Tag Archives: author

When Your Details Stops the Story

Beginning and novice writers fall prey to this clever little deceiver when they suddenly realize that they hadn’t included any details in a scene. They start popping them in without thinking about their placement or they rush back during a rewrite and drop them in like they are sprinkling in raindrops. These haphazard details smear across the page and take the characters hostage at knife point to completely stop the story. Here’s a scene I see way too often:

Mary jumped out of the car and ran into the house. The little two-story cottage style abode had a white picket fence surrounding it. The lawn had been cut two days ago, and already it showed signs of needing to be watered. Shelby barked at Mary as she unlocked the door with one of the many keys on her key ring. She had about 10 on the loop, but the house key was the only golden one. Inside, the hallway was dark, despite the bright day outside. She flipped on the light and rushed inside. The new carpet squished beneath her feet. The hallway still smelled of fresh paint. A breeze, as if a window had been left open, pressed against her warm skin. She noticed a coffee cup sitting on the low table in the middle of the living room. With a shock, she noticed someone was in there, sitting casually in the recliner. She entered the room. The ornate room had red carpet that hadn’t yet been replaced. As a child, her grandmother had never let her play in the room and had hardly used it herself, so the carpet was hardly worn. All her grandmother’s nick-knacks remained on the fireplace hearth just in front of the mirror in which she could now see the reflection of the man sitting in the room. A lamp was on beside him, shining onto a book he’d pulled from the shelf beside the fireplace. He slammed it shut as Mary entered the room. The sound made her jump.

Okay, well, that’s a start. But there’s a lot that needs work. Let’s start at the top.

Mary first gets out of the car and runs into the house. Then, it’s like she backs up in reverse so we can see not only the house, but the white picket fence, the lawn, the dog, and the keys. Not only has that stopped the reader, but it’s made the reader go backwards too.

Remodeling the house might be important, especially in light of the room that Grandmother left pretty much untouched — it was a show room, one reserved for company and special occasions and otherwise not used. I got that from writing this. Did you get that sense from reading it? Possibly not. So there were thoughts of the author that the reader might not get.

Then, we have the stranger in the room. Did you notice how even after she’d realized that someone was in the house she still reflected on the carpet, the nick-knacks, and the lamp without having a reaction to him. In fact, Mary doesn’t react at all until he slams the book closed. Let me ask you: if you came home to discover a stranger in your house, would you think about these things or would you be dialing 9-1-1 already? Yeah, let’s not make our characters do things we ourselves wouldn’t do (unless there is a very good reason for it, like she knows the cops are right behind her already).

Do you also see how the details of the story are listed like facts? Starting with the keys, in describing that she has 10 of them on her ring, right on the lamp. The story has pretty much stopped in this time, except for her turning and realizing that someone is in the house — that’s the only action. All the rest are details that have stopped the story.

So, now let’s fix this:

Mary pulled the car to the curb outside of her two-story cottage style house. She pushed her way through the gate of the white picket fence, reaching down quickly to pet Shelby as he barked a greeting to her. Mary riffled through the multiple keys on the ring for the golden house key and unlocked the door. Through the darkness of the hallway, the scent of fresh paint greeted her. She flipped the light and as she turned, she noticed a coffee cup sitting on the low table in the living room. A soft breeze drifted across her face as if someone had opened a window. Her heartbeat quickened as she stepped toward the room. The new carpeting squished beneath her shoes, dampening the sound of her movement. As she drew closer, she saw a black hole on the shelf where a book had been removed from the others. She scanned quickly to see if anything else in the room had been disturbed. All of her grandmother’s nick-knacks were lined up perfectly across the fireplace mantle. She looked up into the mirror above the fireplace which reflected the rest of the room and saw him. The stranger’s eyes locked with hers. He sat in the recliner, the book in his hands. He slammed it shut, making Mary jump, as he made to stand.

First we see Mary making her way from the car to the house. We show the reader the house from the vantage point of the car and move her through the fence and into the yard. Gone now is the state of the grass — it’s not important to the scene. The dog stays, because the dog is a state of normalcy — she’s expecting to see the dog and since the dog isn’t freaking out about someone being inside the house, the reader doesn’t expect it and must wonder how someone got passed the dog. This creates suspense.

Also notice in the first example how things are separated from the rest of the story: hallway was dark, carpet squished, fresh paint smelled, etc. All these things are independent sentences on their own. But in the second example, I’ve actually blended these things into the scene. They are no longer facts being told, but have a reason for being in the story: the carpet dampens the sound of her walking, the hallway is dark to bring on a sense of foreboding, the odor of the paint greets her in another warm gesture to make her feel safe in opposition to the dark hallway. Even the items in the room are no longer facts, but clues as she discovers the stranger in her house.

