Tag Archives: writing

Lesson Twenty-Seven from a Manuscript Red Line: Fluidity in Action – How to write a good action scene

Disclaimer – I have a “rewritten” fight scene below.  It is FAR from well written. There are a few show verses tell issues in it that I hadn’t noticed a few years ago when this originally posted. But I think it still gets its point across. (And I don’t have time to re-write it since this post is already late. Ha!)

An example of a poorly written action scene:

Jason punched Eric in the face.  Eric fell to the floor.  Eric groaned and rolled over.   Jason wiped his chin and laughed.  Eric popped up, and Eric swung at Jason, but missed.  Jason ducked and swung at the same time.  Eric crumpled to the floor.

(Yes, I totally made this paragraph up.)

The publisher’s comment on a similar (but not as poorly written) sceneThis is a very stilted fight scene. It reads action, next action, next action, next action without the fluidity that’s needed for a fight scene.

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.

I have to admit, when I read the action passages in the Gold Mine Manuscript, I had the same comment.  The author was satisfied with the speed of the scenes though, and only made moderate changes.  Not being an expert, I backed off and figured it was just a “style choice”.  Guess not.

This fits in very well with my recent post on “Art of the Conflict”.  This scene is not about dialog, but this is definitely a conflict.  This one needs something inserted to break up the action, rather than action inserted to break up the dialog.

Now, I am not going to put a lot of time into this, since the scene is totally fake.  But let me add a little “art” to make it “flow”.  Fluidity is what they asked for.  Okay, here it goes…

Jason grunted as his fist swung toward Eric’s face.  Eric tried to dodge, but instead felt the sting of the older boy’s ring cutting into his jaw.  He fell to the floor with a muffled thump, and groaned as he rolled over.

Jason wiped his chin and laughed.  “I told you to stay down.”

Eric pushed up onto his knees.  “Why, so you can just pummel me?”  He popped up and swung at Jason, but missed.

Jason ducked and swung at the same time.  There was no time for Eric to react.  His head creaked back, and his jaw rattled as he crumpled to the floor.

Better, huh?  Not perfect by a long shot, but not bad for three minute flash fiction.  Can you feel the difference?  The staccato choppy “This happened-That happened” feel is gone, and the scene “flows”.

Of course, this is a first draft.  In editing, I would have to remove the “ing” word and the telly “felt”.  I would also insert a little emotion when Eric realized he missed, but this is definitely better by far than the first.  The art draws you into the scene.  You experience it, rather than just watching it.

The art of the conflict… If you don’t have it, go get it.

If you want to see a great published example, pick up a copy of  THRONE by Phillip Tucker and open up anywhere in the last hundred pages or so.

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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.)

Should_I_be_nervous

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.

The_Synopsis

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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Taking a deep breath and admitting “I can’t do it.”

“I can’t do it.”

Wow… coming from a neurotic, over-achiever-based upbringing, you would not believe how hard it was for me to type those words … or how hard it was for me to contact my publisher and ask for an extension.

When I was offered a three-book-deal for FIRE IN THE WOODS, I knew it came with some pretty serious deadlines.  But being the psycho I am, I took it as a challenge.

The first challenge was to come up with a concept for Book Two, outline, write the book, beta the book, polish and submit ALL WITHIN 4.5 MONTHS. (While promoting the high-speed release of book one)

Wow. 

But I made it! It was tight, but I did it.

However, in order to make the deadline for book three, I needed to start the next book during the beta-reading process of book 2.

That DID NOT happen.

But I thought I would be okay.  I still had four months to write book three. (Same deal: come up with a concept, write the book, outline, write the book, beta the book, polish and submit)  Heck, it was only two less weeks. I could pull that off, right?

WRONG.

In act two, I got hung up. The writing came slowly. It was not writer’s block, per say, but I just SLOWED DOWN.  On such a tight deadline, it killed me.

Did I finish the book on time?  Yes–and no.

I did finish the first draft two days before the deadline, but it was just that — a first draft. No one had read it but me.

