Twelve-Thousand Words

When Anna Yeatts suggested I cut 12,000 words from my completed, edited 87,000 paranormal romance novel, I was a bit skeptical.

Her reasoning was perfectly sound. The shorter paranormal romance would be more marketable.

But sheesh. 12,000 words, or just a bit less than 14 percent of the book. Was it possible? Could I do it? Did I even want to do it?

But okay, I’d try.

I’m now on Chapter 23 (of 39) and have cut 8,000 words. That’s about 350 words per chapter. With 16 chapters to go and only 4,000 words to cut, I’ll probably make it.

The process has taught me three things:

  1. This story needed to get “colder” before marketing. The line edits were completed in January, and it would’ve make a huge difference to let it sit until at least March, and then giving it that final once-over.
  2. Cutting extraneous details makes for a stronger story.
  3. “Kill your darlings” (Faulkner) is good advice. I noticed that this month’s Writer’s Digest included an article on overwriting.

So where am I, and where do I want to be?

I’ll finish up the word-cut this week. A final read before restarting the query process and thinking about #PitchWars this coming fall. And I’ll go back to writing the first draft of the next in the series–which is one-fourth completed.

Whew.

I’m Conflicted

I had another short story accepted for publication this week. I also had another rejection, but I get so many of those, it almost doesn’t count. The story should appear in July—more on that as I know more.

Meanwhile, I’m getting my completed novel ready for the next round of agent queries. I can’t decide whether to send queries out before or after I submit to #PitchWars. If accepted, I’ll work with a mentor to more fully polish my query materials. That’s coming up in September, which feels like a long way away, but really isn’t.

In the process, I re-read my first chapter and hated it.. What was I thinking?

As a result, I devoted most of this week to revision, cutting extraneous details to laser in on the primary conflict for my main character. I’m about to re-read chapter two. I sure hope I won’t be rewriting this coming week.

Hope yours is a good one.

An Uninvolved Narrator

I wrote a short story about a sorceress betrayed by a king. She offers to have the king’s son, but he reneges on his promise to marry her. Her revenge? She refuses him his heir by staying pregnant for eight years.

That’s the premise. The story, which is mostly about what happens to the boy after he’s born, is told from the perspective of the sorceress’ giant bodyguard. More or less an uninvolved narrator. He follows the boy and tells the story, but doesn’t contribute much of anything to the plot.

The story—in addition to being somewhat clunky in its current form—has just never worked. It comes across as mostly “tell” with huge narrative distance. Maybe due to the point of view. The giant just doesn’t have enough at stake to keep the tension high.

On the other hand, both sorceress and son die at the end of the tale, and since “dead men tell no tales,” the piece can’t be written from their perspective. Maybe one of them should live?  I might try writing it that way and see if it works.

Have a thought about the uninvolved narrator? Pass it along.

On the querying front, no news to report. I’m looking at a couple of interesting options, including #PitchWars in September.

Submission Calls

I started writing short stories in 2017 after reading about the Ray Bradbury challenge. Bradbury recommends writing a short story a week, and that it isn’t possible to write fifty-two bad short stories. I aimed to prove him wrong.

At the end of the year, I had thirty-six completed short stories, fourteen of which were deemed good enough—after much revising—to submit for publication. Since I began, I’ve sent these fourteen stories out seventy-seven times total. Six are currently pending. Five were accepted for publication, three of which have been published.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve had sixty-six rejections, not counting the rejections from agents I’ve queried. Novels don’t count.

So I wondered. Would I have better luck if I wrote short stories specifically for submission calls? I’m about to find out.

I stumbled across a submission call for a dark romance. Lucky for me, I had exactly that in my “story starts” folder. After some frantic revision, I sent it off. While waiting for a response to the submission, I reread the story–a mistake because now I’m perseverating. I think I made three errors—not typos and not grammar. Fixed, I could have improved my story arc. Serves me right for rushing.

Next, I found a submission call for a horror story similar to a premise I’d been trying to get on paper since 2017. I managed to complete the piece, but here come the doubts. Is it an overdone trope? Is the twist predictable? Are the characters likeable—especially the main character? Do I have too little exposition? Too much? Is the dialogue stilted? Is it overwritten? Underwritten? Enough descriptive detail or too much?