I did take out the whole part about the house being her grandmother’s. It probably is important, but not here. What’s important here is Mary returning home to find a stranger.

Any time you have details in your story that are standing alone like facts being shouted from a textbook, find a way to blend them into your story. If you don’t, they stop the story.

If you’d like another example of this, check out my chapter on narrative in The Write Edit.

Until next time, happy writing.

Dragons of Wellsdeep – pages 14 & 15 edit

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Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg15_Dawn Blair


Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg14_edited_Dawn Blair

Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg15_edited_Dawn Blair

Well, there’s not really a whole lot to say about these two pages except that my pronoun problem which I spoke about in last week’s post has gotten so much worse. I’m still not sure how to rewrite this other than to slow it down and add setting and narrative, but that will come.

Because this is a repeat problem, I really don’t have a lot to say about these two pages. I hope your own writing is coming along well.

Don’t forget: if you’re having any questions on your own work, patterns that you’re seeing and would like to solve, send me an email.

Until next time, happy writing!

 

Manuscript Mechanics: Italics vs. Underline

Welcome to the showdown between italics and underlines.

Since my last couple of posts have been deep, I thought I’d go for something a little more technical on the manuscript preparation side of things.

I remember when I was writing when I was growing up. I used an old brown Smith Corona typewriter. If I was really lucky, my mother would let me use her old greet IBM typewriter. I also remember the stern advice that came from the writing magazines: don’t use italics; always underline things you want to appear in italics when you book is published. Great advice, except for two things: 1) I couldn’t change the type on my typewriter so who was this advice for (who was lucky enough to have italics), and 2) underlining wasted so much typewriter ribbon. It was the second that really irritated me. I’d even try to re-ink my ribbons, or if they were the one-time use ribbons, I’d try to rewind them. Neither ever worked very effectively, so underlining was something I really tried to avoid.

Then, sometime in the 1990’s, I bought a new Smith Corona word processor and it came with round disks that could be changed out. Here’s some pictures of a disk I just took out of my Smith Corona (yes, I still have my word processor as well as the Smith Corona computer-like machine I practically starved for in order to afford and I might even have my first Smith Corona typewriter around somewhere too — I’m such a fan-girl!):

Smith Corona reel - front side

This shows the front side of the disk. You can see that the font is Regency in a 10 point size.

Smith Corona reel - back side

 

This is the back and you can see the letters on ends of each leg. This letters would hit the ribbon and leave the imprint of the letter on the paper.

I had purchased a set of these at a thrift store and when I got home I discovered that an italic font as one of the disks. Now I could do my own italic fonts if I wanted. And I felt it was wasted because the advice was always to underline. Bummer!

But the question came up not to long ago as to why the publishers wanted underlined instead of italics on the manuscript. I mean, it’s all done by computers now days, isn’t it? Doesn’t the computer know the italic font?

Now if you Google why publishers want underline instead of italics you’ll get some strange answers (like it had to do with the spacing on typewriters, but that was from the writer’s end of it, not the publishers — why would the publisher request underlines? It’s not that publishers were trying to make the writer’s job easier as it would seem in some things I read on this) My theory is that underlining was actually for the printer, not the publisher. When the printer went to set up to publish a book on a press, the printer needed to know to change the fonts to italics. Now, imagine standing loading tiny letters onto plates all day… your eyes would get tired in no time at all. The underline helps the printer easily see when the change to italics is needed. Have you ever looked at a page and wondered if the text was actually in italics or not? Yeah, just like that.

Don’t assume that just because “everything is computerized” that it’s okay to put things in italics now. If you are trying to publish with a traditional publisher, read their guidelines. They will most likely tell you. If they don’t, stick with the underline until you are told by someone at the publishing house that italics are okay. Their eyes are tired from reading all day too, so this helps them out. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT think that you are sunshine enough to just use italics because your computer can do it and/or you think underlining is “old school.” I don’t give a flying crap! If the publisher’s guidelines don’t specify, then you go with the industry standard, which has been to underline. If you want to be part of the industry, then respect it. PERIOD!

If you are self-publishing, then don’t use the underline. You’ll waste your own time when you have to go back and put it in italics. I know; I’ve done this because old habits die hard and I kept underlining things and only caught it as I was setting up a print format for publication.  Grrr!

Okay, now get back to writing!

 

Dragons of Wellsdeep – pages 10 & 11 edit

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Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg11_Dawn Blair


 

Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg10_edited_Dawn Blair

Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg11_edited_Dawn Blair

 

The drafts on top are the original manuscript pages as it has been written. On the bottom are my edit drafts with my handwritten comments.