I am in no way vain enough to think I can write a perfect first draft in four months and just hit the submit button. Nope. No way.

Enter my beta-reading army, who had already been through the first fifty pages by then (I do not recommend sending out part of your book to beta before you are done – I did this only out of necessity)

PKO_0013466 sadAnyway… These people have lives of their own, and it was unrealistic to ask them to finish a concise developmental edit and proofread in a few days.

So I had to take a deep breath,

suck it up,

and ask my publisher for an extension.

I'm_not_above_begging

I now have an extra month to get the final draft in.

Whew! What a relief…

Until my bubble burst and my edits for Book Two came back.

 Both novels are now due on the same day.

Seriously

Arghhh! PictureHa!  No pressure.

No pressure at all!

The good news is the developmental changes are minor for book two. I actually let them sit for a week while I finished reviewing beta comments for the third book.

And at this point, I firmly believe I will be handing both books over with a smile in three weeks.

No___Pressure

Anyway… Lessons learned:

  1. Wow. I can seriously write fast if I need to.
  2. Don’t make myself write that fast if I don’t have to. It made it “not fun”
  3. The relationships I’ve made along the way have totally paid off. I have friends who are wildly talented and willing to help. (And now I get to see their work before the rest of the world to pay back the favor. Woo-hoo!)

Soooo

Sooooo… that’s where I am.  A little bump in the road, but I don’t think it is a production-stopper.

Fire-in-the-Woods-Cover 3DA year ago, if you told me there would be three FIRE IN THE WOODS books I would have laughed at you… and here they are. And even though one is not completely polished yet, I am pretty proud of them. There is a whole lot of trouble that two teenagers can get into if I put my mind to it.

How’s your writing been going?

JenniFer_EatonF

Lesson Thirteen from a Manuscript Red Line: Keeping inside the Point Of View, Part 1

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

Gold_Mine_Manuscript

I used to slip out of my POV all the time, and now I am trying to really get my head inside the POV character so I am very aware of them and their surroundings.   I used to write partially omniscient, and I could see through walls and such.  Silly me.

This publisher noted that when you are in one character’s POV, make sure the narration does not tell something that the POV character cannot see.  For instance, if your character looks out the balcony window, thinks it’s a warm wonderful night, and then goes to bed.  Don’t Pre-tell with a three sentence closing scene of velociraptors swarming just on the other side of the trees, quarreling about who will get to eat your main character.

Great dramatic effect? Yes, and they use it in movies all the time, but the POV character can’t see it, so it’s a bit strange and out of place, right?

Hmmm.__Wait_a_minute_00000

Now, if they heard something in the bushes, a growl, something unsettling… that would work fine. Then let them go off to nighty-night.

The same goes for a passage like “What Jessica didn’t know, was that someone was stealing her car while she put on her makeup.”  If we are in Jessica’s POV, this doesn’t quite work.  We need to wait and follow Jessica out the door to find out WITH HER that her car was stolen.

Make sense?

 

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Lesson Ten from a Manuscript Red Line: Girls Rule and Boys Drool

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?

Note: Originally posted two years ago. See note at bottom of post…

Let me start out by stating… if your novel has a female protagonist… I HATE YOU.

PKO_0013466 sadWell, not really, but I’m jealous.  You don’t have to worry about a side-kick, because your Girl-Power is already there.  UGH!  This is annoying.

My BP and I actually had this conversation months ago.  We talked about how annoying it is that publishers all seem to want strong female characters only.  Well, at the same time, they are complaining that boys don’t read.  Go figure.

Both my BP and I have male MCs (main characters).  My BP at least already had a female side kick, but they actually asked her to beef her up and make her one of the main voice characters.  She’s working now on making her a more dynamic character.  I guess this is a good thing.  I like her.  She’s a tough cookie, but do we always have to have a girl?

