The Next One

While I’m currently working on querying agents for Daughters of Darkness, I’ve also been spending some time pre-writing for my next project. I don’t have a working title for it yet, so for now I’m referring to it as either 12 Pyramids or Alaeric’s book (for the main character).

I did very little formal pre-writing for my earliest books, but with Daughters of Darkness, I took a far more in-depth approach. I even did a scene-by-scene outline for the first time ever.

I’m doing the same thing with this project, though I think the order of my approach is a bit different than last time around. In the first few weeks of working on 12 Pyramids, I did a fairly extensive brainstorm on the major characters, as well as a lot of the worldbuilding. It’s only the last few days I’ve started thinking about the plot.

So far, I’m finding it a bit of a struggle to come up with the major plot points. I already know the primary desires of each of the major characters, but fitting everything together is proving a challenge. I think it’s super critical that the plot contains rising tension – I gotta have interesting ways to raise the stakes throughout the book – but I also can’t start with stakes that are too low. This leaves a bit of a balancing act, one that I’m a little worried I won’t get right.

But fortunately I have almost 2 months before I plan to start writing the first draft. Gives me plenty of time for brainstorming while drunk (and some while I’m sober, too, I suppose).

Round 2

So my first round of querying for Daughters of Darkness was a bust. I cried for a little while, then drank a big bottle of whiskey, and now I guess it’s time to move on to…

Round 2. Fight!

Given that I apparently don’t know what the hell I’m doing with this whole querying thing, I figured I’d seek out some help. I picked a service for critiquing queries, and got some comments on my first effort.

Unfortunately that only left me more confused.

Well, that’s not totally accurate. But some of the advice I received directly contradicts much of what I’ve heard regarding query letters. So I figure I just need to ignore the comments that don’t seem right to me and use the rest (the critiquer actually made that point in the intro).

One of the biggest criticisms was that I didn’t provide enough context. I thought I was ignoring the unnecessary details to get to the meat of the story, but apparently I just made the damn query too vague.

So, I transformed my original opening paragraph from

As she stands outside the door to her wedding chapel, High Lady Iris LaRose watches helplessly as her groom is torn to pieces by magical blades. Horrified, she stares in disbelief at the murderer. Her mother.

to

High Lady Iris LaRose always knew she would become one of the most influential women of the Dianic Empire – until her sister brought shame upon the entire family through a treasonous act. Now, with the LaRose name tainted, Iris finds herself pushed by her mother into a marriage she doesn’t want. But as she stands outside the wedding chapel, she watches in shock as her groom is torn to pieces by magical blades. Horrified, she stares in disbelief at the murderer. Her mother.

Hopefully this gives a bit more color regarding the MC and her rather unpleasant situation. (And yes, if you read my previous post, I changed her name to something less risky)

I made a number of other edits, trying to be a lot more specific than I was originally. I think the new query is in much better shape, though I worry just a wee bit that it’s too long now. The pitch section went from 198 words to 268, which I think might be pushing it.

Anyway, I can only hope I’ve fixed the worst of the problems with my original submission. I considered trying to revise the opening pages as well, but I decided to wait. If I don’t get any requests this time I’ll have to look at making changes there.

My Quibble with Queries

 

In which I question the agent query process – or rather, my approach to it.

I used to think the agent querying process was a royal pain in the arse. I suppose I still do, but I’ve come around to thinking that I, like many other fledgling writers, stress out about writing queries too much. I’ve recently found myself worrying about whether I should have a bio, if I should talk about my non-writing-related education in the bio, if I should put the word count in the first paragraph or the last, if I should have comp titles, what should my comp titles be, is it okay to comp a best seller, am I supposed to italicize the comp titles OMG I’M FREAKING OUT.

So, deep breather. I should probably just chill out hope I can get some of the agents I query to start reading page 1. But my query still needs to accomplish its goal. This will be the third MS I’ve queried on, and hopefully I’ve improved in this area. There are lots and lots of resources on the web regarding query writing, but I’d say the most helpful bit of advice I’ve seen comes from agent Andrea Somberg:

The most important line from her post is:

“But what I really loved about the query was that her plot description created so many questions in my mind.”

And I’ve learned over the years that this sentiment is just as critical in the story itself, especially the opening pages. Plant questions in the readers mind, questions she desperately needs find answers for, and she’ll keep reading.

With that goal in mind, here’s the opening paragraph from the plot/blurb section of my query (note that this is still in draft form, and I may need to revise it further):

As she stands outside the doors to her wedding chapel, High Lady Isys LaRose watches helplessly as her groom is torn to pieces by magical blades. Horrified, she stares in disbelief at the murderer. Her mother.

The primary question I hope I’m planting in the readers mind is: why in the fucking hell did Isys’s mother murder her fiance?

Anyone who reads this, then moves onto the first page of my MS, will quickly discover that Isys’s mother was the one who pushed her into this marriage in the first place. Hopefully, that bit of knowledge will create even more intrigue for said reader.

And if I’ve done my job right, the following paragraphs in the query, and the first pages of the novel, will continue to build more questions.