When the writer gets confused about what’s going on, it’s not a good sign. I did have to ask myself why I had Moonhunter waste time reaching over the seat for Balthier unless he was checking to see if he was okay or maybe to hoist him back into the seat. You’ll notice that a lot of times I do ask myself questions when I’m editing and that’s to help spur my thinking. I’m throwing out suggestions to myself. I even do this when I’m editing for others to help stimulate their ideas.

I have been told repeatedly that I have an issue with dangling participles and modifiers. Even after 40 years of writing, I don’t claim to be great with grammar. These dangling thingies have made no sense to me for years. Then, my youngest son sat down and explained it to me using one of my stories. The light bulb went on. I saw it, I got it. Now I’m beginning to see it in my writing as you can see from the bottom of page 10. That’s a good sign that I’m learning. To keep this learning going, I now have to learn how to fix it and once I can do that I’ll begin to reprogram myself when I’m writing so that it’s automatic as I’m drafting. This might be a very long way for me to go, but I’ll get there. I use to be very heavy with the trigger words of “was” and “had,” but I’ve retaught myself. There’s a lot of times when I’m writing that I’ll recognize that a sentence will need to be rewritten and my brain will work faster than my fingers so it automatically comes out cleaned up. I know I will get to this point with dangling modifiers too, after I learn and train myself to fix them.

Page 11 looks like it was run over by a big truck and it’s bleeding out everywhere. The writing was not tight. There are things missing, mostly description and series of event issues. I can hear the audience screaming, “More, more, more!” That’s not a bad thing; I just have to work harder.

I will transcribe all my chicken scratches here here for you. The passage should read:

When his eyelids opened, his vision filled with the sharp clarity of dragonvision. A red veil magnified his attackers as though they were only meters in front of him. The three men standing on the ridge wore cloaks of tanned hide. The one in the white and black fur yelled at the other two men, who were having a hard time holding onto the large blaster…

It’s still not a perfect edit, but that’s how I have it suggested to read now. It gives me a starting point. Having something to work with is important. A description of their attackers probably should come much sooner than this and I’ll rewrite to have the description used as a pace controlling device (so much more on that later!). As I’ve said before, this really is a first draft and I’m discovering the story as I’m writing — I didn’t know about the dragonvision until this moment. Surprise! So, my challenge will be in weaving all these elements in so that the reader isn’t jarred while reading the story. This is working the craft. It takes time and patience. If you aren’t willing to work it to be your best with all the knowledge of your craft that you have at that given moment, then maybe you should stop. It’s like me with learning about the dangling modifiers — I didn’t know any better before, but now I do and I will fix forward. I want to write and publish the best stories I can and I hope I’m always improving. I hope you desire the same thing.

Go back through the page and read the proposed changes. How would you incorporate changes? What would you do? Do you see something I missed. Comment below. Then we can have fun and see how the page develops into the second draft together.

Don’t forget about my Patreon page. Let other writers in your online and offline circles know about this blog so they can come get the help they need too. Let’s make better stories!

Happy writing!

The Dreaded Word: Had

Last week I wrote about how “was” was a trigger word for a  state of being. This time I’d like to write about another trigger word: “had”

“Had” represents something that happened in the past or a quality/state of being.

He had gone to the store. He’s already been to the store in the past outside of the present moment.

She had a way with words that made it hard to tell if she was lying or not. A quality that is viewed from an outside perspective, probably gained from prior experience.

Sometimes there is no way to get around “had.” In the first example of going to the store, it might just be important that he did stop at the store, but nothing that would move the story along happened there so it’s a quick phrase and move on. Now let’s take an example from page 8 of Dragons of Wellsdeep.

Balthier had scolded him often for getting ahead of himself. 

Obviously, Moonhunter is hearing a lecture in his head because he’s heard it many times before. But do you also see how the “had” makes the story be told rather than shown? This is an important fact, that Moonhunter has been scolded before for not staying present in the moment.

I wondered if there was a way to show that lecture in this very scene. Since it just started, it might mean expanding the scene a bit earlier than where I have it currently beginning. That wouldn’t be a bad option since I never explain exactly what they are doing in this scene and since I know that their “job” is something I still have in my head but I haven’t shown the reader.

My other choice is to show it in the scene before when Moonhunter first hatches from the dragon egg. It could be his first lecture. Either way works.

When you encounter a “had,” the first thing you should ask yourself is if there is a better way of showing this in the scene and if it’s even necessary. Is it important for the reader to know he had been at the store? Could he just walk through the door with bags in his hands?