Now, I am a girl, and I happen to like to read books about boys.  Boys tend to be stronger, and I don’t have to worry about annoying sappy emotional crap most of the time. [Ha! Since this originally posted, I’ve written FIRE IN THE WOODS. You never know where your muse will take you! ] I’m wondering if more boys actually would read if there was a wider variety of decent novels out there that didn’t force-feed them GIRLS just so the novels would be marketable to a female audience as well.   Maybe publishers are shooting themselves in the foot by not letting girl-free novels into the shelves?  I guess we will never know.

Yeah, I have to admit that Meagan has gotten more and more page-time in my novel, but I’m trying hard not to let her take over.  I’m trying to have her be there, with her own ominous annoying girly agenda, without spoiling the overall plot line.  Meagan is a princess and is trying to find a loophole that will let her marry Magellan, a commoner.  This actually works in nicely, because it makes the villain (her brother) more and more angry and homicidal every time he sees them together.

Hopefully I don’t have to make her too much more integral than she already is.  I want to be published, but I want the story to be intact when I’m done as well.  The story is definitely about a confused boy with no memory that has to save the galaxy… It’s not a love story.

Anyway… the point of this all is that publishers are still looking for a strong female presence in works that they are supporting.  They simply don’t believe there is enough of a male market of readers out there to support a strictly male protagonist.  They said they realized that a writer should not focus on writing to the market only, but it is something that publishers must consider.

Ugh.

Note:  I think times have changed somewhat on this. Big houses are still looking for girl books, because that is where the bread and butter is, but the qualified smaller houses are starting to reach more for the boy crowd. I have even seen a few agents interested in finding a good boy’s book. Times change – just go with the flow.

_JenniFer____EatoN

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Lesson Nine from a Manuscript Red Line: Written Any Good (Bad) Cliché’s lately?

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?

I found this photograph on Wikipedia with the definition of Cliché.  It’s pretty old, and the copy right is outdated.

You can tell, even with how old this cartoon is, that if they were making fun of some clichés this long ago, what would they think now?

I must admit, I am guilty myself of using the last one.  Now that I see it in a picture, I have to giggle.  Sometimes, I think you need to have something drawn to see the “funny” in it… Like tossing your head in the air.

The publisher who redlined the Gold Mine Manuscript marked “in a split Second”, “Looked her in the eye”, “Laid low” and “in all shapes and sizes” as  clichés.   They also said that eyes don’t meet, but gazes can meet.  (Can you picture two people’s eyes actually meeting?  Now that I have that visual, I stop every time I start typing it.)

Characters Dropping Eyeballs?

There are a lot more that are common, that we probably aren’t even aware we are using.  For me, now that I think of it… My characters always drop their eyes.  I guess I can change that to “lowered their gaze” since they aren’t actually dropping their eyeballs out of their heads.

I’ll also mention that they weren’t crazy about colloquial expressions either, as they thought they wouldn’t be understood by everyone, so use those sparingly as well.

Write on!

JenniFer_EatonF

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Lesson Six from the Gold Mine Manuscript Red Line: Watch that Voice! #MondayBlogs

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?

When you are writing, especially if you are writing YA or middle grade, watch the voice. In the Gold Mine Manuscript, I know I mentioned the voice when I was beta reading, but my BP said her teenager read it and said it was okay, so I figured maybe I was just behind the times.

In this novel, the Main Character is supposed to be 15, but my brain just made him 17 (no matter what the novel was telling me).  Do you know why?  I believe it was the voice.  I mentioned it, but my BP seemed comfortable with it, so we moved on.

I was also having the same struggle in my own novel, and was on an up and down roller coaster with my own young character’s voice, so I know how hard a young boy’s voice can be, so I knew I was no expert.

You know what the publisher marked up over and over again in the gold mine manuscript?  THE VOICE.

2014 Edit:  I had a wonderful opportunity to have my manuscript read by Harper Collins. They loved my story, but guess what they said I needed to work on?  VOICE. I knew voice was key to FIRE IN THE WOODS. As soon as I nailed the voice, I got an editor to pay attention.

