Lesson Twenty-Five from a Manuscript Red Line: Bullying for Bully’s sake

“Having a bully for the sake of having a bully is a contrived way of injecting conflict.”

Well, I don’t think I can say it any better than the publisher’s quote above.

There was a bully in the Gold Mine Manuscript that really had no concrete tie to the main plotline.  His only reason for being in the story was to have a bully in the Main Character’s “normal” life.

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

Knowing a little about the plotline after “book one” I do know that the “bully” would have a little more of a role, but overall, he was never really integral to the plot.  The author has even mentioned that although she was sad about it, the removal of this character was actually fairly easy.

Why?  Because nothing he did was deeply tied into the main plot.  When he was gone, the main plot was still solid, and he wasn’t even missed.  In fact, after reading a partial re-write a month or so ago… I have to admit that the story is even tighter without him.

Take a look at each character in your novel and ask yourself.  “How does this character drive the plot forward?”

If you have to make excuses for why the character is there, it is time to re-think them.

Yes, I know this is hard.  I have three in my own story, but I need them for later novels, and I don’t want them to just magically appear.

I know, I know.  Yes, I know what you are thinking…  I am just admitting the mistakes that I KNOW I am making.

Yeah, I struggle with this stuff, too.

Finding editing help in unexpected places. AKA: Social Media Rocks!

Last week I faced a little bit of a pickle.

I had a very short (147 word) scene that included a little bit of Spanish, and a line of French.

PKO_0005301I had an A+ in Spanish in high school, but I haven’t practiced in years. I was reasonably certain that I “had it right”, but after seeing quite a few reviews lately where people blasted authors for using non-English languages incorrectly, I was stressing over it.

I don’t have the money to run it by a translator, and everyone I know is in the same boat as me (Rusty high school Spanish)

Sooooo… I thought I’d give something a try.

I took to social media, and asked my fans for help.

I found that having a mostly international fan-base helped in ways I never expected.  Not only do I have a treasure trove of languages following me, they are all fans of my work, and are tickled pink to be the first people to see an excerpt.

I didn’t just get translating advice… I got advice from native speakers, Spanish as a second language, and people from several different Spanish-speaking countries, as well as one of these kids’ parents that provided insight into the way I learned Spanish that didn’t even occur to me.

Yes, I found, I was speaking correctly, but I was speaking TOO CORRECTLY. Book learning, and the real world, are apparently very different.

So, that’s my thought for this week.  When you get your work out there, make friends with your readers. It’s ten tons of fun. And when you need a little help, you might just be surprised at their enthusiasm.

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Lesson Twenty-Four from a Manuscript Red Line: Remembering where your characters are

Do you pay attention to where your characters are in a scene?  Are you sure?  I thought I was sure too.

Guess what?

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

The publisher who red-lined the Gold Mine Manuscript pointed out a scene where the two main characters were running side by side away from some danger.  All of the sudden, one of them shouted from behind the other one.  The comment from the publisher was:  “They were together, but you didn’t say he jumped ahead. How then did she get behind?”

I read over this the first time I looked at the red-line, because it seemed like another “duh” comment.  However,  just a few weeks ago one of my betas pointed out that both my characters were standing right next to each other, and then all of the sudden one walked up to the other from the other side of the room.  Why would he walk up if he was already at his side?

Similarly, I recently re-wrote a scene where someone was seated the entire time.  In the end, he falls off the chair.  I changed it so he stands up early in the scene, but after leaving it for a month, and then looking at the scene again, I noticed that my “standing” character still fell off the chair.  Was he standing on the chair?  Of course not!

The point of all this is to pay attention to where your character is, and make sure it is consistent throughout the scene.  If not, show us the movement.  If you don’t, you can unintentionally make your scene comical.

It’s the cover reveal for ASHES IN THE SKY!

Wahoooo!
PKO_0007393 Yipee Wahoo Jump Pink RobeWahoo! It’s time to celebrate! Book two of FIRE IN THE WOODS is charging towards the finish line. It’s so exciting when your baby starts taking form and coming to life.

And the first thing that makes it start feeling “real” is when the cover pops up in your email.

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Oh! The tingly feels!

 

Without further ado, please welcome the second gorgeous FIRE IN THE WOODS cover.

Isn’t it stupendous!

 

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From the beginning I asked for a cover that could be “branded” and here we are! There is no denying this is a FIRE IN THE WOODS cover, and I couldn’t be happier.

