Thursday, September 12, 2013

Savage Jungle Query Pitch & First 250 Words

I thought it'd be fun to post the current query pitch and first page of the MG SF book I'm currently querying, SAVAGE JUNGLE. Enjoy!


Twelve-year-old wimp and self-designated videogame pro Kreith Briggs’s birthday is off to a great, but scary start: a wild safari with his Uncle Tonas through the most treacherous jungle in the whole universe. The tour’s real fun, if not a bit creepy, until Kreith discovers he and his uncle have been set up.
The jungle’s got seven of the ten most exotic—and most lethal—animal species in the universe, including the super-sneaky electrocat and the giant land squid.  But Wilmur Banx, the host of the tour, holds an old, even more lethal grudge against Uncle Tonas and the other twenty-four safari guests.  That’s why he strands each pair of victims in separate places in the jungle with zero protection from the universe's fiercest beasts.

Kreith and Uncle Tonas head toward an old research facility where they can call for help and get off the planet alive.  Only Kreith gets separated from his uncle and now he’s got no plan at all.  Armed with a trusty new guidebook and his knack for all things techno-nerdy, his and his uncle’s survival—not to mention the lives of any remaining safari guests—rests squarely on his puny shoulders.
FIRST 250 Words:

My heart rate doubles as Uncle Tonas hands me what I’ve been waiting for all day.  Heck, all year—a present about the size of my fist.  He always gets me the coolest gifts, like that fluorescent slug from planet Zambor last year for my eleventh birthday.

            I rip the wrapping paper off the present without removing the bow, lift the lid off the cardboard box, and peer inside.  A small electronic chip rests on the bottom.

What’s—?” I ask.

“It’s a book,” Uncle Tonas says, eyes wide in his huge, muscular face.  “Go on, download it.”  He leans forward with those monstrous shoulders of his, a cigar between his pointer and middle finger.  The total opposite of me.  Sure, I’m only twelve years old, but my overly large black sweatshirt and baggy jeans hide the fact I’m as skinny as Uncle Tonas’s pinky finger.

“Uh…okay.”  A book?  That’s what he got me—a book?  I try not to show my disappointment as I pick up the tiny chip and insert it into my Multipurpose Bracelet, my parents and Uncle Tonas looking on from the couch.  I should really try to be grateful.  It’s the thought that counts, after all.

“Would you like to download the book The Top 200 Most Treacherous Creatures in the Universe?” the MB asks in a voice as gruff as Uncle Tonas’s.  I set the MB’s voice to that because it sounds like his and he’s the man, though I’m starting to doubt that after this sorry present…

Saturday, July 13, 2013


So it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  I know.  Been pretty busy.  I recently entered an online writing contest (with my MG sci/fi novel) called Query Kombat that was a lot of fun and very helpful.  I’ve also been working full-time as a proofreader, so it’s a bit tougher to squeeze in the writing thing, but of course I manage.  I work on writing about 10 hours a week, and try to get in some good reading over the weekend as well.  Overall, it feels like an adequate amount of time. 

Now that my YA dystopian book is off to crit partners, I’ve returned to my humorous New Adult superhero fantasy book.  It’s been a while since I’ve looked at it, so the 10K words I’ve already written felt like an old, alien relic when I first read them again, which was awesome.  I’m going to try to get down a total of 25K words on the MS  before I shift back to the YA, but we’ll see how that goes.

One thing is for certain, it’s always nice to have at least a couple projects going on at the same time, because there will always be times when one is stalled (i.e., off to crit partners/agents/simply stewing/whatever), so it’s good to have a fall-back project to work on in the meantime.  Not sure I mentioned that before, but it’s certainly proven useful for me lately.  Anyway, that’s all for now.  Happy writing, everyone!

Monday, May 13, 2013

It's Official...Again

           So, concerning my MG dystopian story, currently titled The Adult Plague, I’ve decided yet again to change the genre (man, I’ve really been going against some stuff I’ve been saying on this blog lately!).  I am now changing it to YA.  For those who have read past entries on this blog, you’ve seen I’ve gone back and forth on this issue—MG vs. YA.  I even “officially” announced that I would keep the project MG, but, clearly, in hindsight, that wasn’t very official.