[continued] They mentioned that teenagers answer in quips and half-completed sentences.  I have to admit, my middle graders do the same thing. No perfect grammar for them.  Simplicity is the key.  “Yeah” instead of “yes” is more realistic than a full sentence.

I’m wondering about my own novel on this one.  My kid is from another planet, and grows up under the tutelage of a King.  I don’t want him saying “yeah”, but I don’t want a publisher calling me on it, either.  Maybe a few of the other characters can slip on their grammar a little.  Hmmmm…

My suggestion:  If you are writing for teens, get several teens to read it and ask them to be honest.  Same goes for Middle Grade.  This publisher actually had a teenager read the manuscript to make sure of the voice, and the teen said it didn’t sound real and they didn’t get the words she was using.  Yikes.

Moral of the blog:

If anyone reads your manuscript and tells you that there are possible problems with the voice, I’d take them seriously… ask a few more people to read it.  Drop it on a web site (I like Nathan Bransford’s site).  Get as many opinions as you can.
In the end, you still might not end up okay.  (To be honest, my five-year old drops bonus S.A.T. words all the time, so if I wrote his voice for-real, this publisher would red-line it—so who knows?)

There are a lot of things I’ve not changed about my manuscript that people have mentioned, but voice is one that I have always paid attention to.  If one person mentions something, I may tweak just a little, but if a few people mention it, I tweak a lot.  There is still a possibility that my MC may age a few years in the opening scene, just because of voice issues.

Don’t fall in love with your characters so much that you cannot recognize that their voice is all-wrong.

Yay!__Gold_Mine_Manuscript_is_back!

Lesson Five from the Gold Mine Manuscript Red Line: Let’s keep it in the past #MondayBlogs

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?

Yay!__Gold_Mine_Manuscript_is_back!

I suppose this doesn’t work for those of you who are trying to write your novel in the present tense.  The Gold Mine Manuscript was written in past. This post pertains to “Past Tensers”

This publisher noted that present tense words are okay in dialog only.  In narration, they should be cut.

Now, in the gold mine manuscript, the present tense word was “almost” used as narration.  It was “sort of” an inner thought.  The POV character looked at a big mess, and was thinking about cleaning it up, and the narration said “he’d have to tackle it today.”  Now, I think the problem is that it was set off as narration, not as a complete inner thought.  If it was in italics, like the POV character was actually saying it in his head, it may have been okay (again, this is my opinion here).   But since this writer’s style is to have most of the character’s inner thoughts as narration instead of italic thought, this publisher found the use of “present tense” words to be a problem.

So, in a nutshell… if the narration says:  He’d have to take care of things today.  This is no good.

However, if the same character says out loud, or as an inner thought: “I’ll have to take care of this today.”  That is fine.

That’s a pretty simple one, but it might be one many overlook if they have their inner thoughts as narration.  This can be overcome simply be making your inner though more concrete, and putting them in italics so it is very clear that this is an inner-thought, and not the narration.

Amendment:  Guess what?   I just found one of these in my own manuscript!  In the MC’s POV, the narration says:  – It isn’t cold, like it is here.— Now, this isn’t past tense, but the “here” sounds weird because it is in the narration.  I need to change this into an italic thought, or change the wording to be slightly more detached.  One or the other.  It is basically the same principle.

Happy editing!

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Lesson Two from the Gold Mine Manuscript Red Line: Do we like your main character yet?

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?

Gold_Mine_Manuscript

I wasn’t going to write about this, but someone told me once they didn’t particularly like my main character, and I tried to make him a little more endearing right up front. If I had a bad Main Character (MC) intro, and my BP (Beta Partner) did too, then some of you may have done it, also. So, yes, I am going to blog about “making your main character likable”, even if it seems like a “Duh” thing to talk about.

On page three, the publisher said that the Main Character is portrayed as spoiled and we’re not led to feel any compassion for him. Now, in the case of the manuscript in question, this was partly done on purpose. We aren’t supposed to completely love this character. It’s part of his growing experience. I understood that once my BP explained it to me after I told her I didn’t particularly like him when I read the first chapter.

