The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

Too Many Macros?

how i want to think i write

I’m going through the second draft of Defender with my macros.  Over time I’ve developed, expanded, and restructured them so that they’re more efficient, and catch those writer mistakes.  The difficulty is that it now takes a long time to get through a 100,000 word novel.  On the plus side, these macros have helped me eliminate about 3,000 words.

But they still take a long time.  The problem is, once you get halfway down and you’re like “Christ, I just want to get these over with.”  So you start being more liberal with keeping those adverbs or crutch words.  Which, of course, means sloppy work.

I didn’t run the macros on first draft, because I figured it could be wasted time since A) I’d probably spot those mistakes in revision and B) a lot of parts would be cut and new ones added in.   Now I’m wondering if I should run the macros either in first draft, or just do half in one draft, half in the other.  Or simply not worry about certain macros like “find instances of that” and “find had or had been”.  Those take a long time to evaluate and think of replacements for.

Not to mention the fact that, when I’m reading, I rarely notice those repetitions.  That includes my work and others work.  I’m not going to be any Ekaterina Sedia.  I’m trying to be more of a Stephen King.  I’m wondering which ones to give priority to.

Done Incorporating Merm-8 Critiques – Begin 3rd Draft

mermaid blood art changing

I finished incorporating all the critiques I received from Merm-8 into the novel.  It took a long time, especially the ending which needed to be severely revised.  The problem was that the sacrifice was not earned or hinted at so I need to sprinkle more hints throughout, and then totally revamp the structure around the final reveal.

The biggest problem was that I kept changing my mind.  At first, I wasn’t going to do the sacrifice, and I had to weave my way around making it work.  Then the way I weaved it, I thought “hey, there can still be a sacrifice.  Might as well put it in.”  So I did.  Took a long time to get everything plausible though.

And now the battle is to go through it again, make sure everything works, make sure there are no linger artificats from previous scenes and shufflings.  My work is cut out for me.

Merm-8 Starting Up Again Soon

ariel manga style

Last Wednesday I started receiving critiques for Merm-8, Chapter 5.  That’s the last of my chapters in the Critters queue, so that means it’s almost time to jump back into the water.  I’m not sure how to feel about that.  I’m a little nervous about returning — will there be a lot of revisions to make?  Did I forget everything about the story?  Am I writing the right plot for the setting?  And there’s a little relief that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

I got a lot of critiques, a nice amount of RFDRs, so I’ve got a lot to read through before I can start actual revising.  I haven’t read them in any meaningful way, but it appears most opinion was positive.  But I said that with Black Hole Son, too.  But this time, it seems there are more thumbs up this time around, and hopefully no conflicts between “I hate these scene” vs. “I’ve got to include this scene because its meaningful”.

Again, I wonder if I’m spinning my wheels like I did with Black Hole Son — making a novel that will never be sold.  But I guess if I enjoy it, it’s not a waste of time.

Death to Two Spaces

I have a new mission in life. Grammar Girl solidified it. I have to start putting one space after the end of a sentence and not two. This sucks. I haven’t written a single sentence in this paragraph so far without doing it (I’ve corrected it each time). I’ve been hearing this in various places, but I never really followed it. I hadn’t gotten enough of a consensus on whether it was proper or not.

Grammar Girl says that two spaces was the way cavemen wrote on their typewriters. They included two spaces because the fonts were monospaced, and they needed enough space to distinguish when a new sentence started. Otherwise the mammoths would get them. Now we don’t need that because computers and the like, brought to us by those helpful aliens, make type easier to read and two spaces unnecessary. Although, personally, I prefer seeing two spaces after a period. Not just because it means I won’t have to change, but it still makes things easier to read.

I’ve been taught to use two spaces after a sentence since I was a junior in high school, when I took keyboarding. It’s served me well all through college, when two spaces added a little more length to my essays. Woe to the student who did not know this secret. So basically, let’s say about eleven years of using two spaces and never being told otherwise. Flash to where I’m trying to get stories published and the slightest mistake could cost me a place.

What this does do is give me a better reason to scan Black Hole Son for punctuation and formatting errors. Turn on formatting in Word and look through all the pretty dots. That will be quite an arduous task.

