Just Write Cat

One Writer, One Journey

Boiling it Down… March 28, 2010

Filed under: Write — justwritecat @ 4:14 am
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Loglines.  Hate ’em, can’t write ’em.  Not at all.  I think it requires a different kind of talent, or maybe someone who is less chatty.  I’m a native Texan – Texans like to chat.  We like to see just how long we can make a sentence, and then we string along as many of those sentences as we can and make a really long paragraph. We’re verbose, alright?  Which is interesting, because when I write fiction I tend to write ‘small’.  Short, snappy sentences are my goal (don’t always reach my goal, but I try).

My academic writing (in my previous life I’ve been a grad student, college instructor, and academic chair for an online university) is verbose.  But, most academic writing is….graduate students are trained to write lengthy, involved papers that are rarely read for pleasure. 

My very first attempt at writing fiction was academic in nature – meaning, drawn-out and boring.  I quickly realized I had to learn how to write fiction!  Not that fiction can’t be all long and flowing, but for me – it has to be short and sharp.  I think that’s my voice.  I’m not sure, because I still don’t quite understand the whole concept of voice in one’s writing.  When someone tells me my voice really comes through or they love the voice in my writing, I nod and say why, thank you.  But inside – I really have no idea what my voice is.  Some day, perhaps.  But I digress…

Even though I aim for conciseness in my writing, my natural tendency is for verbosity.  And that’s why I have so much trouble writing loglines.  A logline is essentially one sentence that tells your reader what your story is about – a hook or premise, but also something about the overall feel of your story.  Querytracker posted a fantastic article on loglines.  According to the article, loglines should convey three things – the plot, the genre and the tone.  If you can boil down your story to one sentence that effectively covers those three things – you’re in business.

Sounds simple enough, but it’s darn hard to strip away everything until you have one line.  Writing a synopsis is hard enough, a query even moreso….but the logline (I like to call it the hook’ em line)….fuggedaboutit.  There are so many aspects to any story, and trying to find that one key element is challenging.  It forces you to give serious thought to the point of your story – what it’s about, why anyone should read it, why it’s unique. Tough questions to answer.

I’m entering yet another opening paragraph contest, which requires a hook ’em line.  The past couple of days I’ve been trying to improve mine.  Here’s what I came up with:

Booze, blood, and broads – three things medical examiner Joe Cooper can never get enough of, but it’s his hunger for justice that fuels the hunt for a gang of rogue vampires hell-bent on breaking all the laws that govern his kind.

I like the first part, but I’m not sure if the last part is specific enough.  Here’s another one, with a slight variation:

Booze, blood and broads – three things that medical examiner Joe Cooper can never get enough of, but it’s his hunger for justice that fuels the hunt for a gang of rogue vampires on a killing spree during Baltimore’s peak tourist season.

This one offers more detail – that bad vampires are killing people, but I’m not sure it flows.

Here’s one more:

Booze, blood and broads – three things medical examiner Joe Cooper can never get enough of, but it’s his hunger for justice that fuels the hunt for a gang of rogue vampires leaving a trail of human – and vampire – blood through the streets of Charm City.

I like the flow of this one – but again, not sure if it is clear enough or has enough tension.

 And finally, my original logline:

Joe Cooper’s a vampire with a lust for booze, blood and broads, but as Charm City’s on-loan medical examiner, it’s his hunger for justice that fuels the hunt for rogue vamps hell-bent on breaking all the laws that govern his kind.

I like any of the four loglines convey genre and tone, but I’m still unsure as to the plot.  Do any of the loglines really tell someone what’s going on in the story?

I’m open to your thoughts on my hook ’em lines – do any hook you?

Oh, and the contest also calls for your opening paragraph.  Mine is short, so I’m consider combining my first two paragraphs.  What do you think?

     Just me, a bottle of Oban, and Pamela the bartender.  Hard to tell which was smoother.  I’d just had Pamela, so I reached for the scotch.  I poured a double, leaned back in my bar stool and watched as

she started to close down the place.

     She shelved all but the bottle in front of me, wiped down the already gleaming bar, and then turned her attention to a few remaining dirty glasses.  She washed each one, and then began to dry them

with a glaringly white towel.  Her work was quick and focused, and she seemed eager to be done with it.  I knew the feeling.

