to the most thrilling part (for me anyway).  I hope to see some fantastic “I found an Agent through #HLandS” stories in the coming weeks.  I always love to read those.  It gives me hope.

Well, it’s past midnight here, and I have to commute to work in the morning, so I should trundle off to bed. Yes, I trundle when I’m tired.

– Grimm

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Filed under Agent, BookB, Contest, family, Learning, Real Life™, Story Elements, TV/Movies, Word Count

Full Steam Ahead (and Sideways)

I slept poorly last night and it’s my own damned fault.

I can’t get over how much anxiety I’ve felt over my word count being so out of line with my goal.  I kept trying to think of solutions and items I could edit out to make the story cleaner and stronger.  Those of you who follow me on Twitter might have seen a tweet by me earlier stating that I’d found a solution and so far it’s working.

I’m cutting my book to a single Viewpoint Character.  Not altogether mind you, there will still be a few short stints in other viewpoints, and it’s still going to be Third Person Limited.  My target for this book is Young Adult, a category of books where a single viewpoint isn’t only a regular occurrence, it’s actually the norm.  So that’s a big load off my chest.  Of course, it means I have a lot of work to do on this revision as I have a number of scenes where I’ve switched viewpoints.

What I’ve done to start is go back to my outline and give myself a budget.  My average chapter length is ~2000 words, some are as much as 3000, a few (the rare exception) are as short as 1000, so that gives me about 50 chapters to work with.

I took the major beats of the story and set them out, then I placed important plot points in between, trying to keep things relatively evenly spaced for pacing and progression.  A few plot points are being juggled, one of the sub-plots is being dropped altogether, and I’m still trying to find ways to work in an important plot thread that primarily followed one of my other characters.  It’s not integral to this particular book, so it may get shifted to a second book.

All that said, my word count tonight actually slips back about 3K words, even though I wrote somewhere close to 3000 tonight filling some of the earlier gaps.

The next few nights I’m going to divide my focus, editing one of the earlier chapters to fit the new single viewpoint and tightened plot, and writing out one new chapter to keep the story moving forward.

This approach should help make the next revision pass a little faster, and help bring more depth and clarity to my main viewpoint character and their relationships with those around them as I can no longer rely on those characters to pull their weight.  It should also help me sleep better at night (I hope).

I’ll keep you all posted.

– Grimm

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Filed under BookB, Character, Editor, Genre, Learning, Real Life™, Story Elements, Twitter, Viewpoint, Word Count

Lessons worth learning, and Looper.

There’s a blog post on another blog that I’ve started to follow recently, and it says some things I’ve taken to heart on this revision perfectly.  I won’t repeat them fully here, just go read them there.

Hook Line and Sinker is kicking off, and it looks like a fantastic opportunity for some new writers.  I’m not eligible currently because I don’t have a complete manuscript, but I applaud the efforts of Kat Ellis and Dee to get new writers and agents looking for writers pointed squarely at each other in such an entertaining manner.  I intend to follow the full proceedings.

My work on BookB is coming along quite well, put a full chapter to bed tonight, despite a later start (of course, that means I’ve got a late finish too).  This blog post isn’t putting me to bed any earlier either, and it’s my morning to get up and make breakfast on this fine long weekend.  Besides, I think my wife is catching this nasty sinus cold that’s just starting to go away on me, and since I gave it to her, I might let her sleep in tomorrow.

One thing that keeps nagging at me is that I don’t know if my chapters are standard chapter length, if such a thing exists, or a little on the short side.  Granted, Douglas Adams had a single sentence chapter in HHGTTG, but the man was a genius and could get away with damned near anything by making you laugh about it.  Never having taken any actual writing courses or spoken with an editor on the subject, I don’t know what the unspoken “chapter length” rules are.  I guess I’ll look into it.

Looper.

So after a misfire in trying to see it last week, we got out to see it last night.  I enjoyed it a great deal in the theatre, I’m a fan of Rian Johnson’s other movie Brick, and though I’ve yet to see The Brothers Bloom it is on my “must watch” list.

I came out of it with some confusing issues with some of its use of time travel (spoiler it’s a time travel movie…).  I think it stands as a testament to the movie, its cast, cinematography, and overall plot that my brain simply won’t let go of those issues and keeps trying to argue and find solutions for them.  I’ve almost convinced myself that all of the “issues” I had with the time travel, were in fact not issues at all and perhaps I was just too thick to catch onto the “why” of things at the time. Perhaps I have only begun to work it all out in hindsight.

Yeah, that must be it.

Regardless, critics are raving about it, my friends are raving about it, I’m raving about it and I’m arguing with my wife and myself about it.  Go see it, it’s a fantastic movie!

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Filed under BookB, Contest, Learning, Story Elements, TV/Movies

Coming along nicely, nicely, nicely, whoops!

I’ve wrapped up a few chapters in the last two nights.  As I closed off this last one I realized that my outline from here on isn’t anywhere near as detailed as it was leading up to this point until I get to the finale.  The balance of time between the viewpoint characters is terribly lopsided, and I have a LOT (and I really mean a LOT) of the Third Act to flesh out.

About that.  The Three Act Structure, it’s a common theme used in movies and books, and generally iterates between separate levels of story.  In a trilogy, that pinnacle of modern story-telling you end up with a Twelve Act Structure.  Look, it works, follow me on the math here:

Book 1 = 3 Acts.  Book 2 = 3 Acts.  Book 3 = 3 Acts.  Therefore Book 1 + Book 2 + Book 3 = 9 Acts correct?

Now consider that there’s a larger structure.  Book 1 = Act 1, Book 2 = Act 2, Book 3 = Act 3.  Those Three Acts added onto the previous Nine gives you a Twelve Act structure.

Alright, now that I’m done boosting word count on my blog with pointless mathematics, here’s my take on the Three Act Structure.

Act 1:  The Setup (A New Hope).  This is where you set the overall stage.  You can build characters backgrounds and competence and set the overall story up.  They may even try to resolve the main problem, but they will fail, which leads into…

Act 2: Where Everything Goes to 11 (Empire Strikes Back).  This is where you ramp up the tension and start picking up steam.  Your characters start learning some lessons, picking themselves up off the floor a bit and making some progress only to have it all come crashing down at the end and driving straight into…

Act 3: The Ceiling Comes In (Return of the Jedi).  This is the final Act, the crescendo if you will.  This is where everything goes catastrophically wrong and forces the characters to take the initiative and go beyond.  If your characters have been passive up until this point, this is where the rubber meets the road, and just about any other metaphor you can throw out there for that ultimate last push that wins the day.

To summarize, I think Howard Taylor said it best on Writing Excuses:
Act 1: Chase the heroes up the tree.
Act 2: Throw stones at them.
Act 3: Cut down the tree.

So, I need to flesh out my outline for the Third Act as it was the part most devastated by this revision.  I spent about an hour getting started on that this evening.  My mindmap has enough cross-node links on it at this point that it’s starting to resemble a fractal.  I can only hope I’m not tearing any new holes in my plot that I’ll have to clean up in the next pass.  I’m sure I’ll let you know!

Alpha Readers:  I don’t have anything too new for you just yet.  I want to finish this run on the main viewpoint character then I’ll make some selections for you all to go over that won’t give too much away just yet.  I have a choice scene in mind right now that I think you’ll either enjoy or roll your eyes at.

– Grimm

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Filed under Alpha Readers, BookB, Character, Learning, Outline Writing, Revision, Story Elements, TV/Movies