It’s going to be a hard habit to break.

Dean Wesley Smith: Current Object of My Ire

Let’s dish out some ire. I read this article by Dean Wesley Smith and cannot figure out whether he’s just one of those writing rogues whose method works for a smattering of people, or if there’s any value in it.

Now let me preface this by saying I’m an unpublished author, so I could, and should be, considered full of shit. But then, so should everyone.

The basic premise of this article is that there’s a big myth in the writing industry: rewriting makes something better. This isn’t true. Why? Because you can polish a giant turd as much as you want, but it remains a giant turd.

Exsqueeze me? Baking powder? No rewriting? My story would suck ass if I didn’t rewrite it. I need feedback to see what I got wrong. I need revisions to make sure what I said was what I meant to say. Every teacher teaches rewriting since fifth grade — you’re telling me they’re all wrong?

Maybe it’s true that a great writer can write without rewriting — Ellison, Clarke, Faulkner — sure they can do it. But that’s because they’re geniuses. Fortunate freaks. They’re at where they’re at because only they can do what they do, and if they could bottle it up and sell it at $19.95 a pop, they would. These people are born, not made. The rest of us can only hope to be competent, publishable writers. Maybe some of us will become great if we work really hard at it.

“I never hear it from long-term pros (over 20 plus years making a living).” That’s cause they’re 20-year veterans. They know what they’re doing. Does Michael Jordan need to do drills and practice shots? No. Did he have to when he was eighteen? Yes. Does Coco Chanel have to throw away whole dresses and start over from scratch? No. Did she have to when she was first starting out? Probably. Did Eminem send out every song he ever wrote to music producers? No. He looked at what he wrote, revised it, changed it, and then sent out a “demo” – that’s a small collection of his best work. That’s why they have easy modes on video games – because you don’t quite know what you’re doing at first. You don’t know which button does what or when to use it. Rewriting is practice. Newbies have trouble getting the bridge from their mind to the page to work right. So they should look at what they have just done.

“So, what is the new writer to do at this point with a finished novel? Simple. Mail it to editors who could buy it.” Are you kidding? Send something full of misfired thoughts and ‘just-get-through-it’ scenes? Should I send out first draft after first draft, based on my stream of consciousness? A story is like a resume – its a demonstration of your work, and you don’t just send out the first version to everyone with a help wanted sign. You analyze, target, track, and give them what they want to see. Then you wait to see if you got the job.

The idea that what you wrote is good enough? I don’t think so. “There is no perfect book.” Sure, but there is a perfect version of your book – at least as perfect as you can get it (no work of art is ever completed, only abandoned). And your job as a writer is to make it as perfect as possible.

“Rewriting is not writing. … Putting new and original words on a page is writing. Nothing more, and nothing less.” Writing is two different things – composing and rethinking. It doesn’t matter whether it’s perfect, it matters whether it’s right. And it’s right if what you thought equals what you wrote. Rewriting is a form of writing. I don’t see how it couldn’t be. You could compose sheets and sheets of music, but if you never listen to what it sounds like all together, you’re shouting into the wind. It would be like installing a program and never running it.

“You must not rewrite unless to editorial demand.” Some of this makes sense – you have to keep your story flexible to changes desired by the publisher. That’s why I’m going to send out draft 3 of Black Hole Son, instead of doing a further fourth revision, which might clean up some artifacts and typos. But he’s saying that rewriting takes time away from composing, and no one is worthy of revising your novel: not your friend, not your agent, not even you, the guy who wrote the damn thing in the first place. Only the NEW YORK editor is capable of giving you feedback, because he is paying you and he knows what he’s doing. Unless you disagree, apparently.

Then he talks about how Harlan Ellison would go into a bookstore, get an idea from someone or something, then proceed to write story after story, never revising, never rewriting, never rethinking. Then he’d tape the pages to the window for everyone to see. First, I can do that too. They do it all the time on FanFiction.net. Second, this is Harlan Ellison. Look at his Wikipedia entry. He’s won multiple Bram Stoker awards, multiple Hugo awards, multiple Locus awards, multiple Nebula awards, multiple Edgar awards, and one Bradbury award (come on, Harlan, only one?). He’s like Ernest Hemingway or Charles Dickens – unreplicatable. Does Smith think all we need to do is stop rewriting and we’ll be ranked with Heinlein and Ellison? Plus, given that he’s got a whole section dedicated to controversies, I don’t think he’s someone I’d like to emulate.

