Category Archives: Voice

The 777 Blog Hop

In what can only be described as cold-brewed wanton and impish revenge for calling him out in my ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, Colten Hibbs has tagged me in the 777 Blog Hop.

Those who have been tagged have to open their current work-in-progress (WIP), and go to the 7th line of the 7th page and post the next 7 lines.

My current work in progress is a Sci-Fi Noir Detective story I’m affectionately giving the working title “Sci-Fi Noir Detective Story”. It’s on it’s Zero-Draft.

If you’re unfamiliar with that term Zero-Draft, it’s the very first, very rough draft that’s written at the beginning of any project. It’ll be full of holes, notes, dead ends, incomplete arcs, crappy repetitive language, eye-bleedingly-bad punctuation and prose, and worst of all… stilted dialog!

After spinning my wheels on some of the characterization and motivation (which will all change by the end of the Zero-Draft), I’m about ~6,500 words ( ~26 pages) into actual writing, and about 1/10th of the way through my outline.

I’m a sparse writer, beginning with a skeletal framework and layering description on top of it, so my manuscripts tend to remain relatively spare through several revisions. Luckily, the 7 lines that this Blog Hop highlights aren’t affected much.

Without further ado:

 The speaker, Kats wasn’t sure whether she was Cross or Cork, let out a long breath. “Out of the ordinary? That’s Incidental territory. Those bastards wouldn’t know ordinary if it landed on their dinner table. 

The Nature’s Path, or Incidentals as their detractors called them, were a decades old movement that denied the benefits of genetic enhancement and error correction. They’d swelled in numbers for the first twenty years or so, then levelled off at around four percent of the population. Very few Incidentals ever held jobs higher than bottom rung maintenance positions. 

Despite their relatively similar social status, Tankers like Kats were as far removed from the Nature’s Path as it was possible to be.

Anything in that passage is subject to change, in whole or in part. I may even remove it from my manuscript with fire and brimstone at any time of my choosing.

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Filed under Grammar/Spelling, Outline Writing, Revision, Voice, Word Count

The Circus Won’t Have Me (I Can’t Juggle).

Ahem! So it’s July. My last entry was in May. Glad to see I’m keeping on top of this blog thing!
The good news about the delay between posts is that I’ve been writing, and I’ve learned something.

There are writers out there who can write multiple stories at the same time, and there are those who can’t. At present I firmly reside in the realm of Nope! Can’t do it! I’ve tried and it’s been an ongoing disaster that I’ve only recently started to dig myself out of.

Now, when I say “write” I do mean exactly that. I have no trouble writing one story and revising or outlining another. But if I try to actually write two stories at once? Catastrophe! Disaster! Calamity! Cataclysm! Armageddon! You get the picture. We’re talking problems of the Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, and Steve Buscemi together on a rocket ship proportions.

I’ve been writing an Alt History/Fantasy since October of last year. I continued working on it, albeit at a slower pace, through Pitch Madness, without a hitch. I discussed where things started to get out of hand in April. Since that time I’ve actually been writing fairly consistently at least 300 words a day, 5 days a week. Not a great pace, but the habit is back, and that’s great.

I’ve had a few incredible story ideas sneak up on me, as they tend to, while I got my groove back. That’s great right? Awesome story ideas that just keep coming? What’s there to complain about? Well, Writer’s Block has never been a worry for me. I doubt I’ll ever have a shortage of ideas. I worry more about a shortage of time. If they keep coming I may never have enough time to write them all in the manner they deserve.

So, those incredible story ideas. Yeah. I couldn’t wait. I dug into one pretty heavily (a sci-fi, a genre I love and have wanted to sink my teeth into), and it consumed me. I wrote a barebones outline, then dug into a few test scenes and character spots. I really love the feel and scope of it. I was really rolling with it, at least until I hit the first plot hole in the outline.

I can handle that just fine normally by digging in and getting my hands dirty in the muck. But I had another story sitting around 40K words in that I could just jump over to and work on right? Lots of writers do it! It couldn’t be that hard… What’s the worst that could happen?

Well. I can tell you what the worst that could happen was: I’d lost the feel of the Alt History/Fantasy and couldn’t keep the headspace required for the sci-fi and a new cast of vastly different characters. I hit a hard wall and lost momentum on TWO stories.

 It was a long slow road to sort myself out. I went back to the beginning of the story and worked through what I’d written from the start. Performing a mini-revision on a third of a story isn’t something I ever wanted to do (especially considering the mental anguish dwelling on my early drafts causes me), but it was exactly what I needed.

So, for the time being I’m writing exclusively on the Alt History/Fantasy and only jotting outline notes on anything else.

