What I Did On My Holiday

Not a lot, actually. I took Friday and Tuesday off from the day job to give me a five-day weekend, and I had intended to spend some of that time working on the SF stories, but I ended up not doing much on that. Monday was pretty much taken up with prepping stuff for the grill—chicken and smoked sausage, mostly—and then actually grilling and eating. Nevertheless I did manage to make a little progress on the writing—specifically, I figured out how to get round one particularly knotty problem with the fourth and last story. On that front, the plan now is to focus on getting the high-level structure of that story nailed down so that I can get on to building the timelines.

Given that I didn’t do any day job, and only did a little (if important) bit of writing work, the rest of the time was spent slacking, by which I mean binge-watching TV and movies: The Martian (again), Interstellar (again), and The Expanse (season one; I’m part way into season two).

Today, back to the day job and as usual on the first day back after a break I’m whacked. So the plan is to take a little break then pull up the spreadsheet for SF story the fourth and do a bit more work on it.

But first, time for tea.

Stalled

I’ve been working on the four stories making up the SF series that I’m engaged on at the moment. At this point I have a high-level description of each of the first three stories in the form of a dozen or so paragraphs.

But the fourth story… I’m having a problem with it.

I have the beginning. I know where my protagonist starts off. And I have the ending—at least in general terms, in that I know what she’ll have achieved. The bad guys are out of the picture one way or another, the protagonist has got what she wanted and more.

It’s the bit in between that’s giving me a headache at the moment. The bit that connects the beginning and the end. The part that writers like to call (technical term) the story.

I have absolutely no idea how to get my character from point A to point B. In part, that’s because she herself doesn’t know what to do at the start. She has a limited amount of information, and an objective—but no clue what to do to get moving in the right direction.

So right now I’m stalled. I’ll keep thinking on this for a while but I might have to find a way to start her off with a bit more information from the end of the third story—but not so much that it gives things away that I want to keep until near the end.

Meanwhile, episode 5 of Game of Thrones.

Neo’s Character Flaw

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that I’d had to put timelining of the four-story SF series I’m working on on hold, because I’d managed to bugger up the way my protagonist’s major problem (her wound) got resolved at the end of the first story. I’d like to explain that a bit, at least the way it was explained to me.

Characters have flaws, and they have wounds. Flaws are usually consequences of wounds. When it comes to developing a series, the wound will usually carry on through the entire series. I used Harry Potter as an example; his wound is that Voldemort murdered his parents, and that doesn’t get sorted out until the defeat of Voldemort at the end of the last book. However, Harry has a series of flaws: self-doubt, arrogance, the worry that he’s a new Voldemort in the making, and so on. And each of these provides a background for one of the books, and is resolved by the end of that book.

So while wounds and flaws are related, they’re distinct.

But there’s more to flaws than just setting them up at the start of a story and resolving them at the end. Far better is to make the resolution of the flaw vital to the resolution of the story as a whole.

Here’s an example: Neo in The Matrix. Neo’s flaw is that he won’t accept that he is The One. In terms of wants and needs, he wants to believe that he’s not special (and the Oracle reinforces this when she tells him he isn’t). But he needs to believe, because until he does he doesn’t stand a chance against Agent Smith. So his wants and needs conflict.

So then comes the fight with Smith, and Neo dies in the Matrix. BUT… at that point, Trinity tells Neo’s real-world corpse that she loves him and that means he must be The One, because the Oracle told her so. And now Neo believes; he knows he is The One. He is reborn with world-bending powers, and can take on Smith with one hand behind his back.

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In the first story of the series I’m working on at the moment, my protagonist realises that what she thought she wanted was a phantom, and that what she really needed the whole time is about to be taken away by the bad guy. This happens when the bad guy himself tells her that he’s going to take that thing from her, not realising that he just gave her a reason to fight as hard as she ever has, and doomed himself in the process.

Hopefully I’ve shed a little light on how wants and needs can tie into flaws in a way that all comes together at the end of a story, in such a way as to make for a more powerful tale.

Giving #LiteraryAgents a Bad Rap

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Several times on these pages I’ve said bad things about agents. And then, a few days ago, I was told something that explained a lot. As a result, I take it all back. I’m genuinely sorry, agents.

The thing that bugged me was that every rejection I’ve ever had was a form rejection with no hints as to why the query was rejected; not even just a couple of words to say that the writing stinks, or the synopsis stinks, or anything else. Nothing that could be used as guidance for creating a better query, or a better story, or better characters. I guess I assumed that agents had even just half a minute to write a few words.

Bad assumption.

At the very last meeting of the summer writing workshop that I’ve mentioned here a few times, the guest speaker talked about publishing and agents. And she mentioned something that I guess should have been obvious.

