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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Check-in Post, 12/27/14

Now that you’ve had a full two minutes to marvel at the awesome title of this post—

With weddings to go to on the opposite side of California, holidays with family, a two-week cold, and planning for upcoming travels, I haven’t made much time to post on this blog or work on my novel in recent weeks. Here’s a brief update:

Traveling Again

Ray Romano and Patricia Heaton - Ray and Debra Barone in ItalyAs I’ll be going back to certain countries in Europe and Asia soon, I wanted to do some A.D.M. Was Here posts about my past trips before setting out again. That’s not going to happen, but I might write those posts while I’m revisiting those locations (I do like going to cafes in different countries and doing work there—feels a bit more like you live there, doing regular stuff while also taking in the local ambiance).

Coincidentally, as I sat down to write this, I chose a random season of Everybody Loves Raymond on Netflix and ended up with the episode where the Barones go to Italy (where I should be soon).

State of the Novel

I’m about 20,000 words into the second book of my series right now, and I’m currently waiting on some beta reader feedback before I go back and edit my first book yet again. Then, I’ll send out another batch of queries to potential agents. Hopefully, I can get some of this done on my many impending train rides, and also do some more research for indie publishing.

A Superhero, the Post-apocalypse, and World Domination

Infamous 2 - Cole MacGrath - Sucker PunchWhile sitting at home to nurse my cold, I’ve been going through a backlog of PS3 games I never finished, including Infamous 2 by Sucker Punch and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West by Ninja Theory. On top of that, I’ve been playing hours upon hours of Sid Meier’s Civilization V on the PC.

Infamous 2 has some questionable character designs and the story kind of fizzles out at the end (no matter which ending you go with), but the game is enjoyable. Enslaved is also fun, though the story isn’t as intriguing as reviews led me to believe (but it was compelling enough through the majority of the game), and there are a few glitches here and there (none of which are game-breaking, so it’s fine). Finally, judging from the many hours I’ve spent on Civilization V, it’s fairly safe to conclude that I think the Sid Meier game is worthwhile.

A.D.M. Was Here: Italy (Italia)

During one of my winter breaks in law school, I ditched my family for the holidays and spent two weeks in Italy.

Rome (Roma), Parte Uno

After flying into Fiumicino Airport, I hopped on the train to Termini Station in Rome. Having learned a few lessons in Tokyo and Seoul, I expertly made my way on Rome’s subway system and found my accommodations for my first night or so in Italy (that’s right—no wandering around with my luggage looking for my hotel this time!). I stayed in a private room at the B&B Night and Day.

Staying in a quiet corner

Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps

Nigh and Day was in a nice quiet area around the corner from a subway station and within easy walking distance of Trevi Fountain. I’m not sure I’d really call it a true bed and breakfast. It’s sort of an apartment suite that rents out the bedrooms and they don’t serve breakfast there. Rather, they give you a little coupon which you can use to redeem a pastry and drink at a nearby cafe (which, I think, is preferable to just sitting and eating in the apartment itself).

My first day in Rome, I spent a few hours walking around the city in a giant circle to the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Colosseum, Castel Sant’Angelo, and the Spanish Steps before I got tired and returned to the Night and Day for a rest.

New country added to my mental library—hooray for learning

Some ruins and stuff in RomeI met the folks staying in the other room of the Night and Day, folks from from Brunei (they were studying abroad in Scotland and traveling other parts of Europe during the break). Being awesomely American, I had no idea where Brunei was at the time. As soon as I got the chance, I Google’d the country and learned a bit about its history, its unique military situation, and other stuff (which I’ve since forgotten). There was at least one other person at the B&B we also talked to, but I’ve sort of forgotten. I’m going to assume it was an Australian guy (because anywhere you travel, at any time of the year, you will meet an Australian guy—it’s inevitable).

The five or however-many of us went out to dinner together and grabbed some dessert. I’m still in mild contact with some of the Bruneian folks (and met up with them when I went to Scotland on another trip). They’re very nice. Not as into drinking as I am (considering where they’re from, it makes sense), but nice.

One of these nights in Rome, I made my way down to The Yellow for the hostel bar. It wasn’t all that lively considering how close to Christmas it was, but I’d be back.

Christmas in the Vatican

Christmas in Saint Peter Square (Plaza)

So many people.

The next day was actually Christmas Day, so I went to stand among the crowd out in the Plaza of Saint Peter (Piazza San Pietro). Having not reserved a ticket to get into the Basilica for Christmas Mass (sounded too hectic for me), I ended up just people watching for a minute before wandering down Via Ottaviano to a fairly lively area north of Vatican City.

Venice (Venezia)

Since I planned on meeting my brother in Rome a week later, I didn’t stay in the capital for long after my initial arrival. The day after Christmas, I got on a train and shot up to Venice where it was substantially colder (still no snow, though they did salt some of the walkways to melt ice that formed overnight).