I know writing multiple stories at once is certainly possible, and I might be able to do it someday. I’m nowhere near there yet.

Lesson learned.

– Alex

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Filed under Ego, Genre, Learning, Outline Writing, Revision, Voice

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

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

Tropes and Cliches in (my) Writing.

Tonight was a pretty good night for writing.  I had a good two hours of dedicated writing time, headsets on, music playing.  Too bad most of it will have to be cut up and rewritten tomorrow.

You see, for the chapter I’m working on currently I only had one short sentence in my outline.  It didn’t exist in the last draft, but it’s very much needed in this one.  That’s right, it’s one of THOSE bits.  The between-the-action-character-relationship-building bits, which I apparently don’t outline that well.  So rather than spend most of my limited time this evening outlining it, I figured I’d take a stab at pantsing it.
When I work from an outline I tend to do a fair bit of research and digging to make sure I’m not getting so wrapped up in layered tropes of a particular genre or stereotyping.  When I’m discovery writing I just let it flow and worry about it afterwards.  
Well, after an hour and a half I took a quick break, then came back and re-read what I’d written.  The voice is fantastic, there’s a bit of humour in there that clicks with the character.  However, it follows a fairly typical trope and has strong potential to run itself in a direction destined for a good deal more.
Tropes are not bad per-se, some are quite enjoyable, but as a new and aspiring writer I’m trying desperately to avoid them.  Otherwise I’ll use them as crutches to cheat my way to the end of my book, which would somewhat defeat the purpose since this first book is meant primarily to be a learning experience.  (That’s not to say that if I’m happy with it I won’t try to solicit it to agents etc.)
So tomorrow it gets surgery.  I’m going to hammer out an outline for the chapter that’s more detailed than the one line I’ve got.  Hopefully I can preserve some of the tone and lose some of the “we’ve been here before and this should happen next” essence.  That’s not to say that more experienced and better hands at writing can’t pull off exactly that sort of trope and get away with it, making it feel fresh and funny and new.  I just don’t think I’m anywhere near there yet.
That said, I think I’ll snip it out and put it in a side document to look over later, to analyze how I got there and why the funny worked.  
Every word I write and every word I delete should teach me something.
– Grimm

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Filed under BookB, Discovery Writing, Learning, Outline Writing, Research, Revision, Tropes/Cliches, Voice

Alpha Readers?

RAWR!

Did a good stretch of writing today, and expanding some of my outline points nicely tying up a sub-plot.  Got about 3/4 through a very important scene, of course, I haven’t touched the most important part of the scene yet, I’m getting too tired to do it justice and I don’t want to mess it up.

So, the title says “Alpha Readers?” I wonder if that caught anyone’s attention?  Here’s what I’m looking for in an Alpha Reader.  Someone who:

  • is willing to take this on as a bit of work and return comments in a timely manner
  • isn’t going to worry about spelling and grammar
  • can deal with horrible early drafts and not hate it. 
  • doesn’t mind reading little bits of a story without the whole story
  • doesn’t mind reading a story in a disjointed out of order state
  • isn’t just looking for a preview
  • realizes this is a work of love for me, even if it sucks 😛 (a lot of it is tripe at this point, that’s what revising is for)
  • is willing to give me real feedback, not suggestions on how to fix it though, just what’s broken.

Basically, I’m looking for someone who can help me make sure scenes make sense, dialog flows nicely, and characters are believable.  I don’t need help with spelling and grammar (most of that will be corrected in later drafts, speed is too important right now to get caught up in all the little crap).  I’m trying to sort out style and voice, and make sure my plot and sub-plots work in the end.

What you get for being an Alpha Reader?  Well, you get my never-ending thanks (and possibly a call-out on an acknowledgements page if it ever gets published), and yes, you do get a preview of a book so early in it’s inception that it may be entirely different and you may hate it by the time it’s done 😀

I’ll be connecting with my Alpha Readers privately, who you are will never be made public until/unless the book is published and I have your permission to do so.  I will arrange to get you PDF versions of individual chapters in various states of disarray, which you can mark up with questions and comments and return to me.  I’m new to this, so this will be a learning process on its own.

You have the option to back out of being an Alpha Reader at any time without any hard feelings.  Just thought I’d put that in there.  I can’t be angry at someone if they bail out of some hard work they’re not required to do for me as a favour.  That’s what it is, a favour.  I can’t pay you anything but gratitude (and possibly the occasional cookies or tea if you live close enough).

Of course, if I don’t get any Alpha Readers, I’ll just soldier on until I need Beta Readers, but that may take a while.

– Grimm

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Filed under Alpha Readers, BookB, Character, dialog, Grammar/Spelling, Learning, Story Elements, Voice