“And when you win as many awards in science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and mainstream fiction as Harlan has, you can argue with him.” Oh, yeah? Watch me. James Joyce considered himself lucky if he got ten words out a day. BTW, Smith, I don’t see any awards in your camp, just a lot of licensed works (which we call fan fiction in the real world).

“In pure skill level, the critical side is far, far behind the creative side of your brain.” There’s more on top and bottom of this, and you can read it if you want, but basically he’s saying that since you’ve been creating far longer than you’ve been criticizing, your creative side is at a higher skill level than your ability to critique. First, this may not be necessarily true. I was working Critters about as long as I’ve been writing and my skill has improved since I’ve been both critiquing and been critiqued. I don’t think Smith is up to date on the resources available for writers these days. Second, I’ve been talking longer than I’ve been singing. Does that mean I’m better at delivering a speech than singing a song? You can’t be so objective with such a thing. Writing takes skill and practice, like anything. And there’s lots of things rookies do when they start that signal bad writing (adverbs, dynamic dialogue tags, stilted dialogue) on an otherwise good story. You must revise to catch these things. I know I do.

He equates courage with shrinking down into a shell, saying “It’s not ready, I need to revise it”, when what you’re really saying is “I’m too scared to send it out.” Bullshit. Yes, it takes courage to send it out. But courage has nothing to do with revising. The only thing I’m scared to send out is something I can’t stand behind. I could sell a hundred stories, and that might make me happy, but it wouldn’t make me satisfied that those were the stories I wanted to write. That’s why some authors only write one book (J.D. Salinger) their entire lives.

“[T]he creative side… is your two-year-old child. ..[I]f you let the child just play and get out of its way and stop trying to put your mother’s or father’s voice on everything it does, you will be amazed at what you create.” Let me tell you about my two-year-old child (well, seventeen months, but let’s not split hairs). She climbs up onto the couch, then climbs back down, then climbs up, then climbs down. She laughs maniacally when I hide a puppet from her, then slowly reveal it. She will cry the second she isn’t getting something she wants, even if she doesn’t want anything. She yells at photographs. She reads books upside-down. She smushes her face into her stuffed toys, then bites them on the nose (I think she thinks she’s kissing them). In short, my two-year-old makes no sense. Just like a first draft would.

Of course, you can’t argue with results. Smith claims he’s gotten a hundred novel deals and short stories (of course, he seems to be more well-known for his licensed works – Star Trek, Aliens, Men in Black, and the like — which we all know make a difference in salability). where he gets his students to write a story in a night and send it out, and has gotten good success from that. Then he makes a thinly veiled attempt to accuse all writers of lying when he says one author tells fans that he makes ten drafts, when he only does one. When prodded, he says he gives the fans what they want, what they expect, to make his books worth more. Way to go there.

He also makes the point that he does this on a regular basis with rousing success. The first time he sent in a first draft, fresh from the typewriter, and it was accepted. Sure, that’s completely possible. Unfortunately, we don’t know if they would have accepted a revised draft either. The content and idea of a story are also a factor. A competently written story also needs to be original, engaging, free from psychologist office rants, and not something which was just published. I tell you, I would He’s also taught a workshop not be comfortable with going right from the word processor to the mail slot. Not with the way I write. Plus, the fact that he talks about his typewriter and blanketing the world with submissions tells you he’s operating from a less than current mindset. Now that he’s published, he doesn’t have to worry about getting his name out there.