So this would become:

     Just me, a bottle of Oban, and Pamela the bartender.  Hard to tell which was smoother.  I’d just had Pamela, so I reached for the scotch.  I poured a double, leaned back in my bar stool and watched as 

she started to close down the place.  She shelved all but the bottle in front of me, wiped down the already gleaming bar, and then turned her attention to a few remaining dirty glasses.  She washed each

one, and then began to dry them with a glaringly white towel.  Her work was quick and focused, and she seemed eager to be done with it.  I knew the feeling.

UPDATE – after much appreciated help by fellow tweeters, here’s what I’m going with…

Booze, blood and broads – three things medical examiner Joe Cooper can never get enough of, but when a mutilated corpse is left steps from his favorite bar, it’s Joe’s thirst for justice that fuels the hunt for rogue vampires hell-bent on breaking all the laws that govern his kind.

     Just me, a bottle of Oban, and Pamela the bartender.  Hard to tell which was smoother.  I’d just had Pamela, so I reached for the scotch.  I poured a double, leaned back in my barstool and watched as she started to close down the place.

 

Developmental Editor, More Changes March 27, 2010

Filed under: Editing,You Can't Do It Alone — justwritecat @ 3:03 am
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Here is another post on working with a developmental editor – this time, the focus is on more of the changes he suggested I make. 

In addition to helping with the tension and pacing of the first chapter, the editor suggested I add a chapter (chapter two) that covered all the rules of the world I’d created.  Specifically, what are vampires in ‘my world’ like?  How do they become vampires?  Where do they get their sustenance, and does someone have to die in the process?  Do others know vampires exist?  Inquiring minds…

In my draft, I tried to present this kind of information throughout the story – on a need-to-know basis.  While I thought that was the best way to weave details throughout the story, the editor said readers needed to know right off the bat (no pun intended).  Readers would have questions right away, and deserved answers.  O.k. – I could see his point.  And while I prefer stories that tease you with information, clearly my readers need to know some essentials for the story to make sense.  With so many vampire books out there, it was important to establish how my world was different.

I was really nervous about devoting an entire chapter to world-building. I thought it would stop the fast pace of the opening (made better by the editor’s suggestions) and would be too – well, too boring.  But I gave it a try.  The first go around, I hated it.  I mean, I liked some of the writing…but it seemed like another book, another voice.  It wasn’t Joe talking (my book is in 1st person), it was me talking.  And that wasn’t going to fly.  So I gave it another go and found a way to present the rules of the world in his voice.  And I liked it.  So did the editor. 

My goal was to begin to present to readers my vision of a world where vampires existed.  In this world, vampires remain relatively hidden – so this is not a book where humans know about vampires (w/ a few exceptions).  Or a world where vampires have taken over – at least not in an obvious way.  And because there are so many vampire books out there, I had to be clear about the basics – how vampires are created, how they can be destroyed, common myths as to shapeshifting…that sort of thing.

This is an example of trying something I never would have considered.  So score one for the editor (well, two given the changes he suggested I make to the opening).  And given some of the feedback I received on my first chapter, the added chapter will help readers better understand the story.

Another change – getting rid of baggage, anything or anyone that did not contribute to the story.  At first I thought this would be really tough – especially getting rid of characters.  Turns out, it was rather painless.  In my heart, I sort of knew I had way too many characters…what I needed help with was knowing which ones should go.  The editor and I talked about this a bit, but most of the decisions were mine.  I eliminated three characters right away – none were missed.  Two others were more important – part of a subplot (which the editor said was a tangent that did not contribute to the larger plot).  So, one was deleted…the other, I killed off later in the book.  Heh heh, that was sort of fun in a perverse, all-powerful sort of way.  Very cathartic.

He also pointed out a few scenes that were going nowhere, or ‘nothing happening here’ as he was wont to write in his comments.  I shaved off about five thousand words by getting rid of those scenes.  We did banter about the autopsy scenes (my character is a medical examiner), which ended up staying with minor revisions.  I don’t think the editor likes to read those types of scenes, but hey – my guy’s an ME, so there’s gotta be an autopsy somewhere – right?  And they are not too graphic, not as bad as CSI.

Through all these changes, I felt pretty good about the revision work and the process of working with a developmental editor.  Now, when we started discussing aspects of my characters’ personalities, that became….heated.  And the experience not as pleasant – but that’s the topic for my next post!