Think that over. I UNDERSTOOD THAT ONCE SHE EXPLAINED THAT TO ME.

You are not going to have the chance to “explain” to the agent you are querying, or the publisher you are submitting to, or to your reader… why your main character is the way they are. Even if they are completely despicable, there needs to be something about them that makes you drawn to them to keep them reading on. Either that, or something has to happen in the plot, and QUICK, that grabs their attention and distracts them. (That’s my two-cents… not sure an agent or a publisher would agree on the plot hiding what they would consider character flaws)

So, go back and look at those all-important first few pages, and make sure that your character is lovable to someone other than you.

Not to beat a dead horse (I will be talking about cliches shortly by the way) but GET SOME BETA READERS THAT YOU DON’T KNOW. You might be too close to your story to realize that your MC isn’t likable.

Amendment:  Just read a great blog  from CB Wentworth  about an author thinking up a character and falling in love with him.   I think we all fall in love with our characters in one way or another.  We just need to make sure our readers feel that love, too.  (I’m not saying Noah isn’t likable, by the way!  I’ve never met CB’s work.)

http://cbwentworth.wordpress.com/2011/09/05/one-photograph-changed-everything/

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Lesson One from the Gold Mine Manuscript Mark-Up: Write Without Looking

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?

Gold_Mine_ManuscriptHow many times do your characters look at something?  Mine do.  All the time.  I never thought it was a problem.  I feel really bad now, because I am the
“Show Vs. Tell Barracuda”, and I absolutely missed this…

If you say your character looks at something, you are telling the reader that they “look”.  Show the reader instead.

Example:  The wind blew cold, and Magellan looked up into the trees.  The branches bent and shook over his head.

Now, I honestly would not think this was telly, because I showed you what he was seeing right afterward.  My writing partner did the same thing in her manuscript.  The publisher highlighted the “looked” and said “rather than telling us what he is doing, show us what he sees instead.”

Suggested rewrite:  The wind blew cold, and Magellan pulled his jacket closer.  The branches bent and shook over his head.

Here, I took out the offensive “looked” kept the characterization by giving Magellan something to do (pulling his jacket closer), which gives me a place to mention his name.  (In case it’s needed)   I left the “what he saw” exactly the way it was originally written.  You can assume he looked up.  The whole scene actually flows better, and all I did was take a moment to pull out the word “look”.

Even better for you word count barracudas out there… count ‘em… there is one less word in the corrected example.  Yea for me!

Here’s another easy one:  He ran down the hall and looked at the dark stone walls.  The sconces were still lit and the light danced across the ceiling.

Easy fix:  He ran down the dark stone hallway.  The sconces were still lit and their light danced across the ceiling.

Now, I’ll be honest… This is not always this easy.  I’ve growled a little over some of these.  But I am going to try my best to take all of the “looks” out of my novel, unless they are in a personal thought… but I will be looking at those pretty closely as well.

Honestly, I emailed my friend yesterday on this, and she said she’s only taken out “most” of the looks.  Once in a while, your characters will have to “look”.  I am finding the same thing.  But I am finding that a lot of them can be removed easily like the ones above.  (We also discussed that we’ve read published novels that have “looks” in them.  yes, we know they exist… I’m just letting you know there is a publisher out there that redlined it and asked for a revision.)

I am finding I am taking out all of the “looking” that is being done by a POV character, and leaving some of the looks that are not from the POV character.
For instance, if another character in the room (not the POV character)
looks over at the door, you are not going to tell what they see, because you are not in their POV.  Therefore, it might to be okay to leave that look in there.
However, I do not let the POV character look up and see that the other character is looking at the door.  Does that make sense?

This, by the way, is just my opinion.  If I submit, and get slapped for these “looks” I will let you know ASAP.

If you can, get rid of any and all looking, because this publisher emphatically flagged it.  Only look as a last resort.

Hope you found this helpful!

Related Articles:http://kristinastanley.net/2011/09/01/listening-to-your-novel/