Let’s take an example:

Col had never worn boots. In fact, until today, he had never wore footwear at all. Now the balls of his feet had thick blisters that stung when he touched them.  He had things cooking for dinner, but he didn’t think he could stand at the stove long enough to stir the pots.

Let’s pretend this is the first time the character makes an appearance in the story and it’s his point of view we’re in. Let’s make this present in the scene rather than full of flashbacks.

Col grabbed a stool and carried as he hobbled back to the stove. His feet throbbed from the blisters growing on the balls of his feet.  He ought to boil those foul boots along with his dinner. He sat down to stir the pots, then raised his foot to his lap to inspect the fluid-filled bumps which stung as he touched them. If wearing footwear resulted in this pain, today would be his first and last time for those boots.

We now know that he’s never worn boots before and probably will never again if he has his way — that takes care of the “had’s” in the first two sentences. We see him touching the blisters — “had” in the third sentence. We see him actually cooking dinner — “had” in the fourth sentence. Easy enough, right?

Let’s look at another example, one that follows more along with the quality or state of being.

Lady Bridget had on a red dress which reached all the way to the floor. Her hair had been done into coiled braided and adorned with little red teacup roses. She looked around the room once. Her eyes landed on Sir Arthur and her face lit with glee as she started over to him. Hadn’t she had enough of him already?

I’ve seen the first two sentences of that example written out by many authors as an attempt to show what the character is wearing. How often do you think about what you are wearing when you’re not looking in a mirror or someone is commenting you on your appearance? Yeah, not much. So why do authors insist on doing this? More on this topic later too.

I’ve clearly made this an outside perspective here because I want to use it as an example of such. Let’s make this better:

Lady Bridget entered the ballroom in a red dress which swept over the marble floor. It swished around as she stopped to look around the room. Little red teacup roses adorned the coiled braids of her brown hair. Her gaze landed on Sir Arthur and her face lit with glee as she started over to him. How would he crush her heart tonight? Why did the whole of the kingdom have to bear to watch it happen again?

Damn, I almost feel sorry for the narrator as he watches this stupid git throwing herself into pain’s way again. I’ll tell you, I had a hard time keeping it out of becoming a first person narrative, but that tells me how immediate it was in my mind as I was writing.

If these posts are helping you, please consider becoming a subscriber on my Patreon page and let other writers know about this blog. Every author that comes here and learns something new is a win for them. Everyone who supports me shows me that they appreciate what I’m doing here. Even a $1 per month shows me that I have someone’s vote — that someone wants me to continue my mission here. I believe it’s important. Don’t you?

Until next time, happy writing!

Dragons of Wellsdeep – pages 8 & 9 edit

Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg8_Dawn BlairDragons of Wellsdeep_pg9_Dawn Blair


Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg8_edited_Dawn Blair

Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg9_edited_Dawn Blair

The drafts on top are the original manuscript pages as it has been written. On the bottom are my edit drafts with my handwritten comments.

Let’s start off with the weird format issue at the top. When I prepared page 9, I realized that I was getting this issue sometimes when I pasted the page into a blank Word document. It is an issue that I need to watch for, but one created by my process for the blog, not one that’s actually in the original document. ]

That first line after the format issue really needs to be expanded. I can see my trigger word “had” in the sentence. Much like I discussed last week in my blog on “was” there are certain words that are triggers. I’ll discuss why “had” is a trigger words later this week. I wanted to get this page out there so I could use it as an example for that post.

Now, please note that I had a line of “he was reminiscing…” which I changed to “he reminisced…” See how that got rid of the “was”? I said I’d discuss some techniques for getting rid of “was” and this is one of them. Whenever you can, change that -ing verb to -ed and kill the was. There are times when you might want it to reflect a state of being and you would keep the -ing verb, but I find those very fleeting.

I like the “was” in the following sentence. This one could be cleared up easily by rewriting the sentence to “How exactly did one stay present in every moment?” It’s less wordy, but honestly I’m not sure I like it better. Being present is a state of being so the “was” might actually stay.

After that, I have so word clusters and other things to clean up along with a touch of research to do.  Page 9 also has some cleanup. I do also need to work on the intensity of this scene, but we’ll come back and use it as an example when I write my blog post on action scenes.

Go back through the page and read the proposed changes. How would you incorporate changes? What would you do? Do you see something I missed. Comment below. Then we can have fun and see how the page develops into the second draft together.

Don’t forget about my Patreon page. Let other writers in your online and offline circles know about this blog so they can come get the help they need too. Let’s make better stories!

Happy writing!

The Dreaded Word: Was

***Warning: if you really like to read books, don’t read this post. It will forever ruin you. If you want to improve your writing, then read on, but know that you will never be able to look at another published fiction book with the same eyes. You have been warned.***

I so wanted to make this my first post because this is one of my biggest pet peeves. I did refrain, however.

