Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bloody (Brilliant) Critiques

I got a particularly bloody critique of chapter three from a member of my crit circle! How exciting is that!! When I printed it out, it was six pages long!!!

Bloody critique--exciting? How can this be?

Really it is. What it means is, someone whose writing I respect, took the time (considerable it seems) to really pick apart the chapter. She had fantastic advice on a number of issues. One in particular that made me slap myself on the forehead. I can't believe I missed something so obvious.

This highlights for me two things I have learned about writing (about anything in fact).

1. Be open to critiques - When someone takes the time to really give you their opinion, be open to it. We are busy people. So it means something when people care enough to (in a kind way) give you suggestions on improving your work.

2. Don't work in a vacuum. Seek out support. - Obviously this relates to the first, but I think it needs emphasising. It is so easy to be blind to your own writing and shortcomings. Don't wait for someone to point them out. It is much easier if you ask someone to point them out. Then it is your idea, not theirs.

So get out there. Take some risks. Ask someone's opinion. It may be bloody painful, but in the end it'll be well worth it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

THE END (Again)

I spent a good chunk of Yesterday locked in a study-carol at the local university (Kent State), writing with a friend of mine. He and I have set a goal of mid March to finish our respective projects. His being his doctoral dissertation, and mine a much less lofty, fantasy novel.

Let me first say this is a wonderful way to write for me. Having someone sitting across a desk from me, typing away on his laptop, really does something to my psyche. That tiny bit of accountability, keeps me focused. It also helps that my laptop has such a bad wireless card that even though they had WiFi in the library, I couldn't use it. So no Internet, or email all day. (Ok, I did check my email on my phone a couple times.)

Suffice it to say I got a lot of writing done, and I finished (again) my first draft. You'll remember that I finished once before, but a friend who had been reading along, was not very excited about it. So finally, after six months or so (Yikes!) I have the ending rewritten. I'm pretty excited how it ended up. We'll have to see what he thinks.

Now I can focus completely on editing/revising. I have Chapters 1 & 2 done, 3 is posted to my Crit Circle, and I'm currently working on 4. The book has 28 chapters so I still have a ways to go, but I think it is doable in the next 2 months.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Epic Living?

Yesterday, Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to climb to the summit of Mt. Everest, died at the age of 88. I heard a couple vignettes about him on NPR. During one they played a recording of him in Washington some years later in which he said: "If you set out on an adventure, and you are absolutely convinced you're going to be successful, why bother starting."

I thought he was going to say something along the lines of if you are convinced you will succeed then you have a better chance of doing so, or something along those lines. But what he actually said was much more profound than that. Man can show greater depths of character when he starts something, against all odds, knowing that there is little chance of success, and in Hillary's case every possibility of death, and yet he still started. He still takes that first step. This is living beyond the Disney "If you dream it you can do it" mentality of the modern world.

There is a scene in the Peter Jackson's movie, The Return of the King, that brings tears to my eyes each time I see it. The book does the same, but the way Mr. Jackson captured it was wonderful. The armies of Rohan have ridden to the aid of Gondor. They crest a hill, and look down upon the plains before Minis Tirith and see the vast hordes of Mordor assaulting the city. Rohan's army looks minuscule beside the might of Sauron. At this point, the logical thing would be to turn back. Set up defences in their own country in what way they could. But they do not. They charge down, into the very arms of the enemy. You are certain that they will all die. They are certain they will die, but the do it anyway.

Or in more contemporary, historical terms look at the movie Saving Private Ryan. Again, an army out manned, out gunned storms the beach at Normandy. Every man in the first wave knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were going to die. But they did it anyway. They did it for a greater good. Something larger than themselves. Something, epic.

So how does that translate into today's world. Of course there are still men and women on the front lines. Still in harms way, but still doing their jobs for some grander purpose, but as a whole. As Americans at large, how can we live in "epic" fashion? Can it be a simple as doing something we fully expect to fail at? Getting outside our comfortable little lives and trying to do something that in all likelihood will end in disaster. I began writing my novel fully expecting to fail. I've never finished something of this magnitude before. Something that requires continual work over a period of years. In fact I still expect to fail, and I am nearly complete.

Now realize that I don't in anyway equate this with charging off a boat onto a sandy beach with bullets filling the air, but I do think that it might just touch on what it means to be larger than oneself. How can I love my wife when I don't feel like loving her? How can I love my kids when they are driving me crazy? How can I get up and do my job when I'd rather sleep? By making a conscious effort to do the things I don't want to do, or even more, I know I'll fail at, I think a little piece of the epic creeps into my life, and the lives of those around me. I know I will never love my wife perfectly. There will always be some selfish motivation when interacting with her. But still I try. Still I wake up every morning hoping today I'll love her a little more than yesterday. But unlike Hollywood romance, we are flawed creatures. I know I'll fail, but read again what Sir Edmund Hillary had to say: "If you set out on an adventure, and you are absolutely convinced you're going to be successful, why bother starting." Why bother starting anything that you know you will succeed at. What a waste of time. Push for something more. Push beyond your limits. Somewhere is something greater, something, epic.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Writing a Hook that Hooks