            I’ve yet again decided to change my story to YA because, well, despite the fact I had “decided” on MG, somewhere deep in the crevices of my brain something felt just plain off about that.  It just gnawed at me and gnawed at me and gnawed at me.  So, once again, I sought a couple more opinions on the matter, and I’ve decided to convert the story to YA.  This time it feels right (crossing my fingers it continues to feel that way when I actually start to make the changes to the manuscript).

            The interesting thing about this dilemma is that it just goes to show that sometimes you’ll come across tough decisions with your WIP, and sometimes said tough decisions take a long time to figure out.  It also goes to show that deep down you tend to know the correct solution to a dilemma, but might not be willing to listen to it.  And, like I said, eventually (hopefully) that solution makes itself apparent.  All that being said, I would like to thank everyone who’s given me input regarding this issue (you know who you are).  Clearly, I needed a lot of opinions, and they’ve all helped me arrive at the one I’ve made, so thanks so much!  OK, off to do some more revisions and then make the big MG-to-YA revision.  Wish me luck!

Monday, May 6, 2013

How I Manage Critiques

            I’m sure everyone has their own methods when it comes to this, but when I receive feedback on a story of mine from critique partners, I use the following handy-dandy steps (yes, I just said “handy-dandy”).

1.      I read the critique.  And that’s basically all I do—nothing else.  No mulling over the ideas, no making notes—just read it.  I also go in knowing that some of it (if not all of it) will feel like fire-breathing dragons, so I mentally prepare myself for that so it’s easier to take.  That’s another reason I don’t do anything but read the critique.  No use having my brain try to wrap its way around all the overwhelming (if that happens to be the case) feedback.

2.      I let the critique sit for a day or so.  During this time, I don’t think about the critique, or at least I try not it.  Sometimes I simply can’t help but think about it, and if I do, I let myself go ahead (I mean, sometimes you just can’t do anything about it).

3.      I read the critique again—for the second time—and it’s apparent I have some ideas/opinions on some of the points (my brain usually has done some subconscious thinking—and I didn’t even know it had!).  The critique also doesn’t feel quite as much like fire-breathing dragons as it did the first time I read it, which is nice. This time I’ll make comments next to points I agree with, or ones I don’t.  Some I’ll note that I still need to think about or perhaps would like more opinions on it from other critique partners.

4.      I let the critique sit for another day or so.  And, again, I try not to think about it.

5.      I reread the critique again—third time, people—including my notes next to each point.  This time, I’m starting to really get a solid idea of what parts of the critique make sense to me and which ones don’t.  Which then leads me to…

6.      I brainstorm the points I feel are valid (or I agree with) and that I need to find a way to incorporate/weave into the story.  Once I have “solutions” for each of those points, I write them down alongside said points on the critique.  And then, finally…

7.      I incorporate the feedback into my story, going point-by-point.

            So there you have it.  Sometimes I might not take that much time away from the critique or maybe I’ll take even more time, but I think it’s a good idea to take at least some time to let things mull around in your brain.  It really is amazing how much subconscious work your brain does.  You should really be grateful it works so hard for you, you know?

            So…how do you manage your critiques?

Monday, April 29, 2013


It’s been a while since I last posted, but I have a confession to make—I’m making a multi-pass through my MG dystopian manuscript, meaning that rather than going through the book just to look to fix one specific thing (such as making sure the world-building elements are woven seamlessly into the narrative rather than info-dumped), I’m going through looking to fix multiple things.  I know before I advised making one pass per element you wish to fix, so I’m pretty much going against my own advice here.  But I think it’s okay in this instance, because I feel I can handle fixing these particular things in one pass.  At least for this pass (as I’m sure there will be more to come based on later crit partner feedback).  Some of the things I’m fixing only apply to certain parts of the manuscript, though there are some over-arching ones, too.  If you’d like a feel for what I’m looking to fix, here’s a nice bulleted list:

·         Making sure the world-building elements are seamlessly woven throughout the story rather than info-dumped (bet you didn’t see that one coming)
·         Making sure a specific character’s dialogue is believable and consistent throughout the story
·         Making sure the world’s slang/language (has to do with world-building, too) is consistent and makes sense throughout the story
·         Smoothing over a particular romance element
·         Deepening the main character’s emotion at certain parts of the story

So those are just a few of the things I’m looking for in this multi-pass, and so far they feel manageable.  It’s also been a while since I’ve read through the book end to end, so it should be interesting, especially since I recently added in chunks of backstory and incorporated more of the overall world.  It’ll be interesting to see how those things are working (or if they’re not).  Will let you know how things progress.

Friday, April 5, 2013

World-building Tip: Incorporating the Big Picture

So sometimes I’m in the habit of leaving out or just plain forgetting to incorporate the “big picture” aspect of world-building when I write a story.  It’s no big deal.  It just means I need to brainstorm and flesh it out, and then incorporate it into the story.

What I mean by “big picture” when it comes to world-building is your world outside your “small picture world.”  There.  That explained it perfectly, right?

OK, I’ll give a couple examples to make it clearer.  One story I wrote recently takes place in an alien jungle (a kid and his uncle get lost in the jungle and need to escape it).  I spent so much time fleshing out the jungle and the creatures in it (small picture world-building) that I totally disregarded the big picture world, such as: What defines this new age of the future?  How did this age come to exist (i.e., how did humans on Earth evolve to the point where they could send spaceships to other planets and what not)?  In light of this new age and the changes that had to happen in order to get to this point, what are the fears and values of this society?  Etc., etc.

I’ll give another example.  I also recently wrote a story (an epic fantasy) that consisted of two neighboring nations that’d been at war with each other for generations.  One is made up of people who can telepathically control animals, whereas another is a group of technologically gifted people (an electric current runs through each of them) that have formed a city full of metal structures and complicated machinery (the people power the machines with the natural currents in their bodies).  I spent so much time brainstorming and ironing out how these two different societies function that I, again, forgot to consider the big-picture world (I did later, however), such as: What is the rest of the world like?  Are there other societies of different types of people?  If so, how do they affect these two groups/nations?  How did these two groups develop such different abilities based on the world they live in?  Etc., etc.
So, moral of story: It doesn’t matter when you do it, but make sure you set aside time to brainstorm your “big-picture” world if you haven’t already.  Then go and incorporate it into the story.  That way, your world (and story) has more of a complex, fully-fleshed feel.  Go on, try it. Think big, class.  Think BIG.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Dystopian Story Decision

So I’ve finally reached a decision when it comes to my dystopian story.  I know, I know, I’ve been deliberating over this story a lot recently on this blog, but that’s because I’ve been agonizing over a big decision—whether to keep it middle-grade or change it to young adult because of some of the story’s subject matter.

And my decision is (drum roll)....................................I’m keeping it MG.  At least for the time being.

I’ve discussed it with a couple critique partners, and we’ve reached the conclusion that if I remove the sex aspect, the story should stand okay as middle-grade, since there isn’t anything else about the story that would mark it as more appropriate for YA.  What also helped us (or me) arrive at this decision is that I’m simply more comfortable writing MG.  It comes more naturally versus writing YA, and since I already have a draft of the story written in MG-style, why change it to YA if I don’t really have to?  There are other reasons for keeping it MG, but these are the biggest.  That being said, if an agent or editor told me it’d be better as YA, then I’d definitely consider it and would probably make the change.  But as for now, I’m sticking to my guns with MG.
This all brings me to the fact I have plenty of revisions to dig into for this story, so I can finally take a sigh of relief on this YA vs. MG business (ah, the fun lulls in writing…definitely something I’d rather do without) and get busy.  Among other things, I plan on first removing the sex aspect of the story, then I’ll beef up some character motivations, and then I’ll incorporate more of the overall world of the story (since the story currently focuses more on the trees than the forest, if you know what I mean) into the, well, story.  Hmmmm…maybe I’ll do a blog post on that last one at some point…

Friday, March 22, 2013

Brainstorming Issues for my Dystopian Story

So I know I recently blogged about considering changing my dystopian novel from middle-grade to young adult because of the sexual content in the story, but now I’m leaning toward keeping it MG.  That being said, I’m having IMMENSE difficulty trying to figure this whole dilemma out.

