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Welcome to my blog!

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This blog was my online wordsmith workshop, where you'll find notes on my writing experiences, excerpts from my fantasy and science fiction novels, and essays of a more homeworld flavor.  Some of the advice therein may still be of interest to new writers so I have left it here but due to technical difficulties, I no longer post here regularly.  You can look me up on Dreamwidth, although I do not post frequently. 

Feel free to share a link to this site. If you opt to download it or share content, please give due credit to this website and the author: Emmalyn N. Edwards. Thank you--Emmalyn

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Monday, February 27, 2012

structuring a story
Can't not write at all, even if I'm supposed to be working on letters and proposal packages, so I've been playing with a story that I have been working on off and on for a while. It has a world -- a little too narrowly defined a world, with too little flexibility for character interaction, but I've been playing a little with that. I have several characters that I think work well. I have a lot of scenes, stacks of scenes. I think I have the making of a series. what I don't have is a story for each book, and at the moment, it is essentially one of those endless series, where the characters never quite escape, where escaping is even as problematical as not escaping, and where it's more realistic to think some successor generations in the future might make the escape. I might play with that -- their escape not being enough to end the greater problem, but that could be books further along and I still don't have a workable first book.

Things I've been toying with are making one of the local bad guys more intelligent or at least more evilly clever rather than terminally stupid and selfish, or else to make the stupidity more dangerous to the central characters. Either way, to only hint at one of the series bad guys who is operating mostly behind the scenes. In the first book or three, he could even be more or less helpful, the conniving, subtle evil, their Moriarty, while he is still looking like the wise professor, so long as I have a strong enough local trouble.

I have also been considering book length. I think that what I have for a potential first novel is too long for even a longish short story. It might be novella length, but knowing how I build scenes and story and side characters, especially if I can loosen the structure and involve more side characters, which I think would make the world seem more complete, fully textured, and all, it will grow into a short novel, but how short is considered long enough to bother with these days? Most of the books I've been seeing, despite the official push to aim for 100,000 words or less whenever possible, makes me wonder if a novel can to be too short to be taken seriously. Certainly having lots of characters--as seems to be popular these days==won't work with shorter novels, so I have to keep the number of primary characters down (I have two human-ish protagonists and five supporting roles not playable by human actors besides side characters and the antagonists in this one). But I wonder if that will fly.

I also wonder if the non-human roles fill fly, since so many publishers seem intent on aiming for blockbuster movie-able books and despite movie magic allowing almost anything, I'm not seeing much besides human-like aliens/mythical creatures, monsters, and live-action real-life animals in the movies unless fully animated. Hmmmmm, can I see it as a Disney feature cartoon...? More likely a tv animated series for Saturday mornings, and that whole genre seems to have largely disappeared as well, with a few notable exceptions.

Writer's challenge: use an inanimate object, an animal/beast, or a cartoon character as a key element in a scene, or create a cartoon character verbally or by sketching it.
27 feb 12 @ 8:43 pm

Friday, February 24, 2012

getting started after finishing
As far as I can figure, for each book I want to pitch (the first books of two fantasy series, and two stand-alone science fiction novels, for now), I need to write "a" query letter - really, a couple of the central paragraphs that tell something about the book and something about me: the first paragraph, that addresses the target and why they might like whichever book I'm bringing to their attention, will be different for each one, depending on what I can figure out about their interests--not much, so far, even when the provide little write-ups that seem intended to convey hints.

They also each need several synopses of various lengths, as how much the agent or publisher wants seems to vary a lot. I usually start with a long one, then see what I can chop while conveying a sense of what the story is like. That's been harder and guidance has been kind of vague as well as inconsistent, everything from tell about every chapter and the tricks you use to carry the reader along to blurb-like summaries as if you were writing the back cover or inside jacket to get the readers interest, present tense--as for a book review--the story of the book or something that conveys the style of the story as well as it's content...

I'd be happier if I thought it mattered less and that the real story mattered more, but a lot of the candidate recipients of pitches don't want even a few sample pages of the book, just the letter and synopsis and I have yet to get more than a generic rejection regardless of what I've sent so, as far as I'm concerned, the synopsis is everything and the writer must telepathically know what is expected and desired, what the agent or publisher will latch onto and what will turn them off. In one regard, knowing that allows a certain kind of freedom. I can jump in, make my guess, and hope for the best. And I can't do anything about how they take it.