I’m sure I will come back to this again and again, especially once I really get into the heat of editing Dragons of Wellsdeep, but I wanted to give you a new tool to get you started on your own editing now.

My big pet peeve: the overuse of the word “was.”

Please note that I did say “overuse.” There are some people out there that insist that all instances of the word “was” in a manuscript should be eliminated. I can tell you that it is possible to write a whole book without “was.” I made this my challenge when I wrote The Three Books. There is not a single “was” within the narrative (there are a few in the dialogue because I didn’t want to change how the characters spoke) until the very last sentence. That finishing line contains the only narrative “was” in the whole book.

***Disclaimer: This is true for the 1st edition. I can’t swear it is for the second edition when I rewrote a couple scenes. I never checked, but I’m so use to writing around the “was” that I’m fairly certain there are none there.***

I am not a believer that the word should be totally eliminated. It is like any other word and needs to be used correctly.

“Was” is an indicator word. When you see “was” in your manuscript, it is a clue that your story is being told rather than shown. It generally indicates a state of being for something: It was a dark and stormy night; she was beautiful; the car was locked.

Here’s a hard and fast rule I want you to remember: Never use “was” in the first paragraph of your story.

I pick up books and flip to the beginning. If it has a prologue, I look at that the first two paragraphs for the word “was.” If I don’t see it there, I look at the first chapter for the same thing. If I find a “was” I decide if that was really the best course of action or if it could have been written better. If I find that I could have easily rewritten it, I put the book down on the shelf; the author doesn’t know his/her craft. If I deem it as totally necessary (and that is a rare instance), I begin to read. If I quickly start encountering more of the dreaded “was” word, I probably will put the book down unless it has a good hook.

Why do I tell you flat out to avoid was, especially when it is so prevalent in literature through the ages and in today’s genre writing? Because it’s generally unnecessary. A bit of clever rewriting will fix the situation. Yes, you are trying to show the hero at home, so shouldn’t that be your state of being for your character at that time? No! You’re trying to hook your reader into your story. Giving them a state of being with a “was” doesn’t show the character in action to make change. You need the flux of the action.

Let’s look at an example:

It was a dark and stormy night. The train was late and the rain about to set in. Frank glanced at his watch. It was only 8:00. He still had time. 

Okay, let’s fix this overabundance of “was.”

From the station platform, Frank looked at the clouds darkening the sky overhead and hoped it wouldn’t rain. He glanced at his watch. He still had time if the weather didn’t delay his train any longer. 

This still isn’t a perfect beginning, but it does clean up the instances of “was.” 

Here’s another:

Where was the book? Kim knew it had to be there somewhere. She’s put it at the bottom of her dresser drawer, right beneath her blue jeans, but it wasn’t there. She frantically jerked ever drawer out and overturned it, throwing them aside in her haste to search. Everything else was there: her diary, her jar of change, and a stray barrette. 

This is actually a modified sample from a real book. I’ve changed things up, but it’s still a good sampling. Let’s fix this.

Kim jerked the drawer from the dresser and dumped the contents onto the floor. She kicked at the clothes that fell out, hoping with each heartbeat that her foot would contact the solid weight of the book she had to find. Disappointed, she pulled out a second draw and overturned it. This time, she did feel something heavy drop. Tossing the emptied drawer onto the bed, she dropped to her knees and frantically searched. Her jar of loose change clattered as it rolled a ways across the carpet. She threw aside a stray barrette as she reached for the larger item hidden in the middle of her pile of blue jeans. Her fingers found the binding of a book’s spine. Momentary relief faded to dread panic as she realized she’d found her diary. 

Same information, but do you see how the action intensified? That’s because the story is more immediate by the action being shown rather than dulled as a state of being. 

Now, I want you to go out and start searching for “was” in your own work and others and I challenge you to make it better. It doesn’t take long to learn how to make it better. Now, when I really get into editing Dragons of Wellsdeep, I’ll have more tricks for you on how to fix “was”, but here you’ve had a sampling. If you accept the challenge and start being a “was” seeker, you’ll probably learn most of them on your own. Take your new tools with you and go write better.

Happy writing.

Dragons of Wellsdeep – pages 6 & 7 edit

Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg6_Dawn BlairDragons of Wellsdeep_pg7_Dawn Blair


Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg6_edited_Dawn BlairDragons of Wellsdeep_pg7_edited_Dawn Blair

The drafts on top are the original manuscript pages as it has been written. On the bottom are my edit drafts with my handwritten comments.