I told you in a previous post that I posted my Hook on the Bookends site for critique. Well today Jessica finally got to mine. This is the forth or fifth draft of the hook I have written, and I felt pretty good about it. See what she had to say:

92. D. Robert Pease
Fantasy Novel: Crimson Swarm

Aberthuil Nauile doesn’t know that he once led legions in a war that raged since the dawn of time, against an enemy that cannot be killed. He doesn’t know that he rode on a dragon with his father, and saw his mother die while giving birth to him. He doesn’t know that he once saved his great, great, great grandfather by defeating the black enemy on the slopes of a volcano. Aberthuil doesn’t know that he beheld the creation of the world, as his grandfather eight generations before took the planet ravaged by a war of the gods and began anew. All he knows is that he awoke in a coffin in a tomb, and now the whole world thinks he is their savior. All he really wants to know is his name, and why he keeps hearing voices in his head.

Wow! Am I getting soft or is this really two good pitches in a row? Of course now I’m concerned that my judgment is skewed. Maybe I am getting soft. But no, this is good. This grabs my interest. While normally I might say a pitch like this is backstory, it’s not when it’s world building. I clearly see who Aberthuil is and what his conflict is. While he's sure it might be the voices in his head, his true conflict is the story of the life he doesn’t remember. Very, very cool.

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First of all, notice that this is pitch # 92. This lady has been very, very busy. And unlike Miss Snark before her, I hope that she can keep her sanity, and I appreciate very much all the work she is putting into these. It makes me feel quite good that she liked the pitch, just the boost I needed right now to keep plugging along with the editing. She does make a great point that I focus primarily on backstory, but it seems I did it in such a way that it still gives insight into what the novel will be about.

Now before I get all warm and fuzzy about my writing, I want to show you how I came to write the pitch this way. Back in October, Kristin Nelson began a series on her blog about how to write a good pitch. Her first post on the subject dissected the jacket cover copy for Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone. If you read the cover copy, you will see that what I wrote is very similar. The tone feels the same. The overall pacing is the same. Obviously they are two different books. I didn't plagiarize the copy, I just used something that worked well somewhere else as a template for my pitch, and apparently it worked. Jessica has said that if she posted that she liked a pitch, she would love to see more. I'm not ready to send her more yet, but isn't that the goal of the pitch? To get an agent to want to see more? In that respect, I am very excited.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Does Your Villain Have a Point?

Over the years I have tried on several occasions to read the Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis. I've always struggled with the idea that it was "Science Fiction". I like my Sci Fi to be more science driven than something written in the 40's or 50's. But finally I have succeeded. I am about half way through the final book, That Hideous Strength. One of the things I noticed while reading the second book, Perelandra, was that Lewis was able to almost convince me that the bad guy, the Satan figure, had a point. He had a very convincing argument, and I could see why the Eve figure could nearly be persuaded to go against the desires of the creator.

This really came home to me as I have been rewriting the last chapters of Crimson Swarm. Does my villain have a point? Does his war against humanity have any shred of validity? So I gave him a chance to pitch his best argument. I let him stand up on his soapbox and tell us why he was in the right, and why he should be listened to, and you know what? He had some pretty good arguments. I took my main character, my hero into an audience with the big baddy, ready to do battle with him, and was surprised when he was persuaded to reconsider his actions. That was so cool. Of course I can't just leave him there. I still have to resolve the conflict, but how much richer it has become because I gave the villain a chance to argue his case. I love this writing stuff.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Self Publishing Bigot

Sometimes I'm amazed at how easily it is to become a bigot. Try as you might to be an understanding, tolerant person, something inside of you clamors to feel superior in some way to your fellow man. I'm a W.A.S.P. Male to boot. I grew up in a nice middle class neighborhood. Was raised by good Christian parents. Was always taught that skin color didn't matter. Had a neighbor directly across from me who was black, and because of all this I think I have a pretty healthy attitude about race.... and sometimes I feel superior to others who aren't as enlightened as I am.

See what I mean? I can be a bigot about not being a bigot. What crazy beings man. This leads me to last night. My wife and I meet with a group from church every other Friday night to study the Bible (I know, we are swingers). Somehow during discussion it came up that I was writing a book, which by the way I try not to bring up very often, because I don't want to go off on talking about something I'm passionate about that really has the potential to bore people silly. Anyway, someone mentioned that their nephew just published a book. It was a Science Fiction novel, and he had given everyone in his family copies over Christmas. So did I think, "Wow isn't that great! Someone realized their dream!" No. I immediately figured that he self published, and he was having to give them away because he couldn't sell them. My goodness. When did I become so cynical? I haven't had time to fully process my reaction, but I found it disturbing. I'm not even published, self or otherwise. How can I look down my nose at someone who self published (and I'm only guessing here)? I've become a self publishing bigot of the worst kind.

So, Nephew Science Fiction Novel Guy, I am sorry. Please forgive me for looking down my unpublished, self publishing bigoty nose at you. I'm not sure if I've stumbled upon some deep flaw in my character, of which there are many, but I am sure going to keep an eye on it.