The last part is comparatively easy--make sure the first part of the book is polished to a gnat's hair and formatted correctly and be ready to shop it at scene's end or chapter's end as needed for the length they are requesting. At the start of a book, whoever would have guessed that was the easy part?

Writer's challenge: Whether you are done with the book or not, draft a synopsis by introducing the key characters and then start at the start and work your way though whatever you have or have in mind. Note the gaps and any inconsistencies or discontinuities. Fill one.

Writer's challenge #2: In a scene with dialog, swap two character's, so that they are each arguing/pushing for what the other wanted/believed. Adjust the dialog to match the character. (If you didn't have to change much, reconsider whether your character's speech pattern needs revising.)

Writer's prompt: character changes his or her mind
24 feb 12 @ 9:33 pm

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Finishing things
Posting is likely to be erratic for the next few weeks, between vacation preps, catching up on the household stuff I've been neglecting while finishing my latest novel, and figuring out how to tackle more serious efforts at getting an agent or publisher.

First, there's the let down after finishing a novel, even if I tell myself it needs revision and polish, it's done end-to-end, and that's about as anticlimactic as it gets. Doneness is always presented as something to cheer about, but I'll cheer when it sells. Until then... "what's next?" is the only thing on my mind. Don't know if that's good or bad but there it is.

Not that there isn't plenty. A small stack of quilts to finish, blogs, novels that are started but not finished, older finished ones that need polish and need even more to be pitched around. That's not my forte but I've gotten some practice and a little advice, so I'll be tackling it again and will of course report what I can of my progress (the hard part seems to be knowing if I'm making any for weeks and months at a time: is another rejection progress because it's a possibility off the list? (I've heard of authors practically boasting of how many rejections they've gotten, though only those who finally sold a book or three.) I figure if I get 20 rejections this year, I've at least done my part in sending at least 20 queries, which is more than I've managed so far. I find preparing the packages tedious and getting to the post office a challenge, as if it were the proverbial dentist.

Writer's challenge: Look at story you've finished, polish it for about one hour if it's short, a couple of days if it's long. Submit it to one journal, agent, or publisher, no matter how unready you think it might be.
Writer's prompt: Write a scene wherein one of the character's writes something, whether with a quill, a pen, a computer, a paint can, a lazer, an electronic finger... you get the idea.
23 feb 12 @ 9:12 pm

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Realms Thereunder review continued
I still haven't read as much as I would have liked for commenting (and will probably comment in later posts, post tour). What I've read and skimmed includes lots of fun with illusions and magic, delightful characters, and a fascinating premise that promises for a good series (The Ancient Earth Trilogy).

As a wanna be, I always wonder if the publisher has actually bought the whole trilogy (to be billing it as such), and whether it's all written (to know it will be a trilogy). I waited to even try to get mine published until the trilogy, then separate quadrilogy, were complete and always wonder if waiting was the wisest course.

The writing is nicely polished, the vocabulary appropriate to young adult, the scenes well developed. If there is anything that I would change (and as a writer, I can hardly look at a book without thinking about what I might do differently), it's that I would take a hatchet to the dialog. I might be biased after recently spending a lot of time shortening an overly long book of my own, but I thought the dialog longer than necessary. The dialog is realistic and believable, but a bit too much so for my taste. It's a great skill, to make a dialog believable, but the reader usually doesn't need every step of a discussion from meeting to departure spelled out. Chit chat to convey character is one thing, but to convey the normal... sometimes it's enough to say they discussed the issue and decided...

On the other hand, they do say that dialog gives an immediacy of action more than narrative, and what works and doesn't for today's young people... They may like the live play and it has more substance than many conversations I've heard in passing, so this might be the abbreviated version. It does slow the pace somewhat, but it's a fairly easy read so probably not a serious impact.

As to the labeling I mentioned yesterday - I think the scenes are well enough developed that the reader is unlikely to be confused about the when's and where's of the action, so the labeled times and places and such are probably unnecessary. On the other hand, they don't detract from the story and may be valuable to young readers who are reading the book over a longer period of time.

For other opinions, check out the list on yesterday's post. If they haven't posted yet, try tomorrow, the last day of the blog tour.