There’s not a whole lot I can say here. There’s a lot of information being passed along as dialogue. It’s hard to say at this point how much will be kept and what will be cut because the reader does need to know a lot of this. It kind of explains the last few pages.

There’s also the obvious break which needs to be a chapter break since the next scene takes place some time later on a different planet entirely.

Go back through the page and read the proposed changes. How would you incorporate changes? What would you do? Do you see something I missed. Comment below. Then we can have fun and see how the page develops into the second draft together.

Don’t forget about my Patreon page. Let other writers in your online and offline circles know about this blog so they can come get the help they need too. Let’s make better stories!

Happy writing!

Revising your beginnings

You have your story written and you are ready to revise the beginning.

Beginnings are so important. I’m talking about true beginnings here — Chapter 1 beginnings. Sometimes the following that I talk about here does take place in a prologue, but there’s a thing about prologues that most writers fail to realize: a prologue is part of the story, but it is outside of the story. Chapter 1 shouldn’t start off where the prologue ends. If it does, it’s not a true prologue. Now, if you add an epilogue at the end, you have created what is known as a “frame.” Think of this as a frame that holds a painting. It helps to contain the painting within it’s borders and helps to hang the painting, but it’s not the painting itself. Oh, there are some artists that get fancy and and extend their painting onto the frame, but that’s the exact same kind of bleed that  you will have where your story blends into the prologue. So, for now, let’s pretend that your story doesn’t have a prologue but you just start it at the first chapter. There’s a lot to pay attention to and all of it is necessary. Fortunately, there is a kind of formula that will help.

It starts with knowing your hero’s journey. The very first part of your hero’s journey is to show the hero at home. This isn’t necessarily a “home” as in a location, but rather what your character is good at. The character is “at home” with who he or she is.

So what’s your character’s strength? What is the one thing that puts them in tune with the world? Where are they most comfortable?

That’s step one. Step two is what’s the action that’s taking place? Being good at something generally they are doing something. So what’s the middle of that action? What are they caught up in?

Step three is knowing how this scene will lead into the Call to Adventure.

Now realize that you have to do most of the first two steps within the first page or two.

At the start of The Three Books, Steigan is out in the forest looking for killers. I have had him using his tracking skills, but the reader doesn’t know that;  my character wouldn’t have thought about it (“Oh what a good tracker am I!”) so it became unimportant for the reader to know that. He has come across a woman dancing in the forest and he tries to puzzle out who she is. He is watching his movements and knows that he’s got one shot at this; if he fails, more people will die. It instantly shows that he’s a skilled warrior, smart, perceptive, and aware of his mission. This defines my character in a nutshell.

Let’s look at another example:

“What are we going to do now?” Nyree asked me as she laid her bundle of wildflowers atop the fresh grave mound.

The old woman had told us not to mourn her passing, but how could I not? She’d taken in two half-starved little waifs she’d found lost and scared in the forest. She’d explained about my magic, saying that it was wild having come on so strongly so late in my life. She’d helped me learned to hide it as she had her own. Now I’d lost a kindred spirit and Nyree was asking me what we were going to do now.

I knew the answer I wanted. I was perfectly happy here. I could live out the rest of my days in the old woman’s cabin, hiding from a world that wouldn’t accept me as she had done.

But Nyree… like many girls her age I’m sure, she’d become enamored with the romantic notions she’d been reading about in the many books the old woman had owned. Many days, the two of them had sat together and giggled while sharing passages. I’d been outside trying to repair the house and grounds, yet their laughter had reached me anyway. While the old woman taught me about my magic, she taught Nyree how to be a woman.

The old woman knew that one day we’d have to return.

I guess that Nyree had sacrificed many years for me to be here learning about my wild magic. She had wanted to be back with our people, I knew. So now, I guess it was time to return to our people for Nyree’s sake. It was her time to live.

I would be happy staying here.

This is actually a first draft of another story I have. This is actually chapter one though I do have a prologue which happens when these two characters are children — he essentially blows up his village, killing everyone there except for him and his sister. It’s entirely an accident because he can’t control his magic and actually this is the second time that has happened. Because of the large gap in time, I made it a prologue because the characters had wandered and found this old woman who took them in and trained his magic. There is a lot of telling in this piece, but we won’t even get into that here. Let’s just look at the formula.

Step 1: Is my character showing a strength? Honestly, no. He’s not even at home within himself. He’s mourning. Since the reader has no idea who he’s mourning other than by what is being told, there is no emotional connection for the reader. Because the prologue has him being so destructive as a young child, the reader will know he’s powerful magically, but they won’t know what he’s done with it the last few years. Is there any indicator here what his strength might be? His love for his sister, his magic if he has control of it now, being self-sufficient. Okay, so does any of that describe my character? Yes, all three. So, my hero at home would be a scene that incorporated those elements.