And (shhhh… don’t tell anyone) but I even wrote a scene to bring the cover to life. It was perfect!

I have to be honest in saying I NEVER expected there to be a second book in the series, but I am so excited there is because I realized that if I really push myself, I can come up with an exciting plotline even when I thought the original story was over. (If that makes any sense)

ASHES IN THE SKY releases wherever books are sold September 1, 2015.

PKO_cheer20007376Can I hear an “Oh Yeah!” ?????

 

_JenniFer____EatoN

Lesson Twenty-Three from a Manuscript Red Line: Kindle Syndrome

Does your novel have Kindle Syndrome?

Would you be able to recognize it if it did?

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

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2015 NOTE: Since I wrote this a few years ago, I have now purchased and fallen in love with my e-reader. I have to say that I am note sure that I would find white space a problem … but since it was pointed out, it is at least worth thinking about.  But what I DO AGREE WITH is mixing EVERYTHING up with some action. Let’s keep those stories moving! 

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I read right over this comment at least five times.  I do not own a kindle, so I didn’t understand what the publisher was saying.  This past weekend, I messed around with my sister’s Kindle.  Now this makes sense.  Let me explain…

The publisher said:  “This is a very long section that takes up two kindle pages of material.  Break it up with action and reaction.”

I believe I’ve already blogged about the overall problem of info dumps that go on too long, but this time when I read this comment, the “Kindle” word jumped out at me.

It would be foolhardy for anyone to think that their novels are going to be read 100 % in printed form.  In this new era, it’s just not feasible.  As we all know, technology has finally taken over the publishing world.

When I beta-read novels, I sometimes blow up the pages and just look at them.  If it looks like a text-book, I know there is a problem.  People want white-space when they read recreationally.  A dense page seems like too much work, right?

Now think about the Kindle (or choose your e-reader)…  What does it look like?  Do you see a full page like in a book?  Unless you are reading on something large, the screen is much smaller than an actual page.  A Kindle reader may press the forward button 2-3 times to get through a printed page of material.  I checked the word count on the section that they were talking about, and it was 230 words.  That’s about one page in a standard book.  If you change the type font and make it larger, there would be even more clicks to your page.

Do you really want your reader to click forward 3-4 times and have them still skimming reading the same description?

This is what I am getting at… The importance of White Space

White space is when you can “see the paper” behind your words.  White space can be achieved by new paragraphs, but it is done most effectively with dialog sequences.  Open up a few novels.  You should be able to see what I mean.  Your novel should not look like a text-book.  If there is dialog, it will look more “interactive”

I know as a reader I like white space.  It makes me feel accomplished.  True, on a kindle you cannot feel yourself getting to the end of a novel.  You might not even know you are at the end until you are there, since there are no page numbers (at least on the one my sister showed me)—so feeling accomplished while reading one must be hard…  But because of this, your reader will be effected EVEN MORE by lack of white space, because it will be so much more dramatic on a kindle screen rather than on paper.

I know a lot of you might not care… but I thought this would be worth mentioning.  We are living in a new world.  We have to consider what your novel will look like on the new media.   One or two long dense paragraphs might be fine once in a while, but make sure your scenes are broken up not only for pacing, but to get some of that “all so important” white space.

Amendment:  Since writing this post, I was given a Kindle Fire by my wonderful husband, and I am now 75% through my first novel.  Now that I am in this “electronic world,” I have to admit that everything I said up above really does apply.  Some of the description in the novel I am reading go on for 5 or more kindle pages of dense text.  The prose is beautiful, and well written, but to be honest I always start skimming somewhere in the middle of the second kindle page, which is far sooner than I would have on paper.

Also, on the Kindle Fire there are no page numbers, but it does tell you “percentage read” so you do see yourself getting to the end.

For me though, it makes the long descriptions even more monotonous because I like to feel accomplished.  I try to read a certain percentage each night, and I don’t know how many pages I have to read to achieve another “percent” read.

Yeah, I’m a nut.  But I am sure I am not alone!  Have mercy on a nutty reader.  Avoid Kindle Syndrome.

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Two novels in nine months. Wow. Taking stock, and taking notes

For the first time in my life, typing “The End” felt like a huge relief rather than an epic accomplishment.

PKO_cheer30010118I just fulfilled my third contracted novel in the FIRE IN THE WOODS series in record time (at least for me) but still late, after asking for a one-month extension.