Writers' challenge: Record or try to transcribe a chat immediately after you've had it. Change some of the phrases to reflect topics appropriate for one of your stories. Use it as the basis for a scene.
22 feb 12 @ 9:47 pm

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Realms Thereunder - Book Review, part 1
Don't know when I'll get to part 2 as I haven't finished reading it yet, but I wanted to post at least some basics and initial observations. For more, see the list of links below for other people participating in the blog tour. For the book, see http://www.amazon.com/Realms-Thereunder-Ancient-Earth/dp/1595549099/ For information direct from the author, Ross Lawhead, check out the Authorís Web site - http://www.rosslawhead.com/blog/

Some readers will have recognized the author's name, then hesitated over it? That would be because you are familiar with his father Stephan Lawhead, with whom Ross has done some collaborative work. The Realms Thereunder is his first novel, his solo flight of fantasy, you might say.

It's contemporary and historical fantasy, with enough history to tease and intrigue some of my historical novel friends, but the action starts in the present (or eight years back) and a nicely follow-able three central characters: Danny the homeless guy, Freya, the student on psychotherepeutic drugs, and Alex Simpson the constable. They are all delightfully unique and facing some interesting challenges and enemies from the start.

I would call it young adult, though these days that label doesn't always mean what it used to. Eight years ago they were 13 year olds, but but now the main characters in their early twenties, so both teens and college students will find plenty to relate to. Other elements, not so much of the story but of the novel's structure seem intended to allow a younger audience, with each change of scene clearly demarked with numbers and labels, dates, and other information so that the reader doesn't need to puzzle it out. It also has a prologue (that as much confused as clarified, though it may make sense when I get further into the book). Like many fantasies, I think age matters less than the interest in things fantastical, including illusion and magic, mythical beasts, and historic realms where all the rules are different and yet to be discovered.

Gillian Adams
Red Bissell
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Melissa Carswell
Jeff Chapman
CSFF Blog Tour
Theresa Dunlap
Emmalyn Edwards
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
Tori Greene
Nikole Hahn
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Rebekah Loper
Marzabeth
Shannon McDermott
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirriam Neal
Eve Nielsen
Nissa
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Joan Nienhuis
Crista Richey
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Shane Werlinger
Nicole White
Rachel Wyant

Writer's challenge: Look at your first chapter: Is is the start of the change that puts the story in action or is it background for what is to come? Consider whether it could be a backflash or prologue instead.
Writer's prompt: Write a story that includes medicine, shadow, glass, and park
21 feb 12 @ 9:10 pm

Friday, February 17, 2012

Story climax continued
I'm still working on the climax to my story but I think it is getting there. Much more than the rest of the book, it is as much about cutting away as bullding, mostly cutting away anything that was explained or shown earlier, anything that slows the pace, anything that doesn't add to the tension or start to resolve it into the final solution. A few explanations get pushed to the tail end of the story, but most just get moved to the deleted file so that I can double check that everything is as clear earlier as it needed to be (preferably through demonstration rather than explanation, but definately not in the middle of the climax).

Mostly with this one I have two problems: I want it to be partially battle scene but the main character is only an indirect part of it. I'm never sure that's a great idea even if it's not really a story about space battles as much as alien encounters. In this case, the ending I have in mind (all of the options I have in mind, even) require that she be where any participation in the battle is either indirect or after the story ends, so who is where are even more troublesome than usual and I've had to adjust many of the dialogs for changes in personnel available to participate, or at least arrange for comms links and appropriate changes in who can see and hear what through which mechanisms.

Futuristic settings at least allow for a maximum of dislocated activity and conversation whereas historic fantasies require more personal presence and consideration of travel instead of connectivity. The challenge is remembering to use those capabilities appropriately and to make sure they are not sprung on the reader for the first time at this late date just because they are needed. However realistic to the local technology, they will still be seen as deus ex machina if they aren't used earlier in the story as well.

Still, it's finally getting there, the ending is getting sorted out a bit along the way, and then I'll be "done" at which point I'll immediately go back to the beginning of the story to make sure the beginning and end are in line. Among other things, I've found that the tone of the ending is polished whereas the tone at the beginning was not yet fully developed and will come across poorly unless it's polished up to match the ending. Also, my vision at the start may have drifted, and the ending and beginning need to relate in more than tone to be a complete story. First scenes are hard but they are easier once the ending is more firmly in mind.