There are a couple perks in keeping this story MG.  For one, that’s the current form it’s in now.  Changing it to YA would probably be very difficult for me.  I mean, if I absolutely have to, I’ll do it, of course.  It’s not like I’m afraid of a challenge, and I have to do what’s ultimately right for the story, of course, but a part of me is thinking that I have a lot of good things already in place here, and—at the moment, at least—I’m definitely more comfortable writing from an MG perspective/voice versus YA.
But if I stick with MG, that definitely means removing the “forced sex” aspect of my dystopian, since that’s too strong for MG.  And that’s fine.  I’ve been playing around with the idea of incorporating In Vitro Fertilization into the plot instead, and I think it could work.  That being said, I’m wondering about one major potential issue.
1.      Even though the forced sex aspect is gone, the story still deals with mating and bearing children, which might be a more reasonable subject for YA, but is it enough to make changing this story to YA essential???

That’s really the one major question that’s been eating away at my brain for the past couple weeks.  It’s a toughie, all right.  Anything else in this story that needs to be softened for MG, I’m pretty sure I can do it—at least with minimal difficulty (and I’m not sure there really is anything that does need to be softened, anyway).  But I’m really not sure about this one question, and it’s quite crucial to this story to keep the whole mating aspect in there.  If anybody has any ideas or opinions on this, please let me know!!!

*Sigh* It’s amazing how annoying these little brainstorming conundrums can be.  More than anything I want to be able to MOVE FORWARD with this story, which I’m hesitant to do at the moment in light of this dilemma, so hopefully I’ll figure this one out soon.
Writing—and life in general—is so much easier when you know exactly which step you should take next.

Alas, life isn’t always that way, though…

Friday, March 15, 2013

World-building Tip: Plight of a Stuck-in Detail

I've been playing around with the world-building details in my dystopian story, and have made a less-than-exhilarating discovery: sometimes the details feel like they’re a bit of an infodump, or shoved in there purely for the reader’s benefit.  And it’s true that they at least help the reader picture this world I’ve built, help flesh it out in their mind.  Definitely a good thing.  But the problem is some of those details feel stuck in there in the sense that they appear unnatural and out of place.  Like my Uncle Renaldo in a Where’s Waldo? book (OK, I don’t really have an Uncle Renaldo).  So…how does one fix that?  Well, here’s at least one solution: Make the world-building detail feel like it’s part of the main character’s natural thoughts in that moment of the story.       

Here’s an example from the second page of an earlier version of my dystopian story: “I went into my faction, a big suburban house at the end of a cul-de-sac where ten boys, including me, lived.” 

Well, that’s not very good, is it?  I mean, even though the reader doesn’t know what a faction is, my main character does, since he lives in this society, so the fact he sticks in a flat-out mini-explanation of it (“a big suburban house at the end of a cul-de-sac where ten boys, including me, lived”) feels pretty damned contrived, doesn’t it?

I’ll answer that for you: Oh hell yes (note how I left out the comma after the “oh” in order to imply that this is a fast, automatic response; crafty, huh?). 

Now here’s that same sentence, revised: “My faction house loomed in front of me at the end of the cul-de-sac.  The big suburban residence with its chipped white paint always gave me a warm, homey feeling, even though I only had one real friend in there.” 

Well, it might not be perfect, but it’s certainly an improvement.  The reason is because it feels more natural.  And why is that, class?  Because it’s more in the narrator’s voice.  The details of what a faction house is have been relocated so they flow in his thoughts.  Plus, I’ve added in the way he feels about the faction, which makes those details seem even more natural and prevalent to this moment in the story. 

Thank you for your rapt attention, class (*bows*).