 

More Contests and Giveaways! March 10, 2010

Filed under: Baby Steps, Baby Steps — justwritecat @ 1:34 am
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I subscribe to many blogs – perhaps too many given how much time I spend reading said blogs, but I consider it time well-spent.  It’s important to feel that connection with other writers, both beginning and published.  It keeps me going, gives me that extra hit of confidence so necessary for new writers (or maybe all writers???).  And, by perusing blogs, you find out about awesome contests!  Book-giveaways, query critiques, opening lines….there are many contests worth checking out.  And the way I look at it – even if I don’t win, I’m putting myself and my work out there. 

Here are a few current contests:

Dear Lucky Agent contest at the always informative Guide to Literary Agents website.  I sent my entry last week, and learned a great deal about writing loglines (namely, that I’m not all that good at it).  This one is open until March 14 – so start writing those loglines!

Shooting Stars is hosting a Fantabulous Followers Giveaway, where prizes include books & other goodies.  Top prize super cool and perfect for unagented writers.  But you’ll have to check out the contest for the details! 

YA author Elana Johnson has a book-giveaway contest.  Details are here: Signed Book GiveAway  While you’re reading about the contest, check out the covers on the books she’s giving away.  I LOVE looking at YA book covers.  They are often fantastic.  Hmmm, what might the cover of my book look like (hey, it’s important to dream)??

If you know of any other contests, please send along and I’ll add them to this blog and send out a tweet. 

Happy Contesting….

Catherine

 

Change is Good…. March 4, 2010

Filed under: Baby Steps, Baby Steps,Writing — justwritecat @ 10:16 pm
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I’m extremely overdue for posting an update on my revision work.  I apologize – I’ve been working hard on the revision…which is going much better than I originally expected.  When I first received the developmental editor’s feedback, I was um, a bit…miffed.  There were some suggestions that seemed so contrary to what I envisioned for my character, that I couldn’t get past it.  That was at first.  Now…now I’m much more o.k. with making the changes (most, not all – you have to stay true to the vision of your story).

I’m an impatient person.  And stubborn.  And I’d rather be in control of what happens to me than not.  Not necessarily in control of a situation – I can go along for the ride if someone else is in charge.  But I need to know – or like to think I know – what my role in something is or might be.  I don’t like to go into anything with blinders on.  And that’s exactly what you have to do when you turn your manuscript over to someone.  You never know what he or she will like/hate/feels is not essential to your storyline.

And that’s o.k. – because if you desire an honest, professional, objective opinion on your work (and you should), then you have to be willing to give up some things, be willing to open your mind to the input and suggestions.  And to the possibilities.  Because after giving serious thought to the editor’s suggestions, I realized he was right about so many things.   And so the next several posts will cover the changes I made based on the editor’s feedback and a ‘re-vision’ of my characters and the plot.

Here’s the first one…

I’d been told by three editors and one agent that my opening was good, but the pacing needed attention.  The opening lines grabbed their attention, but then the scene quickly spiraled downward (not their words, they were much too kind…but that was the gist).  One editor said it felt as if I was setting up a scene, rather than letting the action play out.  And that comment made perfect sense.  In the original opening, my protagonist – Joe Cooper – is having a drink at a bar.  He’s listening to the bartender tell him about some creepy teens that were in the place earlier (it’s also a restaurant).  The teens had tried to hit on one of the younger waitresses – in a way that suggested the teens were of Joe’s kind (he’s a vampire).  As the bartender is relating the story, the same teens come in and the action starts.

The feedback I received suggested I get rid of all the set-up and just have the teens walk in and start acting in a way that quickly gets Joe’s attention.  I made the changes – and wow, what a difference in pacing and tension.  So really, a simple change but one that I would never had made without that outside feedback.  It’s tough to see the problems in your own work.  And even when you do, it’s not easy to know how to make a change for the better. 

Sure, looking at the original scene now I see the problems, but before, I couldn’t.  I thought setting up the confrontation was o.k., but it just made things drag.  Lesson learned – don’t set things up more than you need to, just go with the action if you want a fast-paced opening (or any scene).  If you want to slow things down, that’s different – but you don’t want slow right out of the gate. 

What about the opening to your book?  Does it get reader attention right away?  More importantly, does it keep their attention?  Think about it – how many times have you picked up a book at the bookstore or library, read the first few lines, and then put the book right back down.  What about those books that draw you in immediately, and never let you go?  You know the ones I’m talking about  – the ones that keep you awake until four in the morning, even though it’s a weeknight and you know you’re going to pay for it the next day?  Or that make you forget about your family, your other responsibilities, your own life because you simply cannot put the book down? 

That’s the kind of book I want to write.  And with the help from the developmental editor, I’m closer to that goal.