Writing and Rewriting That First Chapter

The first chapter might be the most important chapter in a novel.

Whether you’re trying to entice an agent or publisher for traditional publishing, or trying to keep readers who’ve picked up your self-published masterpiece, the first chapter needs to be a great hook.

There are plenty of articles out there which detail some elements of a good opening chapter (like this one from Writers’ Digest which describes several agent-repelling mistakes, and this list of tips by Chuck Wendig).

So, rather than try to provide comprehensive advice here, I’m focusing on three major issues I’ve encountered while writing my own first chapter(s): (1) knowing where to start the narration; (2) being able to set aside perfectionism so you can finish the rest of the manuscript; and (3) having the humility to make major changes.

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Argh—So Much Editing

“I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time.”

Every time I finish a round of editing on my novel manuscript I think something along the lines of, “Cripes, it’s so much better now.” This has happened about fifteen or sixteen times and it makes me afraid of how crappy the first drafts must have been. Continue reading

Lessons While Editing My Novel

With so many writing conventions and diverging schools of thought, it’s impossible for a single human being to learn it all (except for Yeezus, of course). However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make the effort to keep improving our craft. Giving up is for poets and the French (bonus tip: don’t make fun of poets or the French on your blog).

So, in the spirit of not giving up, here’s another list of writing-related lessons I’ve conjured up while drinking an ill-advised mix of Mountain Dew and Stella Artois (mostly lessons that were re-learned and reinforced):

1. Unnecessary scene changes to your readers is as tea to Phoebe Buffay (Hint: “Tea gives Phoebe the trots.”).

Maybe you actually want your book to make people rush to the toilet, but for those of you who don’t, you should carefully assess the number of settings you push your characters through in a single chapter.

Essentially, you have to consider whether a change in setting is necessary. Do you absolutely need the change in ambiance? Are you trying to jump through different settings to expose the reader to the different places you created during your manic world-building episode? Can you get the same plot advances, character development, and evoke the same emotions by having everything occur in the same place? If you answered yes to that last question, make it occur in the same place. Otherwise, you’ll waste time and word counts shuffling your characters between locations.

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10 Tips for Better Writing!

Advice Dog Writing Tip

After being inspired by a guy who thinks lists of writing tips suck, I decided to create a list of writing tips. Yeah, this post started out as a joke and then it kind of got away from me. 

Enjoy!

1. Learn to spell.

If you can’t spell, your writing’s probably going to suck. Buy a dictionary, chump.

Of course, certain words may be spelled differently depending on the region you’re in. Fun Fact #2 (there is no #1): Some years ago, certain folks decided to deviate from French-influenced phonetics and started to omit the “u” from certain words (e.g., going from “colour” to “color”). It stuck in the United States.

2. Use the hashtag #AmWriting as much as frickin’ possible.

Not only will this seem annoying and pretentious, it will also help you connect with fellow writers with whom you can develop alongside and form a network of support.

Originally, I did think the hashtag was a bit on the lame side. It reminded me of the Family Guy joke poking fun at writers who conspicuously write in public for validation. However, I’ve seen others who have used the hashtag to form a good network of earnest writer-friends and, to be quite honest, I’m jealous.

3. Read more novels and watch more movies.

That way you can rip them off and pretend you thought of it first.

Alternatively, you can learn to improve your craft from observing how successful authors set the pacing for their scenes and overall plot, or how they develop tension and make use of white space. You could also take notes of mistakes of other authors—if they didn’t spend enough time to develop a character’s motives and personalities before expecting the reader to care, or if there’s too much fancy prose in a segment which makes it difficult to keep a fast pace. Maybe you can at least pick up a new vocabulary word.

Oh, and if you’re familiar with other work in your genres, you can also avoid accidentally writing something that’s already been done. Those aren’t so easy to sell.

4. Get critiqued.

A good cry can be nice, sometimes.

Receiving feedback on your writing is an important part of improving your writing chops. However, the key to taking criticism is staying patient and logical. You shouldn’t quickly dismiss advice you don’t like, but you also shouldn’t assume that because one person hates something that everyone else feels the same. Get several opinions and see where they overlap; logically assess whether certain things are problems, and whether certain parts of your writing are truly awesome (at least to the majority of your target audience).

5. Critique others.

Making other people cry can be rather satisfying. Also, there are other, more concrete benefits.

Giving critique helps you learn to take critique: You learn that, as a critic, it’s easy to find the bad bits in another person’s work while forgetting to point out the good ones. As such, when someone gives you your own manuscript marked up in red, you’ll understand he or she may have actually liked more of your work than the quantity of red might indicate.

On top of that, when you see mistakes others make, you might just realize you’re making the same ones.

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Awesome Character #3: Lisa Hayes (Misa Hayase)

Lisa HayesFrom Macross to Robotech

Robotech is a localization of three separate Japanese anime series, pieced together so there would be enough episodes for American television in the 1980s. The first part of Robotech, known as the Macross Saga, was adapted from Super Dimension Fortress Macross (Macross) and is largely the same as its source material. The most significant changes were the names and ethnicity of some characters and removal of what folks deemed to be excessive violence, drinking, and nudity (today, none of that stuff would be cut).