Venezia - Venice - View from the Hostel (I think)

View from my hostel window (I think).

Having done some proper research, I managed to avoid getting lost. The hostel wasn’t too hard to find—just had to cross the big bridge east of Santa Lucia Station, turn right, and look for a big red door for the Residenza Santa Croce (pretty good hostel in a good spot; it may be because it was right after Christmas, but it was also clean and not too crowded).

When I got to the six-person dorm room, there was no one in there. However, the luggage and clothing by the beds indicated that the room was nearly filled to capacity. As it was the middle of the day, obviously the other folks were out being touristy. After some solo-exploring, I came back to the hostel and met my dorm mates: a guy (from Hong Kong), and three young women (from Australia, South Korea, and a country in South America—I don’t remember which).

Cheap eats in Venice, and general touristy stuff with the guy from Hong Kong

Venice - VeneziaIt didn’t take much convincing on my part to get everyone to agree to go to dinner together (hostel people are normally pretty friendly).

We went down to a place called Brek, a sort of low-end cafeteria-style restaurant. The food wasn’t the greatest, but it was relatively cheap and conveniently located near the train station and our hostel—good enough for me to return a few times. An additional plus was that the restaurant had free wi-fi (the wi-fi in our hostel was basically non-existent).

San Marco Plaza

Piazza San Marco



On day two, being the only two Venice-noobs who haven’t walked to San Marco yet, the guy from Hong Kong and I spent half the day walking across the island to see the church and the plaza before it (it’s the biggest tourist destination on the main island). The walk itself was entertaining, seeing the canals, buildings, and people along the way, and the plaza itself was pretty cool (we didn’t opt to stand in line and pay to get into the church or the tower).

Excuse the partially obscured foul language graffiti.

Pizza al Volo. Excuse the partially obscured foul language graffiti.

In another plaza near a bunch of schools and libraries there’s a place called Pizza al Volo which sold what I could call a New York style pizza by the slice for just two euros a piece. It was good, and I would assume it’s priced that way because it’s near the schools. I don’t think there’s a place to sit inside, but one of the awesome things with Italy is its many plazas. On my second visit to Pizza al Volo I sat outside and watched some kids kick a soccer ball around (er, a football—and in a non-creepy manner).

Something notable about Venice is that it pretty much has no night life. So, on night two, I rallied the Australian girl and Hong Kong guy to go pick up some alcoholic beverages from the supermarket and drink in our hostel. We didn’t get particularly wasted, but it was fun.

Boating to the other islands

A house on one of the islands.

A house on one of the islands.

On the third day, I think all my original hostel buddies left except for the girl from Australia who also ditched me for the the morning to go on a day trip to Verona. It was okay, though, as I sort of had other plans: taking the water bus to the other islands—Murano, known for blown glass, and Burano, known for its lace.

While on the water bus, I was recognized (purely from my clothing) as an American by a Californian woman traveling with her Italian husband and his friends—more Italian folks (including an adorable little girl of about five or so), and a nineteen-year-old German girl who interned at the husband’s work. Pretty random, but this led me to what was probably the best meal I had while in Italy. Eating with Italians while in Italy is a pretty good idea. That frutti di mare pasta was worth every cent.

That crooked bell tower.

That crooked bell tower.

I’m not sure why I remember this of all things, but the Italian husband (who had moved to the United States for work) was complaining about how it was really hard (or impossible) to get good bread in the States, and that he thought ketchup was kind of gross. He said something along the lines of ketchup being a weird sugared-up version of tomato sauce.

Oh, and one of the other Italian guys also pointed out a tilted church bell tower, saying that Italians can’t build straight (referencing the Tower of Pisa, of course).

Back at the hostel, the Australian girl and I returned to our beloved Brek.

Four days in Venice is two days too many—unless you have good company

Kind of dorky and adorable, the girl from Brisbane (which she affectionately referred to as Bris-boring) was a bit too young for me to really pursue romantically. She’s part of the generation that really grew up with Harry Potter. She confessed to me how disappointed she was when she turned eleven and didn’t get a letter from Hogwarts. Shortly after she found out she was a Muggle, her father introduced her to The Lord of the Rings, making her an adorable nerd for life. She also has a tendency to trip over things, and slip into puddles of mud.

Venice - Venezia 3On my fourth day in Venice, I felt I’d already done most of the normal touristy things I could there (at least for a person with a moderate budget). The girl and I walked down to the end of the main island, away from all the other tourists, to a little park at the end. On the way, there were a bunch of houses occupied by locals as opposed to abundance of hotels and restaurants you see on other parts of the island.

For dinner, we ventured away from the cafeteria-style Brek to a more proper restaurant. She laughed awkwardly when the waiter assumed I was going to order for her. I asked her why though it was obvious she was laughing ’cause the guy thought we were on a date.