Friday, March 8, 2013

MG to YA

So after receiving some feedback from crit partners, I'm considering making my MG dystopian book, The Adult Plague, a YA novel. The main reason is because some of the content (sexual content) is more appropriate for a YA audience. The society in my story forces kids to procreate, and that can come across as kind of icky/inappropriate for an MG audience versus YA.

Of course, making this change will come with its own set of challenges. I will probably have to beef up the plot (which will also help make the book longer, since it's only around 50,000 words long, which would suffice for MG, but would probably be better upward around 70,000 for YA). I will also have to add more/deepen the emotional content. I will also have to tinker with the prose to make it more suitable for YA, which is something that will probably be particularly difficult for me. I read YA all the time, but writing one—that’s a whole other story. I'm more versed in MG now, since my thesis for my MFA program had been an MG novel, but I think YA will prove to be a bit difficult.

My other option is to stick to MG, but soften the procreation aspect. I think it's possible, but I'd have to think on that one for a bit, so we'll see. At the moment I'm leaning toward shifting the story to YA, but I'm definitely going to have to give this whole thing some serious thought. Wish me luck!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Do What Feels Natural

When it comes to writing (and probably other things, but it’s not like I’m going to be talking about those here), it’s sometimes not a bad idea to simply do what feels natural to you, to give in to your strengths. I've recently come to the realization that I tend to write best in first-person POV. I have no idea why, but I noticed when I write in third-person, I tend to pull away from the protag a bit, be a bit distance-y. And, in general, that's something I always try to avoid.  I want to be right there in the protagonist’s direct thoughts and feelings, so readers feel like they’re perceiving the world and story through the protag’s eyes.  For me, that tends to lead to a stronger reading experience, and for me that’s best achieved in first-person.  Maybe when I write in third, the very fact that I refer to the protagonist as a “he” or “she,” rather than “I,” naturally starts to pull me away from the protag and things only get worse from there.  But either way, I wind up having to do lots of revision to make the POV tighter and closer when I write in third-person POV.  So now, I think I’m not going to fight it anymore, and just plain write in first-person POV. 

That’s not to say I won’t write in third-person if the story calls for it.  If I happen to think of a story idea that involves multiple POVs and it simply makes sense to go for third-person, then I will.  But I figure, why purposefully go for third when I tend to write better in first?  Why fight my nature?

I realized this same type about myself a while ago regarding the audience I write for.  At first I wrote adult stories, then realized very quickly I’m naturally better suited for a younger audience, so I wrote in the young adult genre.  But turns out I have more of a natural middle-grade voice, so now I write middle-grade, and I love it.  Why fight it, you know?

But again, that doesn’t mean I won’t write outside my natural comfort zone(s) should the occasion arise.  I plan to start writing my adult superhero story (now that I’m nearing pre-planning completion), and we’ll see how that goes.  But I’d say that, in general (as there are always exceptions, of course), write to your strengths and what feels natural to you.

Monday, February 11, 2013


So it appears I'm at a crossroads, which happens to writers all the time (or so I suspect) - one of those times when I'm really not sure what to work on next. Queries for my thesis for my Seton Hill Writing Popular Fiction MFA program are out to agents, my new middle-grade dystopian book is out with critique partners, and, well, I'm not sure what to do right now.

Part of that is because I'm still not sure what I'm going to do with my MG epic fantasy story. I don't even want to count how many times I've considered just trunking this story. I still love it, but I'm not really sure what to do with it. There are some revisions I could do, but part of me wonders if I shouldn't just chalk it up to a practice novel and move on. Especially since that new story idea (the adult superhero one) has been knocking on my door. That being said, I'm really not quite so sure the new story is the "real deal." Perhaps if I did some brainstorming for it, I'd figure that out. But then again I've worked so hard on the epic fantasy...In a way it seems like a waste not to keep plugging away on that one.

Argh! Don't you just hate times like these! And meanwhile, time passes and in the back of my head I wish I'd just be productive already! But I guess the fact of the matter is this is just part of the writing process. Figuring out what to work on next. So I guess I shouldn't let it get to me too much.