Writer's challenge: Take a story you struggled with or a novel that you remember being unsatisfied with. Read the last 25 pages (or last couple of pages of a shorter story), then read the beginning. Write a new ending or a new beginning that would have made the book or story better, irrespective of any problems in the middle.
17 feb 12 @ 8:22 pm

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Writing and communicating
In my journal I was lamenting that Facebook discussions are so often an illusion made of a bunch of people speaking a monolog that shows up in one newsfeed, but even as I wrote it, I realized that it was nothing new, that the dialogs I was familiar with, famous in history, were often much the same. for example, I studied the Russian philosophers (Belinski among others whose names were less memorable) of the late 19th C/early 20th C for a course. I always thought of them as having a written discourse or even a personal one, but the sources on them are mostly books and "book reviews" with each expounding on their own views and commenting on others, essentially blogging but in a slower medium, often as the only ways they could share their ideas at all across distances, borders, occasionally prison bars.

In the end, all the computer seems to have done at times is make it go a little faster, which besides giving the illusion of an interactive discourse, and of making it more aparent that those who are not participating are declining, rather than unable to join in the discussion.

Still, even that seems about normal these days, even if I always imagined more being common in the past. I have had to learn to be careful about debating even when I find someone who can handle it well and avoid it becoming too emotionally, because observers will assume we are "arguing" even when we are both enjoying the lively discussion. I wonder if it was ever really common and acceptable, though. Even the famous ancient discourses were usually written in the form of a dialog, by a single person.

All the talk of "emotional intelligence" has convinced me that most people are aware of no more than the vague concept but have never exercised it. We rarely practice intellectual dialog that is sensitive enough and controversial enough to require effort at emotional strength and control and it's risky to try with the disapproval that is so often shown to those that display their passion for an issue. If there is no passion, the discourse is no more than passing the time.

Writer's challenge: Pick a controversial topic and have two characters argue it, no holds barred except that it has to be verbal. Change the topic to something pertinent to the story. Change the characters to those on opposite sides of the disagreement. Look at any other dialog. Where is the point of disagreement? Make it a degree more passionate.
16 feb 12 @ 9:24 pm

Friday, February 10, 2012

Conflict
I was writing on my other blog about quilt-making and the on-again off-again relationship between piecing and quilting when I realized that I was as much writing about story conflict and characters in conflict (or perhaps comedy romances which are their own kind of conflict). They start apart, come together, but each have their own history, their own goals, and each wanting to have things their own way, not always to the liking of the other, and if they are the protagonist and antagonist, severely to the distaste of each other.

So why do they even bother with each other if they don't want the same things? Most quilts have both mix of fabrics in some pattern or chaos, and stitching to hold top, batting, and backing together, even if they (or their makers - the piecer and the quilter) don't always agree how they fit together.

To have the interactive conflict that makes a good story, the antagonist and protagonist have to have points of need that are shared, even if everything else about their interests and desires is in conflict. In the old westerns, the watering holes might be enough, scarce as they are and everyone needing water. But other elements can be in common, too, like the owner of jewels and the thief who sees the jewels as his way to wealth, or two people wanting the same third party, perhaps for different reasons, such as wealth or love, leverage or protection. Those in conflict might also be essentially neighbors, neiher wanting to leave in order to avoid conflict, especially if avoiding it has serious costs and consequences. That's the making of a good story.

Writer's challenge: TAke two of your characters and lock them in a room together with the first food either have seen in days or each their own puzzle with the pieces mixed together in a pile. Develop action, dialog, thoughts. Then replace the food or puzzles with something more appropriate to your story.

10 feb 12 @ 6:18 pm

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cleaning house
I was cleaning and found, as I often do, a folder with some drafts. In this case, it was drafts I had been sure were around here somewhere... so I took a brief break from my current novel revision to type the "new" pages into the computer where they join a story that I suspect remains largely scattered around the house and in my head. It and another are the top two on my list to follow the one I'm currently working on but may have to wait for me to write a stack of agent querries and for me to figure out what to do with the mess I've created. Both stories have gotten piecemeal work and suffered, I suspect, from my trying to compose on the computer. Well, that's the problem with the one. The other is sufficiently geeky a topic that the computer work reminds me to use the technology that supposedly surrounds the characters. Still, I may write letters on the computer and then take a break by handwriting more drafts (hopefully without further scattering them around the house) until I'm sure I've found most of the older drafts and until I've figured out the plot a bit more.

I have some great scenes. I have one great character and one that needs some more work and several side characters that don't show up enough to be more than a brief entertainment on the side. I have goals, or at least stated goals. I'm not sure they are the real goals of the characters (I have a suspicion that they are trying to make it a romance and I've toyed with the idea of a tragic romance, then decided that I could do that for a second book in a trilogy or for the start of a second trilogy, but i could never bring myself to let it end that way. I have an overly narrowly defined world (which you would think difficult, spanning as it does half a galaxy). I have, perhaps, the material for five or six books of that sort of series where the seeming main problem is always there in the picture frame but only localized problems ever get solved. It might make a good fantasy/science fiction cartoon series... Do they make those anymore? Book plot, though? it's not quite there.