There was a time when sending a query meant typing out the query on actual paper, and copying (or photocopying) the requested number of pages from the typescript, and maybe writing out a synopsis; and then putting all that together and sticking it in a big envelope and taking it to the post office and mailing it. In other words, it took some actual effort, and you had to be pretty serious about doing it.

No more. These days you can slap together all that material on a laptop with a bit of copy’n’paste, and attach the first ten or twenty pages to an email and click Send, all in the time it takes to make a cup of tea.

It’s almost too easy. And as a result, agents get a huge number of queries. Huge. Like, thousands every week. I knew that the Internet would automatically make that kind of email traffic inevitable, but I didn’t realise just how much traffic we’re talking about here. And I can imagine that the majority of those queries are so completely awful that they go straight in the trash. Agents have to deal with those as well as doing the whole agent thang—representing their existing authors, hawking their books to publishers, and everything else they have to do.

So it’s no wonder that when it comes to dealing with a never-ending flood of queries—hundreds of them every single day—agents really don’t have the time to write out individual responses to every one. Hence, form rejections and nothing more.

So, agents, I understand now. And I’m sorry I said all those bad things about you. I won’t say them again, honest.

There is one thing, though: our guest speaker mentioned agents that don’t even bother with the form rejections and in fact don’t bother to respond at all. She thought that was unjustified and unprofessional. I agree. When I look on QueryTracker and see agents with response rates in the four- or five-percent range and lower, that bugs me. In general I don’t bother sending queries to those agents at all (I made one exception in the case of Smoke & Mirrors, but I probably won’t do that again). But if you’re one of those agents, maybe you have a perfectly good reason for not responding; if so, I for one would like to hear it, and if it makes sense I’ll have your back on that, too.

Back to story building on that SF series I’m working. Until next time…

Spoke Too Soon

A couple of posts back I mentioned that I’d got my storyline to the point where I’d started working on the timeline.

As it turns out, I got a little bit ahead of myself. I’ve had to stop working on the timeline because I realised I’d made a mistake with the story. And boy, is it a doozy.

The way I had the story set up, the first of the four stories starts with my protagonist having a problem. And the way the story went, that problem had been worked out by the end of that same first story.

That doesn’t work; it would mean she’d need a new problem to take into the second story. And if she’d already dealt with the biggest obstacle in her life, then what possible hurdles could she have in the second story that would even come close to that?

Here’s a couple of examples of the kind of thing I’m talking about; this should make it clearer.

First, look at Harry Potter. His problem is Voldemort. And while he wins fights against The Dark Lord in each book, Harry doesn’t actually beat him for good until the final battle at the end of the last book.

Another example: Neo’s fighting the machines and we find that out early in The Matrix, but he doesn’t end the war until the end of the third and last movie.

Last example: Frodo encounters the One Ring not far into The Fellowship of the Ring, and the story only ends when he destroys the ring—and Sauron—at the end of The Return of the King.

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You get the picture. I’ve had to go back to my plotting and change things so that the problem my protagonist has at the beginning of the first book carries her through a series of adventures all the way through the complete set of four stories. And that in turn has meant adding in a bucketload of back story to support things—and the rabbit hole gets deeper as she learns more about the truth behind her original troubles a little at a time; she only finds out the complete details close to the end of the last story. It also means that what was to be the second story in the series will be pretty much torn down and replaced, and the way things are going it’s not impossible that I’ll need a fifth book to complete the whole tale.

So at the moment timelining is suspended until I get all the details worked out and written down. What I thought was going to take a few days is now looking like it’s going to take a few weeks at least. This thing is becoming a monster.

I’ll post more on this as I progress.

 

Eclipse Pics

We didn’t get a total eclipse here in northern Colorado, but it came close—about 94% covered, according to one source. I wasn’t about to point my eyes or a camera at the sun to get pictures, though.

I was thinking about doing what I’ve done before: set up a pair of binoculars, and use a mirror behind one eyepiece to project an image of  the sun onto a screen or a light-coloured wall. With 7×50 binoculars you can get a projected image three feet across pretty easily. It works for looking at sunspots, too. The hardest part is getting the binoculars pointing at the sun safely (that is, without looking through the things—I don’t need to tell anyone how stupid that would be) and keeping them pointing at the sun as it moves.

But I didn’t take the time for that. Instead, I just got some pictures of the crescent shapes on the ground under the trees, which are still pretty cool.

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Working On The Latest Book – #AmWriting

I’ve made a start on turning my story notes for the as-yet-untitled SF novel(s) into a timeline. The reason for the (s) in novel(s) is that it looks like each of the four stories is going to end up being novel length, so they’ll probably get published as four separate books. But it’s early days yet; I’ll see how that works out.

And I really must try to think up a good working title.

Seventeen scenes done so far. That might not sound like much but there’s quite a lot of braining that goes into it; it can be pretty tough going. I’m taking a break from it for a while; going to watch a bit of Penny Dreadful.