So those are my main thoughts on queries. As a side note, yes, I’m very much aware that there’s a group of really bad, terrible people who are generally referred to by a name which sounds the same as my MC. I figure that if I’m lucky enough to sell this MS, I may have to changer her name. But Isys is a real name for a woman, and that’s how I think of her (I conceived of the character and the name years ago). And besides, if I changer her name, doesn’t that mean that the terrorists have won?

Number Two

The second draft of Daughters of Darkness is complete! Now for more work!

Not right now, I suppose. Summer is coming (actually it’s here now), it’s a holiday weekend, and it’s time for me to honor our veterans the only way I know how: by drinking nonstop until my liver gives out, or I have to go to work again, whichever comes first.

But the next step in my editing process is going to be something I’ve never tried before. I plan to read through each POV character’s chapters contiguously, looking for consistency of voice and other character traits. I’m going to try to ignore most other issues I see, except for grammatical errors and things like that, focusing on the details of each character.

I’m not really sure how long I expect draft #3 to take me, but I’m optimistic it will be much quicker than draft #2. I started the initial read-through in late March, and just finished the last fixes today. Two months is too long for this pass, as I’m hoping to start querying in late June. That’s been my goal since near the beginning, though I’m not super confident I’ll be able to do make that (soft) deadline anymore. Even after the next draft is done, I still need to do at least one more pass to deal with anything I let go this time around, and to give it some polish.

But it’s the weekend, and I’m getting thirsty, so I’ll deal with all that come Tuesday. Bottoms up…

Even Tough Dudes Cry

During battle scenes, I mean.

Ok, no, there doesn’t need to be crying. But fight scenes need emotion of some type. For me to enjoy a fight/battle scene, I need to connect with the characters.

During my current editing phase of my book, I recently went through a fight scene where my warrior dude takes on a number of lesser talented guys and wins. I had imagined this scene long ago, and in my head it was totally awesome. But as I read it, it was…not so much.

First problem, it was very much lacking in clarity. I think I fixed that problem, but it’s still not great. It turns out to be too easy for the guy (he’s pretty good at this), and it’s nothing but a sequence of swordplay, kicks, broken bones, acrobats, stuff like that. I know, I know, sounds pretty awesome, right? But it gets boring quickly.

Seriously, I think it’s important that we see real character emotions during these kinds of scenes. Dear reader needs to feel something, some danger, some risk. Some connection. Otherwise why does she care?

Without character emotion, it’s just a long sequence of words on a page. I like action as much as anyone else, but I’ve read some battle scenes by authors that I think are really great, and I’ve found myself zoning out. Painting a picture of awesomeness is cool, but I still need some connection.

This doesn’t need to slow the pace or hamper the action in any way. It just needs to make the scene more immersive, more impactful.

So those are my thoughts for the day. I clearly have a lot more work ahead of me on this book. And I think I need some more cold medicine, or possibly whiskey. (Probably both)

The Voices in My Head

Or rather, the voices on the pages of my MS. Which came from my head. That I can still hear.

Editing! That’s what I’m still doing with my current project, Daughters of Darkness. What I’ve been doing since late March, and will still be doing through…late June, perhaps? Maybe mid June if I’m industrious enough.

Editing a first draft involves fixing/improving a lot of different things, from big to small. I think that (for me) getting the character voices just right is one of the trickiest parts. In my earlier projects, I didn’t really worry too much about character voices, but these days, this is one of my biggest focuses. I also think it’s one of the aspects of writing long-form fiction that I’ve improved upon the most over the years.

When I first started concentrating on giving each major character her own unique voice, back in my 3rd MS, The Book of Terrors, I only worried about each how each person sounded when speaking (i.e. dialogue). But now I’m rather focused on also giving the narration a strong voice that belongs to the POV character for each scene.

I have 5 POV characters in this MS, so I consider it a fair challenge to make sure every everyone’s voice is unique and entertaining, without being annoying or sounding stupid. This is especially tough to do while writing the first draft, since I switch back and forth between different POV characters the whole time. I think that for this project, one of my final passes may include reading each character’s chapters contiguously – even though it means reading the book totally out of order – to check for consistency/continuity of voice.

To help in this process, I’ve learned (or made up?) some tricks for distinguishing each character voice. I like to pick certain aspects of voice that are specific to each:

  • Sentence length/structure
  • Common filler words/phrases (well, like, you know, etc.) that the character uses more than others
  • Common ways of referring to others (My guard character tends to refer to others by their last names, and my lady pirate likes to call other women “lass”)
  • Unusual ways of speaking, e.g. my warrior dude character almost never uses contractions
  • Swears/curses

The swearing is obviously the most important aspect. For the most part, each of my characters has her own set of swears, though they share some in common, depending on shared backgrounds/religious beliefs.

I usually come up with some of these identifying characteristics while I’m writing the first draft, so I have to go back and reconcile the voices for everyone while editing. And in some instances, I find that I’ve overdone someone’s voice while I was searching for it. That part (finding the voice by overdoing it) is usually fun, but it means I have to go back and smooth some of that out. This is proving to be especially true of my warrior dude in this MS.