Time will tell. I have to keep reminding myself to embrace rejection, be patient, trust the process, and learn to be lucky.

#PitMad

What is #PitMad? That’s the question I asked Anna Yeatts last March when she encouraged me to “do it.”

#PitMad is a quarterly event (March, June, September, December) during which writers pitch their completed novels on Twitter, using no more than 280 characters including–at minimum–the PitMad hashtag.

The goal is to attract agents who might want to represent your novel to publishers.

So no problem. After learning about it, I decided it would be a snap to condense my 87,000 word paranormal romance into 280 characters. And, since writers can tweet up to three times during a 12-hour, I needed three different tweets would be swell. That took some time to figure out, and quite a bit of brainstorming and revising to get it close to right.

Last March, I had fewer than 20 followers and didn’t understand the power of retweeting. Multiple RTs make a tweet to more likely come to the attention of everybody, including agents. My third tweet in March got 12 RTs.

Today, June 6, is the second #PitMad I’ve participated in. This time around, thanks to the amazingly supportive #WritingCommunity, and a large number of new followers, I had 92 RTs and 8 likes, although sadly, none of the likes came from agents.

Never mind. I met a lot of new people and RT’d a gazillion pitches for novels I definitely will want to read someday.

My tweet for The Last Summer Queen read: At 19, Macy wants her magic but first, has to get pregnant. Not easy in a female-only town. Summer Queen magic fails. Macy casts a forbidden spell and triggers an old curse. She loses her powers only to learn that love is the strongest magic.

I’m still waiting to hear from the agent who asked to read the entire manuscript and other agents I’ve queried. Based on everything I’ve learned, this is a process that can take a while. Like gardening, patience is key.

Meanwhile, I’m in Chapter 10 of my new work in progress. Let me know if I have any beta readers out there–I should be done with the first draft sometime in early September.

Learning 2 B Lucky

I started submitting short stories and flash fiction about the same time I became a slush reader for an online zine. The combination brought me to a luck-is-needed realization. Getting noticed among the clamor—hundreds upon thousands of stories submitted each month—takes more than talent, smarts, and hard work. It takes luck.  

And while I’ve never considered myself to be an unlucky person, I found myself asking the universe for an inordinate amount of luck.

Now that I’m querying a novel, I’ve decided that learning to be lucky is essential.   My go-to has always been research. Heading straight for Google, I entered “learning to be lucky” and found Richard Wiseman.  

Wiseman is a British psychologist investigating the lucky and the unlucky. Based on his research, it is possible to #Learn2bLucky—or at least, luckier.

While I haven’t completed my research, I have learned that lucky people are more open to opportunity than the unlucky. According to what I’ve read, unlucky people tend not to notice opportunity when it presents itself—possibly due to anxiety or worry. When opportunity arises, lucky people, on the other hand, charge ahead and take risks.

Calls for submission, writing contests, and the like cross my computer every month. In the past, I’ve looked for prompts rather than submission opportunities. This month, I looked for matches between the calls and stories I’ve already written. Found two. Submitted two. We’ll see what happens next.

Still waiting on outstanding queries and planning to look at #pitchwars in June. Meanwhile, I’m focused on #Learning2BLucky.

Sleep, Creep, Leap

Gardening and writing. Amazing how similar they are in process. Writing seems to also follow the old adage when planting a new perennial (a plant that returns, year after year).

In the first year, the plant sleeps. Most of the process is happening below the surface of the soil, putting in roots, establishing itself in space. The second year, the plant creeps. Slowly, new growth appears. And finally, year three, the plant leaps into the glorious beauty it is meant to be.

Writing is a lot like that. First draft, getting ideas on paper (on screen). For a while, it may seem like nothing’s happening. Words and ideas get tried and tossed. The product at the end of that first draft may read ugly. Onto the revision—maybe one, maybe more. Ideas coalesce. The right words appear as if by magic. And finally, editing polishes the whole until the manuscript is ready for publication.

Sleep, creep, leap. Gardeners and writers require the same character qualities: patience, tenacity, and enough fortitude to not rip things or discard a draft too early in the process.

Still waiting for replies to the queries I’ve sent out. Meanwhile, a new WIP is far enough along to be in the “dirty middle” of the process. The character milestones and outline are done. I’m ready to start writing chapter seven.