And I’m a supporter of keeping the first draft as free from criticism as possible – write as freely as possible. Of course, this resulted in a 160,000 word draft for me, but I’m new to this writing thing. I like the idea that if the writer doesn’t know where he/she is going, the reader definitely won’t. I’d say it’s better to be a taker-outer than a putter-inner. If you’re a taker-outer, you’ve overwritten your previous draft and need to condense it. Condensations work great – you make a tighter story, but can still retain most of your content. If you’re a putter-inner, you’re trying to put in filler. Which means you’re purposefully slowing the story down so you can fulfill an obligation to make the work a certain length. That goes against the first duty to the story. Anything that’s not the story should be removed. And in order to be a good taker-outer, you need to revise.

So in conclusion, I don’t believe revising should be done away with. Especially not for starting writers. When Metallica starts cutting a track, do they take the first thing they play and send it to the producers? No, they work it, rework it, revise it, jam some more, funnel it down into a single musical idea, and then send it out.

But this guy’s had success, and I’d rather have success than be right. So I might try using this strategy in the future, once I get back to the short stories.

And yes, I revised this not once, not twice, but thrice. I like this version a lot better than what I started with.

Now Working on Black Hole Son – Final

Okay, I’m done reading the critiques for Black Hole Son, and it’s time to start the hard part – revising. This is going to be a big one, because I’m restructuring, rewriting, and in many cases, replacing entire chunks of the book. Remember back when I said I was going to revise the thing like normal, send it out, and then work on the fourth draft in the meantime, because it involved a lot of restructuring? Yeah, I decided because there’s going to be a lot of restructuring, I’m going to do it all at once. That way, I can hopefully spot all the artifacts. But yeah, this is going to be one humdinger of a revision – a lot of work. But I know it’s going to be okay, because I still get that giddy feeling when I dive into words, kill everything extraneous. I just hope I still got the chops for composing – because I’m going to have to do a lot of it.

Man, am I looking forward to starting Mermaid Story.

Finished with White Mage critiques

Finished going through White Mage Story critiques. All were pretty positive, nothing overwhelmingly breaking. Nothing needing a total rewrite, at least I don’t think. Most is stuff I can’t or won’t use, but this is good to me, because it means people are interested and, in a sense, writing their own fan fiction about it. Whether this makes me publishable is yet to be seen.

A few people have their ideas of how the story should go (and faithfully provide). A few people feel the story lacks a sense of urgency, or something to react to. But I don’t listen to a few people. I listen to most people.

But I thought this anecdote was amusing. As I was compiling all my critique e-mails into a single document, one caught my eye that had the words “Hogwarts rip-off”. Nothing I didn’t expect to see. I was called on my Harry Potter qualities in the first round of critiques. Still, last night, my mind was on trying to distinguish my world from Harry Potter world.

Of course today, I get to said-critique. And it contains the phrase, “You did a good job of not making it look like a Hogwarts rip-off”.

C’est la vie.

I Predicted this post would be about Predictability

So critiques on White Mage Story are done for a while. Haven’t gotten through many of them, five or so, maybe a quarter of the total. So far, response has been positive. There have not been very many complaints about structure or boredom or confusing points (actually, there are some of that last one, but they usually contradict one another, so most of the time, unless it’s repeated, I chalk it up to “reader not paying enough attention”, which is legitimate because these people aren’t getting paid – I had one person call my novel New Moon Sun).

But there’s been one that’s been stuck in my craw. One of them said it was predictable. That they knew what was going to happen as soon as Caden and Ruki got onto the caravan. He also gave a quite nice synopsis of what *would be* awesome if happened, and would decrease predictability (except for this guy, who wrote it) So far that’s the only time anyone called it predictable, so far.

First, I can’t use this ending, because A) I didn’t write it and B) it doesn’t fit with the original message I wanted to send. I needed to show that being a fighter isn’t about swords and armor, it’s about courage. And that can be applied in any position. This is what happens when you start with the theme before the story. But this new ending, it might be more fun, more dramatic and tense, but I don’t find it any more original.

Second, I shouldn’t worry about this. Just look at my last post. I shouldn’t be looking at what’s predictable, I should be looking at what will sell. What’s fun to read. What’s interesting. What interests me. And this story interests me. People don’t mind predictable, I think.

But it still bothers me. I can totally see someone passing on this story because of the ending is tacky and predictable. Because they knew easily what was coming. The funny part is, I asked people what they expected for an ending, and this is what they wanted. They wanted more conclusion.

