The Return of Ghost Fishing

It's back to work on my Middle Grade WIP - Ghost Fishing. Last I left it, I had a rough outline, about two chapters done (about 6000 words), and a desperate need for "coastal locations" up and down the Atlantic coast of the United States.

I read the rough outline and those two chapters and decided I like where it was going, just not how it was getting there. Also, after a lengthy revision of my YA fantasy, it struck me how weak my preparation was for this MG. I'm pretty sure I was lining myself up to write a protagonist to whom no reader could get close. Jacob's a great kid, but I just didn't know as much about him as I needed to.

What to do? What to do?

First, I'm switching from 3rd person-limited POV to 1st person, past tense. My original intent was to give it a kind of fairytale vibe, which IMHO 3rd person-limited does justice. Now, I'm thinking less fairytale and more of a fast-moving, hip style. Okay, maybe not hip.

Of course a POV switch doesn't solve everything. Some time ago, I picked up a copy of Dramatica Pro, and fiddled with it off and on. The reason I never stuck with it is that I am a Gen-X'er, which means I have zero patience and require immediate satisfaction. I am part of that original MTV generation (as in one cable channel with music videos, VJ's Martha Quinn and JJ Jackson). It's a handicap, especially when it comes to writing.

Well, I stapled my butt to the desk chair, fired up the software and gave it a whirl. What's good about this thing is that it forces you to methodically work through the preparation. It's not really an outline, per se, although I believe I'm about to head into that last section of the storyguide which is something like an outline maker. It forced me to think of the logline up front, which is basically that elevator conversation about your book. It's probably good to know what that is before you write the story. It also really helps you nail your theme - to narrow down the elemental issue at the heart of the story, something I never quite figure out until somebody asks me what my theme was and I'm left with no choice but to make something up on the spot.

I walked through the characters - all of them - what they're like and what they do. Then, I identified the main and impact characters. The main is easy - in my case, it's Jacob, the protagonist (although it can be someone else). I like the idea of the impact character, though. Usually, the impact character is not the antagonist. This person is actually somebody who has a wholly conflicting world view from the main character over a central issue of personal interest to them both. In the end, either the impact or the main character will give in and change their view. The term "impact" is appropriate because this character will have the greatest impact on your main character.

Early on, I discovered I was missing this character. I had someone in the back of my head that I'd never written down. But as I dug in and experimented, this character jumped off the screen at me, yelling, "Pick me! Pick me!" This character (Mila is her name) belongs in this story. She's the impact character and is perfect in that role. I can already see how much more depth she'll add to both the story and to Jacob.

The more I went through it - illustrating the various perspectives of the overall story as well as the main and impact characters - the deeper I understood my characters' motiviations, where they're going to go, and what the goal of the story really is. I didn't need this for Urban Mythos, but it seems to be doing the trick for this novel.

So, yeah. That's moving along. At the same time, I'm actively researching "locations" that will help fill in the details of the several adventures that will occur along the way. I've found a very cool sight in Delaware Bay, involving a totally bizarre and potentially haunted light house. I'm also considering Chincoteague, Virginia (mostly because that's where one of the ghosts in this story died a hundred years ago), as well as Jekyll Island, Georgia. I mean, c'mon. Jekyll Island? That's an awesome name!

If you have any ideas for coastal towns with any haunted and/or peculiar history, especially small islands just off the Atlantic coast of the U.S. let me know!


Happy Thanksgiving

It's that kind of week. Food. Family. Wine. Food. Black Friday.

Happy Thanksgiving from New Jersey.


Literary Intermezzo

Intermezzo - a short movement coming between the major sections of a symphony

It's an odd time for me. I'm not actively writing anything at the moment except this blog post. The world building revisions to Urban Mythos are done, and I've got my query on the awesome YALITCHAT's Query Kick Around. I've received some excellent feedback so far and I continue to revise it. At the same time I'm researching agents, most of whom I already list on the YA Pubs and Agents list. There's so much to discover about these literary agents - interviews, tweets, blog posts, etc.

I'm reading quite a lot right now, having just finished The Scorch Trials, the phenomenal sequel to James Dashner's The Maze Runner. In the car, Libba Bray's Going Bovine has got me thoroughly intrigued. I've begun reading the first novel in Rick Riordan's new camp halfblood series - The Lost Hero. This guy is amazing. If you're looking for the pacing blueprint for Middle Grade adventure fantasy, read any Percy Jackson novel.

Speaking of Middle Grade, my MG WIP - Ghost Fishing is just sitting there, waiting for my return like a lonely puppy. The Lost Hero has me motivated to go back to the beginning and change things around. The opening chapters are too slow. That's got to change right away. Yes, the book starts where things change, but it's kind of debatable. Does the tale of the Titanic start when Leonardo DiCaprio's character boards the ship or when the ship hits the iceberg? I think Ghost Fishing has begun when he boards the ship, whereas I might need to start somewhere in the North Atlantic.