I want to think about Step 2 for a moment. I need to show my character adoring his sister while having control of his magic and being self-sufficient. What action would do that? Once I know the answer to that, I can give it a better beginning.

Let’s look at Step 3. The scene has to lead to the Call to Adventure. The old woman dying and the children (now teenagers) having to decide what to do next is a call to adventure. Because my character is so focused on giving his sister a new life, the death has become a catalyst. So, I really have to assess if my prologue is indeed a prologue or if that’s my hero at home. With what I’ve already written about the prologue, what do you think? Do you think my character is showing a strength, is he feeling at home? No. He’s not. He’s a kid who can’t control his power. He’s helpless to it. So I need a scene which will lend itself to a Call and show my character now being strong.

Let’s try this again:

A cold darkness wafted through the forest like a thick fog. I followed my sister, letting her choose the paths through the trees. We were out before sunrise. This would be a long day. Three orbs of light bobbed in the air just in front of Nyree and lit the trail ahead. She reached out to touch one with her finger. 

“It’ll bite you,” I warned her over her shoulder, even though she just laughed at my warning and poked at the white-yellow globe. With a thought, I transformed it into a tiny flying dragon which snapped at her fingers. She hid her fingers beneath her arms which she held closely to her body as the dragon chased her around in circles. 

“Come on,” she squealed. “I want to have enough dawn flowers picked.”

“You’ve carried two bundles back to the house already.”

She hugged herself tighter. The snap dragon swarmed around in a circle and retook orb form, then floated up like a bubble to join the others. “Only two. That’s so few.”

He wanted to remind her that the old woman no longer carried, that her energy had moved on from the physical shell of this world, but Nyree wasn’t ready to hear that yet. “You’ll have time,” he said softly. “I still have a grave to dig.”

“It’s going to get awfully quiet this evening with out her,” Nyree said. “What are we going to do now?”

While this isn’t the scene I’m likely to use when I finally get around to doing the rewrite, it works as an example. Now we show the character in control of his magic as well as having fun with his sister even though they both are mourning.

Let’s revisit the steps. Step 1: Does it show the character’s strength? Is he at home? Yes. He’s with his sister, making her laugh and that will endear him to the reader, especially when the reader discovers why they are out in the forest at night. He may not be comfortable in the scene, trying to keep his own emotions in check while his sister is about to cry (again). He knows he has more work to do before this day is done, but he cannot be whiny or weak about it. It’s his duty.

Step 2: Is it in the middle of the action? Yes. The old woman has died and they are preparing to bury her — those two actions are a start and an end of themselves. In the first scene, they had already buried her. The action was over. And yes, in rewriting the scene with these questions in mind has made me have that realization that I truly have now started it in the middle of the action.

Step 3: Does this lead to the Call to Adventure? No longer is the old woman’s death a call to adventure. I’m not sure yet because this clip is short, but my guess would be that a further call would come during the burial or shortly thereafter. We’ve lost all of the character’s thoughts about how his sister needs to be around people so she can live a “normal life.” So, there has to be something else that will come along and drive them out of their home. There will be another catalyst to act as the call, even if it is just the character thinking about how his sister needs a life, though that will probably have some sort of instigating factor which makes him think that way.

There you have it.

If nothing else, just remember to show your character being strong in the beginning. They have the rest of the book to be flawed and mess things up. You, however, only have those first few pages to get the reader on your side for this character and that means letting your character be confident.

Happy writing.

 

Dragons of Wellsdeep – Pages 4 & 5 edit

Bonus!

I don’t know about you, but this pace is agonizingly slow for me. So, I’m going to try posting two pages a week from here on out. I’m also trying to go back and rewrite some of the early pages so we can really get into the meat of editing since the beginning is so important to get readers into your story. I still have some work to do on this — second drafts are a bit harder; it’s like re-dreaming your dream. But I hope to have those pages ready to go in a couple of weeks and I’m thinking I might post those on Tuesdays.

If you enjoy this blog and want more, please help support it by visiting my page at Patreon. You can also find other ways to support by going to the Support this Blog page. Thank you!

Let me know if you like the new format of two pages for the Sunday post.

Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg4_Dawn BlairDragons of Wellsdeep_pg5_Dawn Blair


Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg4_edited_Dawn BlairDragons of Wellsdeep_pg5_edited_Dawn Blair

The drafts on top is the original draft as it has been written. On the bottom is my edit drafts with my handwritten comments.