Yeah, I think this story will be better as a novel. But for right now, I’m proceding ahead with a short story.

Third Draft, Fourth Draft, Fifth Draft, Score

Last night I couldn’t get to sleep because I was trying to think of how to cut Black Hole Son.

No one can give me a straight answer about whether 140,000 words is too much. Should I spend the effort paring down big chunks or can I take off 20,000 words in the next revision? Will an editor give me a list of things to cut anyway? Where can I make cuts so that the story remains even?

And do I even need to be stressing about this? Am I wasting my time? Will an agent accept a 140,000 word first novel?

If I start cutting big scenes, I want to do it now, not after the next revision, because I want to make sure there are no artifacts. So I spent all night trying to figure out how to engineer the “first day” so that I reduce the number of scenes (and in doing so, speed up the beginning, which 50% of responders say drags on). In both good and bad luck, killing one person’s scene means killing the other, so I get two for the price of one. But this means reduction in the pacing I want.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to do the third revision without making big cuts. Just a normal run-through, like I usually do. Last time I managed to cut 20,000 words without making big cuts, although I don’t expect to succeed that well this time around. This will be the version I start submitting to agents.

While it’s making the submission rounds, I’m going to start working on a fourth draft. This fourth draft shall come to be known as the failsafe draft. It will have all the big cuts, severe reduction of preachiness and any extraneous insight. It must be under 120,000 words, maybe even less. This is the edition I predict the editor will want me to make. Should my third draft fail to procure an agent, I’ll start sending around this fourth draft.

I’m not sure when I’ll decide the third draft has failed – I’ll have to get a feel for the respondents before I make that decision. But that’s the plan, hopefully it’ll save me some work, and save my preferred version of the story.

BHS Break

I took a break from composing the outline for Mermaid Story to incorporate information from the critiques on Black Hole Son. I’m not sure why I took this break – I wasn’t particularly exhausted from idea generation, and I wasn’t stuck on anything. I just took a break to take a break, I guess.

It was fun coming back to the BHS world… at first. Some of the critiques were harsh, some unnecessarily mean, some completely unhelpful, some no longer relevant. But for the most part, it helped me with the story. It’s always important to get an outsider’s perspective for stories.

One of the two hardest parts is seeing the harsh truth that there is a character doing something out of character. For example, portrayals of a police officer or police station are not believable because they’re doing things that contradict expected behavior. At this point, you can do either one of two things – change the plot to reflect the proper behavior, which is hard to do, or do some hand-waving to explain the behavior away. Hand-waving is the lazier way out, but it’s often necessary, because your plot depends on a character acting this way. Luckily, my story takes place in the future, so I can change just about anything to make the behavior work. Also, the less hand-waving you do, the better the story you have.

The other thing is seeing that you have a ton of scenes that do not move the plot forward and do not have a purpose. Probably, I should have been clued in when my first draft was 160,000 words, but who can really say? What can you do about this? Well, if this was another novel, they’d be easier to eliminate, but I’ve got two concurrent storylines going at the same time, and sometimes nothing happens in one while something happens in another. I can take another look at them and see if I can eliminate any, but I’ve already scrutinized each character’s timeline for cohesion and accuracy. I guess I can try doing it again, but…

What this new revelation has done to me is make me heavily scrutinize each scene I’ve created for Mermaid Story and make sure each scene has a purpose and each scene moves the plot forward. It’s gotten to the point where I have a section describing each scene’s purpose and how it moves the plot forward. The hard part is telling whether or not I’ve accomplished this. Some scenes have a lot of characterization, which comes more into play in the end. Some scenes are there for breaks and pacing, but they don’t exist in a vacuum. I feel like if I remove them, parts that occur later on won’t make sense or won’t be as impactful. Maybe that’s the way to tell whether you’re just wool-gathering or preaching. But who knows.

My goal with this story is to try and fix the mistakes I made with the last one. I’m trying to make every scene have a point and move the plot forward. That’s always been a problem with me. I want to put scenes in because I want to be preachy, or characterize, or slow down the pacing. I can’t do that in this next one.