External Events and Internal Reactions

I’ve written before about taking on the Ray Bradbury 52 stories challenge. I learned a lot in that 2017 experience, including why it’s important to balance external events with the characters’ internal reactions.

Fill a story with too many external events and the characters can end up flat and stereotypical. Focus on emotions and thoughts to the exclusion of action and–uh-oh–where’s the story?

When I’m drafting a piece, I tend to stick to what’s happening. For me, rewrite is the time to ask what’s going on inside the characters. Even then, I sometimes miss those all-important emotional beats. As a fix, I play a little mindfulness game, blending the external and internal. That’s what I did in my flash fiction, The Wishing Stone.

A story with simple bones, the main character is gifted with an heirloom pendant that grants her wishes. When things start to go wrong, she moves from intrigued to worried to terrified. In under a thousand words.  

Since the physiological responses often need naming to mean anything—think sad and happy tears—I concentrated on the character’s experience of the world. In this piece, the character’s terror is shown when the pendant becomes a live coal on her chest. Her nightgown smokes when she inadvertently wishes her mother dead.

Staying mindful of how the external and internal worlds play on each other, helps me maintain that balance.

Heroes and Villains

Whatever happened to stories that distinguished the hero from the villain by the color of their hats? White for the hero, black for the villain. Where are the villains stroking their handlebar mustaches and laughing maniacally while tying the helpless, hapless heroine to the train tracks? And where the heroes galloping up on a white horse at the last possible second to save said heroine?  

For me, reading Sir Walter Scott’s Lochinvar—I think in high school—changed forever my perspective of what a hero could be.   Lochinvar comes too late to the wedding, forcing him to steal the fair Ellen from her family. Is kidnapping heroic?

I’ve written about the character milestones I use as a way to organize character arcs. In my latest work in progress, I discovered—with amazement—that my hero and my villain had virtually identical histories.

Both lost mothers. Both had emotionally unavailable—absent—fathers. Both had conditional love and support from replacement mothers. Both were sent far from home to learn their craft under the same demanding and morally-suspect teacher.  Both were forced to accept culturally defined roles that curtailed their freedom.

The difference between them, what made one the hero and one the villain, had more to do with conscious choices than with nature or nurture. Neither was born inherently good or evil.

Leaving me to ponder—am still pondering—the difference between them. Resiliency? Stubbornness? Positivity? Sheer dumb luck?

The challenge for me is to sort through the little choices they made and will make as I tell the story. I need to sketch their emotional connections to those choices, to get at what motivates them to be hero and villain. I’m a bit daunted.

Meanwhile, the query quest continues. No news on that front, but I hope there will be soon. Please keep fingers crossed for me.

Starting with Character Milestones

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Sitting down with a blank page and just writing. It hooked me early on—maybe around age 12. Many years later I learned the term pantser. Oh yeah, that’s me. A confirmed pantser. No plan except the vague one in my head.

Until I found myself getting to The End and needing to start over. And over and over and over…

I tried half a dozen outlining methods. No dice. For me, writing was all about letting my characters do the talking. When I imposed structure, my characters got sullen and silent, and I got stuck. I needed their voices. If characters don’t—won’t—speak, nothing happens.

But what if I gave each character their own therapy session? What if I just let them speak, telling their life stories, focus on what’s important to them?

I started with my villain and learned all sorts of important things I didn’t know. Most important, it was writing the way I like to write: in the zone, stream of consciousness, inside what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow.

By the time I finished letting my characters dictate their milestones, I earned their permission to do some chapter-by-chapter plotting. They were happy. I was happy. A finished novel was the result.

The how-to is pretty simple. I start with a description of the character, then stay open to whatever they want to tell me. It never seems to matter whether in first or third person, present or past tense. My job is to take what feels like dictation.

Instead of my drudging through their goals and flaws and aspirations and hopes and dreams—making stuff up about them—my characters reveal what’s important to them. What happened at age 6. Age 12. Age 16. Age 25. Childhood. Puberty. Traumas. Struggles. Rebellions. Everything else emerges from those tales.

Nothing works for everyone, and nothing works for anyone all the time. But if you’re stuck with a character or a plot, giving your characters control is worth a try.

Query update: This week, an agent asked to read the full manuscript. It took me a day to get back to normal.

Thanks for your past good wishes and please keep wishing me luck.