Well, wish me luck. Hopefully the answer to this mindbogglingly perplexing problem will solidify sooner rather than later.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Brand-spanking New Story Idea!

So within the past week I was bombarded with a new story idea.  It just hit me one day, and I was completely obsessed with it for two days straight.  It’s been only a few days since I first thought of the idea, but I still can’t stop thinking about it.  There are quite a few funny things about this (cue the nifty bullet points).

1.      Story ideas are incredibly rare for me.  So many writers are constantly bombarded by story ideas—usually with so many they get distracted and don’t know which one to write (or so I hear).  Not with me.  Story ideas that I’m genuinely excited about hardly ever come around.  The last one that did was the idea for my MG dystopian story, and that was about 8 or 9 months ago.  Yeah…it’s been that long since an idea pounced on me with its sharp, clingy claws (how's that for a metaphor?).

2.      This story idea is for an adult novel.  WHOA!!!  Seriously, at this point I thought for sure I was a children’s book writer (particularly within the science fiction/fantasy genres), and would be forever.  So now...maybe not.  This poses a couple problems for me, however.  Such as writing with an adult voice.  I’ve been trying to master a children’s voice (particularly a boy’s) for so long, it’d probably be quite tough for me to transition to an adult’s.  That, plus the book will have to be adult-length, and as I’ve said, I’m an extremely sparse writer.  So another whopping difficulty/challenge (not that I’m one to back down from a challenge; just sayin’).

3.      This story is a superhero story.  I’ve never written a superhero story before in my life!  I take it that makes this an Adult Fantasy novel, but I’m not even sure.  Something I will have to research, but it’s kind of wild that I’ve never done this type of story before.  But that’s also a part of the reason why I like it—it’s unique—to me, that is.  I’m sure there are a couple other superhero stories out there (OK, there are millions).

4.      The story idea was entirely built around a theme.  This is another first-time affair for me.  Usually I have to write the whole story, or at least most of it, before I even begin to understand what the theme/the whole point of it is.  But I literally built this story around the theme, so the theme is a massive reason why I’m really excited about this story idea right now.
So, yeah, a lot of firsts there.  It’s still way too early to know if I will go through with this story, but each time I think about it, I get goosebumps.  Of course, that’s happened to me before with other story ideas that wound up not panning out.  (One time I had an idea for an adult contemporary novel—even more out of my typical zone—but it wound up not panning out.)  Sometimes you just gotta cycle through a few ideas until you weed out the gold ones from the fake-gold ones.  Good thing is, I have a lot of time to figure that out about this one.  I’m still hard at work on my dystopian story, which has a long way to go before it’s done, and I’m still not entirely sure what I’ll do, if anything, with my MG epic fantasy story.  Either way, I’ll be sure to keep you posted about whether this new idea vanishes, leaving a green stain behind, or if it turns out to be the real thing.
How about you?  Do you cycle through story ideas a lot?  Are you constantly bombarded by ideas or does only the rare one entice you?

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Young Voice Tip

Last week I talked about making passes through your manuscript.  At that time I intended to work on my manuscript Ungifted, but I have shifted back to my middle-grade dystopian story, currently titled The Adult Plague. I’m not really sure why I’ve made the transition.  I think because I haven’t worked on it for a long time, and I feel like it’d be a fresher experience to go back to it, considering I’ve spent a fair amount of time on Ungifted lately.  Anyway, I plan on making a couple passes through The Adult Plague before I send it out to critique partners, but I wanted to talk about one of the passes I plan on making.