Meanwhile, it provides an interesting contrast for the book I'm working on (still struggling with the climax and avoiding the much needed battle scene). It's like keeping your first attempts at a new craft (a practice I highly recommend): this one has come a long way from it's cartoonish beginnings, come back from some long detours, and is more solidly in the teen camp than I realized until I had the chance to compare it to the more adult cartoon story above. It's good to have the old stories to hold up s a comparison to see how far you've come. (The drafts I was typing were from more than ten years ago). Also, date your drafts. Very valuable, eventually.

Writer's challenge: take a character from one story or world and put them into another. If you're on your first world (time, place, culture, whatever), take a character from there and put them out on the street in front of your own house. If you've only written about your own neighborhood, put them in the White House. If you're writing and live in the White House, go for a long stroll on the Mall. You need the break.
7 feb 12 @ 5:14 pm

Friday, February 3, 2012

Fiction Friday ends
i was thinking of checking out the Fiction Friday prompt by Write Anything today, but it turns out they've cancelled them. I'm not surprised. Most of their prompts the last year have been too specific to awaken the imagination, and while it might seem to help guide the writing, first drafts have to be all about the imagination and not about fitting some guideline. As a result, I've sometimes been one of only three or four participants, and that was on the weeks I thought to check them out AND found a prompt I could do something with. I assume on the whole they haven't been getting the participation they hoped for, and with concerns about copyright and potential publisher reactions to online posting, many participants have no doubt kept their results of their writing to themselves instead of posting and commenting. I cou'nt get their post about its cancellation to open, so they might have said more of something different, but that's my take. A disappointment but not a surprise.

Well, for those who liked it, I will include prompts as I think of them among my writer's challenges. I have occasionally, anyway, but mostly have found myself suggesting other writing exercises and related activities and not prompts. If they are prompts that work, it would be nice to get feedback. If they are prompts that don't, that would be nice to know too.

Writer's challenge: look around the room and pick some object or color. Study at it for a good solid five minutes (but don't watch the clock unless you've chosen a clock!). Write.
3 feb 12 @ 9:58 pm

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Finding time, some more
I'm managing to find a little time here and there to increase my writing time, so far indirectly. I found a few things that take a few minutes each that, with a little planning, I can do on my lunch break at work. Not a lot of time saved for writing in the evening, but a little bit helps and adds up, especially if it can add up to a good hour block of time sometime during the week. In an hour I can do some research on agent and publisher submission requirements or revise a chapter, or draft a scene.

Still working on the climax of my book, about 50-50 deleting and writing, partly removing remnants of the side plot I've removed, partly removing notes and explanations and replacing them with the action to show it, lots of resequencing. Sometimes the sequencing is an obvious fix - they can't react to something that hasn't happened yet. Other things, that are essentially simultaneous are a little harder to sort for order. Mostly I work through all the key characters and what's happening with them. Ultimately, I decide what feels right based on the mood in each scene: I like a little seeming success, then lots of trouble in lots of places, characters struggling against each other to their own disadvantage before finally making progress, like a miniature version of the story overall.

I think where I struggle most ismaking things go badly, characters making poor choices, or specifically choices that are reasonable from their perspective but not for the parts of the story they don't know about. Occasionally, I'll find myself having a character coming to the right assumption about what happened off stage, when really they have no means of knowing or guessing what happened, even such simple things as "What did she say?" when the character had no reason to know the character was conscious to say anything. The fix is easy: the question can be different but the answer the same. Identfying that it was a problem in the first place? I read it through several times in varying sequences before I noticed that there was a continuity where there shouldn't have been one. Before I'm done, I'll end up drawing maps of where characters are and who they are communicating with to make sure they can move, know, and act the way I have them. But first I need a little more order in place of the current chaos. I can more easily change who is available for a dialog and adjust the conversation accordingly than I can come up with the whole dialog from scratch after sorting out all the characters. How about you? I suppose those who can write a story from start to finish don't have quite the same problem?

Writer's challenge: pick any scene. List the topics of a dialog. List who needs to know what for the dialog to make sense.
1 feb 12 @ 7:42 pm

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Be sure to get in touch so I know you're out there! See contacts page or e-mail wyverns(at)earthlink(dot)net.

Every word should be an experience