You’ll notice that near the top of page 4, there is a gap in the text. This is my preferred way to indicate a change in point of view. It just gives a clean break for readers to visual pull from the story before jumping back in. There are other ways to change point of view within text without a break, but I personally don’t use them often. Of course, I do often chose to only have one point of view per book. Yes, one! One character’s point of view for a whole book. It’s practically unheard of these days unless the author is writing in first person, but often there are still other chapters written in someone else’s point of view. I didn’t come to my choice easily and it took me several years just to understand point of view in writing. Dragons of Wellsdeep might be my first story in some time that will include extra points of view, but it’ll only be in these beginning pages; I see the rest of the story in Moonhunter’s point of view. There was a moment in The Three Books when I was tempted to switch to an omnipotent point of view. It’s the moment when Martias takes one of the books. It’s outside of Steigan’s point of view; he doesn’t see Martias steal the journal. He learns later that Martias took it, but never when. I have the spot marked in my text for when I finally get around to drawing the graphic novel version. And, it is because I do plan on doing a graphic novel version of the book that made me really want to be in Steigan’s head for the novel. There’s a lot of his thoughts that a reader won’t know about if they only read the graphic novel version, but they’ll get the little things like Martias being a thief. One story, different camera angles.

You’ll notice that I made a change from “Dragon-Birthed” to “dragonborn.” I got to a point where I needed to change the tense of “birthed” to born and after that it just kind of stuck — it was a much better tense. So, this is me cleaning that up.

Again, throughout the draft, the text needs to be slowed down and described better. I should probably just stop mentioning this! :) It’s my natural tendency to write dialog and action, so I know I need to fill in the blanks — the “white room” as I call it. Really, think about where they are at. Do you see anything? Are the walls around them white? They are to me. I’ve called it a cave, but I have no real visual. As an author, you really need to freeze your characters so you can pop your own head up and have a look around to see if you are describing the surroundings. That I did this in the manuscripts is what makes Manifest the Magic and To Birth a Destiny much better books in my opinion than The Three Books; I remembered to look around and describe more. Of course, things were so normal to my character — he was use to seeing all this — that really he didn’t notice these things, so in some ways it worked for his character too. I sit on the fence and wonder if I was really showing the character of Steigan or if I was just being a lazy author in The Three Books. Maybe a bit of both. Either way, I do feel it’s written the way it was meant to be so I guess the point is moot.

I have a couple points where I’m telling the story rather than showing. One spot I’ve marked to put into dialog. I feel it will work better that way. The other, the earlier point, I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet, but I do have the mention of the weight going through his legs. If I’m firmly in his point of view by this point, I think it’ll work.

At the end, you’ll notice the asterisk and my note about fingernails. I suspect I know the point at which I’ll put in the fingernails even though I haven’t actually put it in the text yet and I hope to remember to mark it when I get there. Because I’m afraid of losing that is why I’ve put the note in here. Always make yourself lots of notes. It’s so easy to forget. Write it down before the idea gets lost.

Oh, and I am so tired of the phantom priest and priestess wailing! Aren’t you? They keep fading in and out and when they are on scene they are wailing. I so need to figure these characters (or actually the purpose of the priests and priestess out — which I’m getting closer to doing at the point where I’m currently writing). World creation — it’s so much fun, but very time consuming. Don’t worry. I will discuss world creation in another blog at some point. I will say that writers who say, “It’s like earth, but not earth,” have not worked it hard enough. Don’t be lazy. There is no world out there that will be “like earth.” It’s impossible. That planet has not had the people or the wars that have shaped our world. That planet will not have an orbit like earth’s with 365 1/4 days in a year and with 24 hours in a day. Constellations will be different. Did their early peoples understand or even seek to understand the basic science of their planet? They didn’t on Steigan’s world — they were too busy surviving. What was important to them were the three moons that rose over in their night sky and provided them with light to see the demon monsters coming after them. When the three moons rose at once, that was an event. One that they worshiped as the Tri-Lunar Ceremony and they did calculate out when this was going to happen. It was part of their survival. But calculating the stars, especially in a night sky ruled by three moons, wasn’t specifically important to them. Of course, the continent on the planet has a mild climate, so seasonal needs weren’t that important. On other continents of this planet, that might be a bit different (haven’t gotten to write/rewrite those stories too deeply yet). Anyway, like I said, “like earth” is a cheat so don’t use it.

Don’t forget about my Patreon page. Let other writers in your online and offline circles know about this blog so they can come get the help they need too. Let’s make better stories!

Go back through the page and read the proposed changes. How would you incorporate changes? What would you do? Do you see something I missed. Comment below. Then we can have fun and see how the page develops into the second draft together.