I'm also debating what to do with the POV. When I started writing the book, I'd just finished reading Frank Beddor's Looking Glass Wars, and decided that's the style and voice I was aiming for -- third person, limited, kind of fairytale tone. The other option on the table is 1st person, and then within that POV, I might go past or present tense. I had a great time writing 1st person in Urban Mythos. The humor really flows more naturally and the character developed easily. That said, you kind of lose some of the fairy tale nature of the story. Clearly, I'm of two minds on this. I wonder if I can combine the fairy tale element with the 1st person POV and the immediacy of present tense. Any ideas? Anyone? Ideas? Bueller?


The End of the World (Building)

Last night, I finished my world building expedition in the realm of Urban Mythos. Initially, my mission was simply to get the reader grounded in the mythological world much earlier on--move the bits of world building toward the beginning of the book.


I shall repeat. HAH!

Much like the star ship Enterprise, I set my course, but like Captain Kirk, I found a need to beam down to several planets littered with green-skinned babes, tribbles, Apollo, and a few sentient rock creatures. In other words, I had more stuff to do than I originally thought.

First, I needed to delve deeper into the society in which Zydeco Cashcan and the other Mythos live. How do they get along in our world? Why is it no humans have noticed they're a bit ... off? Is there some kind of social pecking order for these former mythological creatures?

Second, I wanted to give the reader better insight into Parable, the mythological world from which our characters arrived years before. This was a bit tricky, because the novel doesn't take place in Parable. It called for a liberal sprinkling of information throughout the book, without appearing to be an information dump.

Third, how and why did our friendly, neighborhood Mythos find themselves exiled on earth? In the context of developing Parable as a society, I had to ensure it all made sense. The absolute best part of doing this was it gave me an opportunity to introduce the council of Parable as a malevolent "presence", not just in the past, but in this book and hopefully going forward. *winks* Also, this really helped me with the bad guy's motivations. Phineas Malice has a much more plausible reason for doing what he's doing, and boy he needed it.

Fourth, and probably closest to the original aim, I needed to do a lot of this much earlier on in the novel.

While revising, I watched the word count creep, then shoot up. Fortunately, I was able to cut some of the less important, and frankly more confusing storylines. In the end, the total word count increased by only about 5000 words. It's at 80k now, which is on the high end for a YA fantasy, but still within the realm of reason. I'm off to resubmit the first 50 pages to an agent who offered to take a second gander after I revised. Fingers crossed!


Pacing and Suspense - Keep it Moving

I'm a slow blogger these last couple of weeks, but as promised, here's the next entry about pacing and suspense, and some of the many ways I've noticed writers achieving excellence in both. Here's what I stated on today's topic:

Keep it moving. This should be pretty obvious. If scenes don't advance the plot, cut them. Whether it's commercial or literary, please don't spend a chapter in which nothing happens except the examination of a character outside the context of advancing the story. This is crucial to excellent pacing.

One of my favorite books in recent memory is Sandman Slim, by Richard Kadrey. The novel has no chapters, which kind of seduces you into immediately wanting to read it from cover to cover. It's this rambling, machine gun of a story. Of course, bookmarks are critical if you need to stop reading - say the house catches fire, or you need to bring a kid to practice. It's like a Quentin Tarantino homage to B movies. I am a huge fan of the Kill Bill series, so proceed at your own risk from here on out.

James Stark was a magician, but his jealous friends betrayed him, causing him to spend eleven years in hell as Azazel's slave and ultimately an assassin. That's back story. The novel starts with him having just escaped to a super-seedy Los Angeles. Did I mention he's pissed off? Stark hunts his betrayers across a demon-infested city of angels, all the while taking and dishing out completely over-the-top violence. All he wants is to take his revenge on his betrayers, and then die, leaving everything behind forever. As the novel progresses, he discovers there's something strange going on in L.A., and wouldn't you know it? He has to save the world in the end.

Sure, he comes off like one of those flawed super heroes--the Dark Knight only without the funding. However, we don't spend a whole lot of time analyzing Stark outside the context of advancing the above plot points. This is what he's about, it's what he wants, and so that's where we learn about him. Every bit of detail regarding the former assassin is revealed in the context of constant plot motion.

To quote my GoodReads review, this novel grabs you by the scruff of your neck from the start and yanks you straight through to the exhilarating end. Seriously. There is no good point to set the book down on your night table. The tension you feel as you read is relentless, but it's kind of a wave. There are moments where you get to breathe - just. And then bam, the car is off again, and you're hanging onto the rear bumper for dear life.

How can I best describe what the author has done regarding pacing? The story moves because important stuff is always happening. Even those quiet moments, of which there are few, seem essential to plot progression. It's a matter of perception, but in this world of Sandman Slim, what passes for a quiet moment is a bit unnatural. There are many two-way conversations with a severed head. Every last paragraph grabs your bottom lip and tugs hard. The pace is incredible, but not exhausting - quite a fine line, I might add.

Stark spends half of the book seeking vengeance--not plotting vengeance, mind you. He carries it out. So many books have a character plotting vengeance--usually the bad guy--for chapters on end while other theoretically interesting bits of stuff happen. Want people biting their nails to the nubs? Make vengeance acted-upon a constant presence. On top of that, bad guys are after Stark, and we don't have to watch them plotting either. They have some success, too, so Stark doesn't just get to go around grabbing a pound of flesh from every traitor he meets. The tension is there -- all the time. There is nothing else, nothing extra, nothing that seemed unimportant.

What novels have you read where the plot is in constant motion?