The Japanese characters, Hikaru Ichijyo and Misa Hayase, were made Americans (not through immigration and naturalization) and we wound up with Rick Hunter and Lisa Hayes. In terms of personality and action, Lisa and Misa is the same character.

A few years after the release of the TV series, Robotech was adapted into a novel series that expanded upon the story, adding a bit more depth.

By feats alone

Lisa begins the series as a Lieutenant and the First Officer of the SDF-1, making her the second-in-command of the entire ship (the XO, if Robotech used American military designations). She gets promoted a number of times throughout the series. On more than one occasion, Lisa is responsible for saving the asses of thousands of people (e.g., the Daedalus Maneuver, and that time on Mars). By her feats alone, Lisa’s pretty impressive.

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Juggling Writing Projects

As it stands, I’m waiting on two more beta readers to give me feedback on REMNANT OF US before I start working on draft 14 of that manuscript. At the same time, I’ve substantially started two other fiction projects: one concerning a demon protagonist, and the other concerning superheroes.

And, yeah, this is a writing post. You’ve been warned.

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Help Mah! Looking for Beta Readers for MS #1

Beta Readers Wanted - A.D. MartinUpdate 2/26: Not currently looking for any more beta readers at this time. Feel free to keep in touch, though. I’ll inevitably need more beta readers in the future.

Hello Dorks and Non-dorks (you know who you are),

I’m looking for more beta readers to give me feedback on my novel, Remnant of Us, and help me make draft fourteen as awesome as possible before I send out one last set of query letters. Yeah, I’m finally publicly revealing the title to my manuscript which I’ve had for months, and also releasing a little blurb about it over on my My Novels page (feel free to send me politely worded emails with feedback on the blurb).

Preferably, beta readers are those who: already enjoy the genre; can give me substantial feedback about the plot, pacing, and feasibility in my novel; and has enough free time or reads fast enough to get back to me within two weeks or less (but, I’m flexible on the time).

If you’re interested in beta reading Remnant of Us, let me know by email through admartinwriting[at]gmail.com (replacing the [at] with @), or my twitter account @AD_Martin_ (in which case, you’d have to provide an email for me to correspond with). If you can, please provide a little background information about yourself and the kinds of books, TV shows, or films you enjoy, and how quickly you think you can read a 76,000 word manuscript.

Thanks, A.D. Martin

Just earlier today, I noticed a writer whose blog I follow ask for beta reader volunteers from her blogging/Twitter network and it seemed like a great idea. So, here were are.

Symbolism in Novels . . . Sort of Accidental

Double Rainbow What Does This MeanA while ago, I came across across an article on Mental Floss (fairly old news now) about how a teenage Bruce McAllister sent letters to famous authors in 1963 to ask whether they consciously (or subconsciously) placed symbolism into their writing and other related questions. The answers varied a bit, some are pretty funny on their own and others are hilarious given the contrast between the authors’ responses. Then, there’s also some useful information.

Back in my K12 years, I had thoughts similar to McAllister’s about symbolism in my reading assignments at school. One recurring thought I had was, “This is horse crap” (well, not those exact words). It wasn’t that I thought authors never intended certain symbols, or that they never created symbols by accident. I assumed that happened quite often. However, I remember my teacher(s) trying to sell me very vague and unlikely symbols (I also recall pulling symbols out of my ass and my teacher(s) agreeing with me about it). So, like McAllister, I wondered about whether these authors intended all the symbols that academics draw from their work.

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Here Comes Draft Thirteen – Editing, Querying, and… Indie-ing

Editingso much editing.

Captain Hindsight on Editing Your Novel

Thank you, Captain Hindsight!

I began my blog seven months ago while working on draft six of my novel.

Since then, I’ve made so many major revisions to this manuscript that it’s nearly unrecognizable from its earlier versions. If not for the names of the protagonists, draft one and draft twelve might seem like they’re set in entirely different worlds. Place names and supporting character names have changed drastically, the structure of the plot has been broken down and pieced back together in so many different ways, and the overall pacing of the novel has (supposedly) been improved to read faster from beginning to end with a surge of adrenaline near the climax.

The process of editing this novel is already many times longer than writing the initial draft and that’s how it should be (I’ll say it again, a novel simply cannot be “finished” until it’s been edited, repeatedly—first, for plot structure, pacing, and feasibility; a focus on grammar, spelling, and typos comes later).

With every round of editing, it was clear that my MS was getting stronger and stronger. However, the feeling that the novel would never be perfect just does not go away. So, my current plan is to go for something “as close to perfect as possible, given a reasonable span of time and amount of effort” (don’t ask me how many years is too long, and how much effort is too much). Continue reading

A Good Hook or a Pile of Cheese?

Tilsit Cheese by John Sullivan - Public Domain Image

Hopping along the interwebs, I’ve seen a lot of agent query hooksthe one or two sentences that’re supposed to grab a literary agent’s attention. A few are good, some are horrible, but most are just okay (and being “just okay” generally won’t get you anywhere).

Keeping in mind that it’s in the nature of fiction to be subjective, I’ve noticed a lot of hooks deemed good by others aren’t particularly pleasing to me. If I were drinking my skinny caramel latte while reading these things, my computer would be in danger of being splattered with coffee, low-fat milk, and artificial flavoring. A lot of these so-called good hooks reek of cheesiness.

And, well, cheese seems to work. Continue reading