I’m going through the whole manuscript and making sure the story feels like it’s being told through the eyes of a twelve-year-old boy, since that’s the protagonist.  A part of this is simply making sure his emotions in any given scene are not only coming across, but are logical (for any person, not just a twelve-year-old boy).  Another part of that is making sure that the way he conveys those emotions or simply narrates the story sound like they’re coming from a kid (in terms of word choices and turns of phrases).  I’ve already started making this pass, and I’ve realized just how important a “young voice tip” I learned recently is (I learned it at my last residency at Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction MFA program in January): Kids exaggerate everything.  My protagonist’s mom didn’t tell him something a “thousand” times, she told him a “trillion.”  Something isn’t “big” or even “enormous,” it’s “ginormous” (sounds more extreme to me, anyway, since it’s a combination of the words “enormous” and “gigantic”).  Simply having my protagonist exaggerate things more makes him seem/feel like the twelve-year-old kid he is, and so far I think it’s working “extremely” well.  In fact, I think I’m going to get back to the manuscript and do even more of a “mind-blowingly incredible” job of that.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Fun Contest

I rarely find or hear of contests online. I have no idea why, but I simply don't bump into them. However, recently I was notified by a writer friend about a contest that looks quite interesting, particularly for science fiction writers of all kinds and/or young adult writers of all kinds. The contest is called the 13th "Dear Lucky Agent " Contest. I'll be entering. Good luck to those of you who do, too! Here's the link to the contest: Peace for now!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


And, no, I’m not talking about football or basketball passes, or illustrious, elevated mountain passes.  I’m talking about manuscript passes.  As every writer learns at some point (at least most writers), you can’t possibly get everything down in the first draft, or second, or third.   It takes multiple passes through a manuscript for it to start to really come into shape. 

For example, once you have a first draft, it’s a good idea to make a pass through the manuscript to ensure that character and setting placement are in order.  Another good pass would be to ensure that the characters’ emotions are showing on the page and that they’re responding physically to that emotion in a way that’s logical.  The final pass is usually the polishing pass, in which you remove all extraneous words and “ing” words and those pesky adverbs (at least those that have hung out undeservedly for a while).  Of course, depending on the project, you could have many more passes.  But I think passes are great, and I think one “golden rule” should always be kept in mind when making one.  When making a pass, my advice would be to focus only on that one aspect throughout its entirety.  If you’re making a pass to ensure all your world-building elements are in order, don’t get sidetracked by a paragraph that could use some trimming/tightening.  Save that for the next pass, that way you don’t miss or overlook something pertaining to world-building that needs to be changed in your world-building pass.
At the moment I’m working on UNGIFTED, and I think I’m going to make another pass, if not a couple more, through the manuscript.  I’ve done some work in getting deeper into my protag’s head and portraying how he views the world, but I want to get closer, and I want to make sure he’s using terminology that a twelve-year-old boy would use.  I also want to make sure that the world-building details I drop in sound like something he’d actually think about in each part of the story.  Like I said, I’ve make some progress in these areas in general, but I think a couple more passes couldn’t hurt…

Monday, January 14, 2013

Character Sketches

As I mentioned in another post, I like to draw detailed character sketches of the big players in my novel before I even start writing the book.  That includes the protagonist, villain, and typically a couple secondary characters (usually the friends or romantic interest of the protag or villain).
Man, I love character sketches.  There’s nothing like really fleshing out your character and knowing what makes them beat before you even make them come to life on the page.  When I flesh out my characters, I personally (though this is just the way I prefer) like to answer a lot of questions about them, including the nitty-gritty ones.  Sure, it’s absolutely imperative I know what they want/what their biggest goals and motivations are, their deepest values and fears, etc., but I also like to figure out what was the most traumatic thing to ever happen to them, or what happened to them on the best day of their life.  Often those will tie into those deeper fears and values, but they’ll provide reasons for them, which will make the characters all the more relatable and three-dimensional, even if those particular answers are never spelled out in the novel itself.  Knowing all these types of nitty-gritty things in addition to the big characteristics of the characters help so much when you put them on the page.  I mean, then you’ll know exactly how your characters are going to react to other characters, and if you’ve done your job of fleshing out those other characters also, then you know exactly how they’re going to react, too (that might sound obvious, but bear with me).
Which brings me to my last point, which has to do with something I overheard a professor say at my school’s last residency (which also happened to be my last residency because I graduated—so sad…but exciting, too, I suppose): you’ve reached a certain level as a storyteller when you realize that tension (which makes a story go round, mind you) is much more than just minor squabbles between characters over something trivial like spilt coffee.  It’s about the core beliefs and values of each character clashing.  That’s a component of powerful storytelling, and the more you flesh out your main characters, the more intensely they will clash in your story, which will make it all the deeper and more riveting.
So, yeah, character sketches.  Go and make some right now if you haven’t already.  As for me, I gotta go clean up this coffee I just accidentally spilled on the table by my laptop.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