PKO_cheer10001289Looking back, I have to appreciate what an incredible personal accomplishment this was. A year ago today, I was checking my email daily, waiting for responses on my submissions while working on a dystopian novel (that is still only in fourth draft form)

Month_9_Books_Mermaid1It wasn’t until June 9, 2014 that I received the offer from Month9Books, with a three book deal attached. SWEET! But I looked at the tight deadlines with a shudder.

They wanted me to come up with two more novels, write, edit, and submit within eight months; while working at a break-neck speed to release and market book one in a “window of opportunity”.

If you’ve been here a long time, you know I rarely balk at a challenge.

Looking back, though, I think if I am ever faced with such an offer again, I might try to push out the dates to five or six months for each book.

Can I write a clean book in four months?

Yes. This little adventure has proven that. But I’d rather have more time than I need, and submit early, than hit a bump in the road (like I did in the middle of book three) and have to ask for an extension.

Yeah, I may be dreaming, because I am a little fish in a big ocean, and some publishers won’t budge. But at least now I will know what I am getting myself into.

Would I do it again?

Yes. In a heartbeat. Like I said, a year ago my debut novel was sitting in query cues, and still getting rejections. Now that same book that I was considering “shelving” is a three book series, with decent sales and great reviews on book one.

Yep. I have to admit: It feels good.

But I still need a vacation.

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Lesson Twenty-Two from a Manuscript Red Line: Does your Protagonist “Grow Enough?”

 2015 comment: Pay careful attention to this one. I think this is one of the most frequently missed aspects in first drafts and first manuscripts. There has to be a reason for your story. Your character must “Grow”.

In the closing comments of the Gold Mine Manuscript, the Publisher who red-lined it noted that the MC didn’t “Grow enough”.

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

They said the main character does not have a struggle in the story that pulls him from one state of being to another.  They thought he was pretty much the same at the end of the novel as he was in the beginning.

I’m not really sure I completely agree about this comment.  I saw little changes in the character throughout the novel.  I suppose the problem was the presentation of the final scene.  The author wound down from a big action scene very well, and in the end, the MC is relaxing and thinking.

I am just guessing here, but maybe the Main Character’s thoughts should have reflected HOW he is changed.  Maybe he should be thinking:  “Wow, I was such a stuck up prude, and the world used to revolve around me, and now I just put my life on the line and fought an army and stood up for myself to protect a whole kingdom!”

Okay, that was really bad, but do you get my meaning?  Again, this is totally a guess, but this publisher is looking for “the change”… What happens to the MC along the journey that makes him or her a better person?  This, again, brings me back to my own novel (and you should be thinking about yours)

Does my main character change?  Well, yes.

  • He starts out confident,
  • Gets ripped away from his family, get unconfident.
  • He gets the approval of the King, gets confident,
  • He leaves the King’s house, gets picked on all the time, and gets unconfident again
  • Finally, in the end, he steps up to the plate, and proves his worth in the climax.

However—does he think about this in the closing scene?  Well, no, he doesn’t.  But… in the last few lines there is another change that slaps the reader in the face with an “Oh my Gosh!”

My overall change, like in the Gold Mine Manuscript, happens during the climax.  Then there is this little hook after the wind-down in the last paragraph, which could be considered an epiphany.  It includes another change, and then a “no way!”  Is this going to fly in the publisher’s opinion?  Dunno.

I changed my ending a lot in the last year to make sure my MC changes.  I had him fall in love, I had him not be in love, I had him flat, I dealt with amnesia, I had him accept who he was, I had him outright refuse to be the “chosen one”… yikes what I put this kid though!

Admittedly in the first draft, he really didn’t change at all… at least on the inside.  I didn’t know this was a pre-requisite for story-writing.  Now, I think the change is there.  At least, I THINK THAT’S WHAT I WROTE (Go back and read that post if you don’t remember it)

I hope my stab at an exciting last page didn’t “blow it” but I guess that’s for the publishers to decide.

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2015 addendum:  Three years after writing this original post, I am VERY conscious of character change. My stories have both a “plot” arc (The exciting stuff that happens in the story) and a “character arc” (How the characters *all of them* change throughout the story.)

Take a good look at your manuscript. How do your primary and secondary characters change as events of the story unfold? Are they the same person?

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Sometimes, no matter how tight the deadline, you need to just stop and pick up a pencil

I thought I was home free when I got a one month extension on my deadline.

I even used one day of my Writer’s Retreat weekend to start a new project. But now, with one more week to go on that deadline, I’m getting a little nervous.

Arghhh! PictureIt’s over-used words.