That night, we were surprised with a new roommate when we got back to the hostel—a kid from Belgium who spoke English like an Englishman. He was perfectly nice, but he basically turned the lights off on us at some absurdly early hour (maybe 9 or 10 PM).

Arrividerci, Venezia

Santa Lucia Station in VeniceThe last day in Venice, the girl and I went to some cafe in the morning for breakfast where she utilized more free wi-fi to book a weird set of train tickets to make her way up to Paris (a lot of the trains were already booked up).

I, on the other hand, already had my train tickets to go back to Rome and meetup with my brother.

We said our goodbyes and parted ways (well, I’m still facebook friends with five or so of the people I met in Venice).

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Waiting for Agents, Revising the Manuscript, and Milking Cows

Waiting for Agents . . .

Waiting for agents to confirm that they hate my book (or not) has been somewhat stressful. As I wait for those who have my partial/full to finish partying in Frankfurt (there’s a giant book fair thing over there right now) and read rejections from other folks, I grow more doubtful of my manuscript and query.

Not fun.

It’s popular advice for writers with novels out on submission to begin working on another projecttheir next book, short stories, poetry, or whatever. Aside from getting your mind off the wait, it also prevents you from altering the manuscript that’s currently out on submission. You know, just in case the agents you’re waiting on actually love your MS and would be appalled by changes (because that totally happens).

Against this advice and my earlier wishes not to revise, I’m going to begin outlining and implementing major revisions for my novel.

Revising the Manuscript . . .

The plan is to condense, combine, and excise entire scenes; save the awesome, and replace everything else with more awesome. The current ending will be altered to become part of the rising action. Then, I’ll add a new ending which I came up with while listening to music in my car (a scene of unprecedented awesomenessyou can verify this claim after you put some money in my wallet).

And, well, I could always revert back to an older draft if an agent actually likes it.

Milking Cows . . .
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Rules of Writing Fiction – Dual Protagonists, Prologues and Whatnot

Not Quite Verboten

Basic fiction writing advice warns against prologues, dream sequences, flashbacks, adverbs, and dual/multiple protagonists. Over time, these conventions have come to be treated by many as absolute rules, or at least spoken of as if they were absolute rules.

This past weekend at the Southern California Writers’ Conference, some of these “mistakes” made appearances in the writing of attendees. After a bit of discourse, many of us came to the same conclusion: these devices are warned against because of the difficulty in handling them, but with the right amount of talent and hard work, a writer can defy these conventions without shooting herself in the foot.

A quick Google search would lead you to very similar conclusions, which makes it even more peculiar how often people seem to forget these rules aren’t set in stone.

More so than any other writer or SCWC attendee, Oz Monroe acted as a voice of reason in regards to these “rules,” reminding us (on several occasions) that you can break just about any writing convention so long as you do it well (quite a caveat, but still).

Dual (Multiple) Protagonists

June and Day of Legend

Marie Lu’s Legend is considered by many to feature dual protagonists, though for certain reasons Day can easily be construed as an antagonist (e.g., for ease of pitching the novel).

Baseline convention: stick to one primary protagonist. Other major characters must be limited to the role of an antagonist or supporting character. Why can’t we have two (or more) primary protagonists? As I see it, there are two big reasons: (1) the difficulty in fleshing out all protagonists fully while maintaining a compelling narration; and (2) the difficulty in pitching a story with multiple protagonists.

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9 Maybe-Important Quotes of Fictional Characters

“[S]ometimes dogs or people hate you for no reason.” – Homer J. Simpson

Captured by this guy.

Captured by this guy.

In the episode of The Simpsons, “The Latest Gun in the West,” Homer gives Bart some rather sagely advice: at times, a person (or dog) will hate you with no logical explanation.

The implied point (assuming Homer can imply things), is that where someone’s dislike of you is entirely unreasonable, you should probably just get over it and move on. Or, as it is in Bart’s case, you can get a movie star to smooth things over for you.

Secret option #3 is to follow the wisdom of a masked vigilante known as V: “Violence can be used for good” (this doesn’t count as one of my nine quotes, because I said so).

I’d go with the movie star route myself.

“All that is gold does not glitter,/ Not all those who wander are lost, . . .” – Bilbo Baggins

Bilbo BagginsPenned by J.R.R. Tolkien in the real world, and stolen by Bilbo Baggins who pretends he wrote it in The Fellowship of the Ring. The first two lines of this poem are supposed to be in regards to Aragorn, son of Arathorn, who lives most of his life as a wandering ranger doing awesome things for the denizens of Middle Earth (so long as they’re not from some foreign land in the east and south which he seems to know nothing about).

Both these lines are oft-quoted, with people using the first to say something is more awesome than it first appears. The second line is overused by literature-reading backpackers who like to pretend their drinking, off-the-beaten-path travels to the middle of nowhere, and attempts at hostel promiscuity makes them as cool as Aragorn. I mean, they might be cool, but those three things alone aren’t going to cut it.

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