First Two Pages of UNGIFTED

I thought it'd be fun to post the first two pages of my middle-grade epic fantasy, UNGIFTED, so here they are. They may still wind up changing a lot, of course, but they've already gone through many revisions and I feel proud displaying them here for all to potentially see, should anybody happen to perchance wander onto this blog.

Chapter 1

The Ungifted One


Dwyth Oruf focused on the giant lizard a few feet in front of him.  He extended his Telepathic Influence toward it like a finger, and poked its brain.

 Come on, you big stupid lizard—let me in!

Two hundred and fifty pounds of tough yellow skin and muscle—all of which stood completely still inside his log hut—stared back at him.  The beast’s head came up to Dwyth’s waist, the rest of its thick, seven-foot long body lay sprawled behind it.

Zeph, the older boy who stood a few feet to the side of the lizard, was administering Dwyth the test.  If Zeph hadn’t been controlling the beast with his Influence, it would’ve been running wild around the straw-floored hut, and somebody could’ve gotten hurt.

Dwyth gritted his teeth.  It wasn’t working.  He couldn’t penetrate the lizard’s brain with his own Influence.  No matter how hard he tried.

No surprise there.  But no way was he giving up.  Not this time.  Of all times, not this time—his last chance to be somebody.

Come on, come on…He tightened his mind’s extension, made it firmer to pierce through the beast’s brain.

Please, just this once…

He felt Zeph’s Influence give a tug, and the beast slithered up to Zeph, who tenderly stroked its head. 

No—that couldn’t be it!  It was over too quick.

“I think that’ll do, Dwyth,” Zeph said softly.

“No—wait.”  Dwyth’s voice reached a high pitch.  “Gimme another chance.  I swear, I got it this time.”

Zeph reached up and put a hand on Dwyth’s shoulder.  He looked about fifteen, three years older than Dwyth, but not as tall.  Unlike Dwyth’s short, wavy brown hair, long black spikes jutted from his head, his body skinny as a fire starter stick compared to Dwyth’s muscular physique.

“Sorry,” Zeph said.  “I really am.  But you can’t even penetrate its brain, not even a little.  Your Influence is…well…pretty puny.  No offense.”

“That’s not true!”  Dwyth said, even though it had to be obvious to both of them and his parents across the room.  All Amnarites—a tribe of humans— could sense each other’s Influence and how strong it was.  “I just needed more time.  Just a little—”

“In the Coliseum your lizard would’ve been slaughtered ages ago.  I’m…real sorry, but I can’t qualify you for this year’s battle.”

There they were.  The official words.  Like Zeph plunged a bunch of Spitting Lizard swords through Dwyth’s chest.  Dwyth stared at the wall.

Mother Jungle, he’d been stupid.  So incredibly stupid.  How could he have ever thought he’d have a chance to qualify?  Sure, it wasn’t in his blood to give up, but after all these years of hardly having an Influence, it’d been silly to expect it to grow strong in him at twelve years old.  Like Mother Jungle suddenly realized She forgot to give it to him in the first place.  Like She woke today and thought, Bird scat.  My mistake.  Forgot about that child in Klahn Village I gave a weak Psychic Pull to.  Better give him a strong one now, so he not only passes the Spitting Lizard Battle qualifying test, but thrives in the contest so he can have a future in the military.  Or have any important job, for that matter.

Dwyth’s eyes burned, but he had to stay strong for his parents.  And in front of Zeph.  Oh, what he wouldn’t give to be like him.  In a low voice Dwyth asked, “How many children haven’t qualified so far?  I mean in all Amnar?”