So it looks I’m going to be more nitpicky about hammering down each voice for this project than I have in the past, which means more work (boo!), but I think it will be worth it in the end.

 

My 2016 NCAA Bracket

In my previous post, I introduced the quantitative rating system I’m using this year as a guide for filling out my bracket. I didn’t go strictly by the book – I went with the lower rated team on a small number of occasions. I did this mostly because the system’s picks were too boring (not enough upsets). Without further ado…

bracket2016

My first discretionary call was taking Yale over Baylor. I couldn’t NOT pick a 12-5 upset, and according to my system, this is the most probable one.

I then took Cincinnati over Oregon in the second round, even though Oregon is rated higher. It seems like this year has the potential to be really bloody, and I doubt all the 1 seeds will make it through to the next weekend. I have Oregon as the lowest rated 1 seed (by a fair margin), so I knocked those ducks out.

I also felt a need to have at least one low rated seed (10+) in the sweet 16 (I expect there will be more than 1, possibly several). Gonzaga looked like the most probable team to pull this off.

Also, though the ratings on my previous post show Kansas as the #1 team, I reran the algorithm after eliminating the Michigan St games that Denzel Valentine missed due to injury, and that change put the Spartans on top. Was I cheating to get the team I wanted to pick as the champs into the #1 slot in my system? Yeah, sure, maybe. But Valentine is arguably the best player in the nation, and missing him obviously hurt their rating.

One final note before I display the game-by-game win probabilities throughout the tournament (adhering to my system’s calls): I did another trial with my algorithm where I replaced the margin-of-victory game probability extrapolation with one that ignores the score. I noticed a couple of teams rated much higher in those results, and I think they could be dangerous – St. Joe’s and Seton Hall.

Below, you can see the game-by-game probabilities by round given by my system:

First Round

Kansas 93.21% Austin Peay 6.79%
Connecticut 56.33% Colorado 43.67%
Maryland 65.78% San Diego St 34.22%
California 63.98% Hawaii 36.02%
Arizona 53.62% Wichita St 46.38%
Miami FL 80.45% Buffalo 19.55%
Iowa 67.52% Temple 32.48%
Villanova 87.00% UNC Asheville 13.00%
Oregon 92.62% Holy Cross 7.38%
Cincinnati 54.43% St Joseph’s PA 45.57%
Baylor 63.76% Yale 36.24%
Duke 74.28% UNC Wilmington 25.72%
Texas 68.31% Northern Iowa 31.69%
Texas A&M 80.12% WI Green Bay 19.88%
VA Commonwealth 57.44% Oregon St 42.56%
Oklahoma 81.15% CS Bakersfield 18.85%
North Carolina 91.22% FL Gulf Coast 8.78%
USC 57.14% Providence 42.86%
Indiana 76.02% Chattanooga 23.98%
Kentucky 75.99% Stony Brook 24.01%
Notre Dame 53.04% Michigan 46.96%
West Virginia 74.10% SF Austin 25.90%
Pittsburgh 54.58% Wisconsin 45.42%
Xavier 81.93% Weber St 18.07%
Virginia 91.86% Hampton 8.14%
Butler 54.25% Texas Tech 45.75%
Purdue 73.95% Ark Little Rock 26.05%
Iowa St 74.52% Iona 25.48%
Gonzaga 51.98% Seton Hall 48.02%
Utah 76.29% Fresno St 23.71%
Syracuse 53.28% Dayton 46.72%
Michigan St 88.23% MTSU 11.77%

Second Round

Kansas 69.73% Connecticut 30.27%
Maryland 51.87% California 48.13%
Arizona 50.69% Miami FL 49.31%
Villanova 66.34% Iowa 33.66%
Oregon 59.89% Cincinnati 40.11%
Duke 53.83% Baylor 46.17%
Texas A&M 57.86% Texas 42.14%
Oklahoma 65.14% VA Commonwealth 34.86%
North Carolina 70.49% USC 29.51%
Kentucky 52.76% Indiana 47.24%
West Virginia 68.30% Notre Dame 31.70%
Xavier 59.40% Pittsburgh 40.60%
Virginia 66.83% Butler 33.17%
Purdue 55.01% Iowa St 44.99%
Utah 53.54% Gonzaga 46.46%
Michigan St 75.56% Syracuse 24.44%

Sweet Sixteen

Kansas 65.72% Maryland 34.28%
Villanova 59.12% Arizona 40.88%
Duke 51.58% Oregon 48.42%
Oklahoma 57.97% Texas A&M 42.03%
North Carolina 58.84% Kentucky 41.16%
West Virginia 59.09% Xavier 40.91%
Virginia 54.40% Purdue 45.60%
Michigan St 68.07% Utah 31.93%

Elite Eight

Kansas 53.32% Villanova 46.68%
Oklahoma 54.64% Duke 45.36%
North Carolina 52.13% West Virginia 47.87%
Michigan St 56.94% Virginia 43.06%

Final Four

Kansas 57.20% Oklahoma 42.80%
Michigan St 53.62% North Carolina 46.38%

Championship

Michigan St 51.71% Kansas 48.29%