They are killing me.

It takes hours, sometimes days to remove a single word from the manuscript (I try not to repeat the same word within ten pages, but I’ve had to do every five pages on some of these)

But that’s not what this post is about.

Last night after dinner I settled in to my desk for a marathon editing session. My computer was just booting up when my eleven-year-old son came in and asked if I would teach him to draw a dragon.

Part of me wanted to say “No, Mommy has to work.”

But what good is life if you can’t spend a little time with your son?

So I broke out the drawing pencils, and we called up a YouTube video tutorial on drawing dragons.

We had a good laugh at how fast this lady could draw, and we had to stop it several times, but about an hour and a half later, we both had beautiful dragon pictures, and big smiles on our faces.

dragons

It was a wonderful time with my son (reminding me of when my oldest and I took Manga lessons together a few years ago)

So, I’m taking a few minutes before getting back to my editing to write this post and remind you that there are more important things in life than making your deadlines.

Of course, sleep is not one of them… so it’s going to be a very late night for me.

It’s okay. My son is worth it.

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The scary, but exciting journey of starting something new

Last weekend, after spending over a year writing the Fire in the Woods Series, I jumped into unknown territory. I started writing something brand new.

No___PressureIt suddenly struck me that the last two novels I’d written were contracted before I’d even written them. There was no query process. No doubt. No decisions to make (other than what to write the book about.)

It was kind of weird, come to think of it. Since they were already sold, the only person I really had to prove anything to was myself. (And ultimately, I suppose, the readers.)

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Huh womanBut now I was back in “unknownville”. I could write whatever I wanted. I could create entirely new characters. I could reach for different themes.

With a basic idea in mind (a solid premise, and a very defined ending) I set out to write just the first few pages of the book.  Before doing so, I did some basic character studies. I listed them out, decided who they were, what their goals were, and what their quirks might be. How do these characters know each other, and how would their interaction draw the main character through the story.

With that set, I wrote the first page. My goal was just to get out the “set up”, or the beginning of the novel, because this is always the hardest part for me.

1430695 YAY CHEERI was pleasantly surprised how the new characters flowed. The characters instantly came to life, developed their own voices, and added on to their character studies in ways that I hadn’t intended.

While I was writing, I found I could pare down the story slightly by combining two characters into one. An interesting concept, to combine these two very different characters, but I think it will give my story a touch or originality.

PKO_0010650 pink robe clockAll this so say, I ended up with a solid 3700 words written that first day. I was thrilled! I really wished that I had my last contracted manuscript handed in on time, because I would have loved to stick with it and kept the story going, but the back of my mind kept screaming “deadline”.

So, yes, I forced myself to go back to edit. But now I am totally excited for the day I hand in Book Three of Fire in the Woods, because I have a brand new world waiting for me.

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Yes, I will have to write a query, and the dreaded synopsis, and I will have to start the query process all over again once this new project is done… but I even look forward to that.

I am all juiced up to get back to the fun of creating something new.

Have you ever been super excited about a new project like this?

JenniFer_EatonF

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Lesson Twenty-One from a Manuscript Red Line: Common, and Cliché Themes

This one made me laugh.  There is a point in the Gold Mine manuscript where a secondary lead character finds out that someone is his father.  His reaction is “You’re . . . my . . . father?” (minor action element for dramatic effect). “My father?”

What made me laugh is that the publisher said “This immediately bought to mind Star Wars”

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

Now, I actually did not think “Star Wars” when I read it, but there is another element in this story that has since been removed…  My son and I (he also read the manuscript) were talking about this other element, and my husband said:  “She stole that from Star Wars!”  I was thinking it in the back of my head, but he verbalized it very well.

The problem is, Star Wars is not just a story that was written over thirty years ago.  It is a piece of Americana.  There are too many people in the USA, and in the world, who have seen Star Wars… even memorized it.  You simply CANNOT mess with themes like that anymore, unless you are careful.

Now, is this to say that no person will ever find out about questionable parentage again in literature?  No, of course not.  However, you need to be VERY CAREFUL when you do it.  Like this publisher stated in an earlier post… Find the uniqueness in what is not unique.

You need to make this your own.  When they read your tear-jerking scene, they should see only your characters in their minds, not Luke laying on that platform and then falling down the shaft.  If an element has been used before, and notably so, work that scene harder than any other scene.  Make sure, without a doubt, that the element is now YOURS.  Make them forget all about Luke Skywalker.

 

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JenniFer_EatonF